Denveright: The city plots its next 20 years of evolution

Author: Adam McCoy - August 13, 2018 - Updated: August 30, 2018

The Denver skyline at twilight. (iStock/Getty Images)

As Denver neighborhoods grow and evolve over the course of two decades, they could do so under the guidance of a new package of wide-ranging plans.

Denver’s newly released “Denveright” draft plans would help steer policy on commercial and residential development, see billions of dollars invested in expansions of the city’s parks system, trails and sidewalks, and scale up the city’s public transit network over the next 20 years.  

Among key elements of the bundle of five plans: An approach to city growth with neighborhood character and gentrification in mind, a city park system that offers a green space within a 10-minute walk of every Denver neighborhood, and more frequent transit service with options to address the first and last mile throughout the city.

Those plans — “Denveright Comprehensive Plan: 2040“; “Blueprint Denver“; “Denveright’s Game Plan for a Healthy City“; “Denver Moves: Transit“; and “Denver Moves: Pedestrians and Trails” — will serve as an update on current city’s plan, like the last Blueprint plan adopted in 2002, said Brad Buchanan, executive director of Denver Community Planning and Development.

The proposals strive to address “literally every aspect of living in Denver in a real-time conversation,” Buchanan added. “How do we manage change and how do we go about it in a way that is authentic to Denver?”

In the face of rapid growth, the plans could be a comprehensive response to Denver’s population boom. More than 7,000 people move to Denver annually, and 189,000 more people and 136,000 new jobs are projected by 2040, the city said. The means Denver’s population would near 900,000.

With that boom have come growing pains. Denver’s dynamic and burgeoning economy hasn’t served everyone equally, often along racial lines, and the character of some neighborhoods have been lost in translation.

The plans however aspire to move the needle on affordability in the city by reducing the number of residents spending more than 45 percent of their income on housing and transportation to 35 percent by 2040.

Additionally, the plan seeks to create “complete neighborhoods” with access to transit, jobs and retail within walking distance for at least half of households in 60 Denver neighborhoods by 2040.

And, the plan seeks to alter the way Denverites move around the city by reducing the percent of residents who drive alone to work in a single-occupancy vehicle from 73 percent to 50 by 2040.

“This is really about addressing the future of our city,”  Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said.

Hancock touts the process of drafting the plans, doting that more than 20,000 people and more than 100 community leaders and experts participated in the process.

“Ultimately what you have is these great plans that emanated from a community conversation,” he added.

The plans are now available for public review through Oct. 31 here, after which point city leaders will use public comments to make revisions to the plans.

In early 2019, Comprehensive Plan 2040, Blueprint Denver and Game Plan for a Healthy City will be considered by the Denver City Council. The other plans do not require council approval.

The city will host a Denveright event Aug. 28 at 5:30 p.m. at the City Park Pavilion to share details on the plans.

The Denver Chalk Art Festival on Larimer Square is a two-day street-painting festival where more than 200 artists spend hours turning the streets of Larimer Square into a museum of chalk art, as seen in this June 4, 2016, photo. (iStock/Getty Images)

‘A measured approach to growth’

Rapid growth and boundless development has led to the vanishing character of some Denver neighborhoods and natives being squeezed out.

Blueprint Denver vows to take a more “nuanced” direction toward growth and development, taking into account “social-economic equality” among neighborhoods, said Kimball Crangle, a member of the plans task force and an affordable housing developer. Neighborhoods would remain authentic, “economically, socially and racially diverse” as they evolve, Crangle said.

“We have to bring Denver neighborhoods up to the same standards and Blueprint is the driving factor,” Crangle said. “It’s taking at a holistic view at social-economic equality.”

The plan introduces the idea of “complete neighborhoods,” with convenient access to transit and quality of life amenities like grocery stores and parks.

The plan categorizes neighborhoods to limit appropriate development to certain areas — to address instances like new mixed-use, condominium developments arriving in a neighborhood of single-family homes.

The city could institute a design review process to help determine whether the architecture of new development fits with the existing character of a Denver neighborhood, Buchanan said. It would also encourage historic building preservation, Crangle said.

The plan directs most new housing and commercial growth to designated centers and corridors that are home to strong transit options and major roadways. For instance, the plan calls for the most intense growth in regional centers like downtown and the Interstate 25/Broadway area and corridors like Colfax Avenue and transit-oriented areas.

On transportation, the plan calls for a street design that prioritizes walking, biking and transit, through a complete “multimodal” network.

Crowds walk though the modern architecture of the new train station at the redeveloped Denver Union Station, the city’s transit hub. (iStock/Getty Images)

Scaling Denver transit

With the growth spurt, moving Denverites around the city has become a challenge, city leaders say, especially when 73 percent are commuting alone in their car, bus service is infrequent and access to light rail is limited. Given that, just 7 percent of Denverites carpool, 6 percent utilize transit, 4 percent bike and 1 percent walk to work.

Denver’s first-ever local transit plan could address this through a variety of ways, including buying up capacity on Regional Transportation District routes, creating its own system, or exploring private-public partnerships to create new transit options, Buchanan said.

Denver wants to make transit stops more frequent and address the first and last mile problem in transit.

The plans targets 19 transit corridors that “merit significant improvement,” based on technical analysis and community input.

Denver could invest anywhere from $5 billion to $1 billion to scale public transit in those corridors, with concepts ranging from very significant development of light rail and bus service to no investment in light rail and a light improvements of bus service.

Paul Aldretti, a member of the Denver Moves: Transit taskforce, said the transit plan intersects with the Blueprint Denver plan in it is about social-economic equality.

“Convenient access to transit has such a tremendous effect on prosperity,” he said.

Parks, trails and sidewalks

The parks plan calls for the city’s system to adapt to a changing climate and the prevalent risks of drought and flooding. Public parks space would grow with Denver under the plan as well, to offer a space within 10 minutes of every neighborhood.

While the city’s population has grown by 11 percent over a five-year period starting in 2011,  park space only grew by 1 percent, the city’s park access of nine acres per 1,000 residents is well below the national average of 13 per 1,000, and the Mile High City lags behind peer cities in spending on parks.

Under the Denver Moves: Pedestrians and Trails plan, the city would look to integrate pedestrian, bicycle, trails and transit networks by completing gaps in the sidewalk system, widening some existing sidewalks or improving crosswalks to make city streets safe for pedestrians at an estimated cost of $1.3 billion.

To complete Denver trails and make other improvements over the course of the plan, Denver estimates spending $400 million.

“Our park system is a vital element of Denver’s infrastructure and directly influences the health and livability of our city,” Denver Parks and Recreation Executive Director Happy Haynes said.

Voters will consider a parks dedicated sales tax of 0.25 percent, or about 2.5 cents on a $10 purchase — which would raise an estimated $41.5 million annually — on the November ballot. Those funds would be used to purchase new parkland and/or finance improvements to existing parks.

Adam McCoy

Adam McCoy

Adam McCoy covers Denver-area politics for Colorado Politics.