Op-Ed: Let’s Plan Denver Right

This op-ed column, authored by rotating guest writers, aims to stir conversations on architecture and design among our creative community.  blog-header 

WORDS: Brad Buchanan | IMAGE: James Florio 


Back then, Union Station was an underused building surrounded by surface parking lots. Behind it, the Central Platte Valley and what’s now Confluence Park were a labyrinth of railroad tracks and an inaccessible riverfront. Stapleton was an airport. Light rail transit was a gleam in someone’s eye. 

I loved Denver then, and I had big dreams for what it could be. But who could have imagined Denver would grow and evolve quite the way it has? 

Fortunately, somebody did. In the 1990s, Denver Planning Director Jennifer Moulton saw this day coming. She convened a group of forward-thinkers who understood just how much Denver would grow, and that we needed to address it, stat. As the economic hub of the Rocky Mountain West, with a great climate, charming neighborhoods, friendly people and access to amazing recreation, it was bound to attract residents and businesses in increasing numbers. 

After years of community outreach, Moulton and company in 2002 produced Blueprint Denver, a land use and transportation plan that laid out a citywide strategy for how our city would evolve. I had the privilege of being part of the team that wrestled with these big ideas. 

Blueprint Denver made it a priority to preserve existing neighborhood character while delivering new neighborhoods that reknit the city’s urban fabric. Blueprint’s emphasis on mobility options and mixed- use development has kept us focused on moving more people in different ways, and allowing more people to work, shop, and play close to where they live. 

Innovative for its time, Blueprint Denver has served us well. But Denver has changed considerably since 2002. Now it’s time to plan for what’s on the horizon. 

It might be tempting to think that Denver could stay the same if we don’t plan for development and transportation, parks and open space, transit and trails. That if we don’t accommodate growth, perhaps growth will simply pass us by. But let’s be clear. This isn’t a case of “If you build it, they will come.” They’re coming regardless. 

Through a combination of newborns and transplants, Denver proper is projected to grow 20 percent by 2035 to 830,000 residents. The metro area is expected to reach 4.5 million. With more change on the horizon, it’s time once again to imagine what our future should look like. 

So, Denver, what do we want to be? 

This spring, the city of Denver launched Denveright, a community-driven planning process that challenges you to shape how our city evolves in four key areas: land use, mobility, parks, and recreational resources. Denveright includes an update of the innovative but outdated Blueprint Denver plan. 

The truth is, great cities don’t happen by accident. They are the result of intentional planning, committed community members, and thoughtful public projects that guide their evolution. We need you to bring your brainpower, your passion, and your hopes (and fears) to ensure we’re creating the next great places, protecting the places we already love and making life better for all Denverites. 

Denver’s having a moment. It is the number one destination for millennials. Its economy is strong, and unemployment is at 3.3 percent. This year, U.S. News and World Report named it the best city in which to live. But its greatness can’t be sustained or improved without the involvement of its residents and businesspeople regarding what’s next. 

Denver’s changing face is a topic of lots of conversations. Whether it’s around the dinner table or on social media, we all care about the future of our city and we’re not shy about it. But we need you to show up. Go online, attend a public workshop, or come to a community event to talk to our street team. And this is important because our plans become the basis for regulations that guide what gets built and where. Whether you love the changes happening in Denver or think it’s going the wrong direction, we want to hear from you. This is the opportunity to craft your plan, your vision for our future. 

You really can play a part in shaping the future of your city, so don’t be a bystander. 

For me, Denver’s best attribute has always been its authenticity—from the cow town of yesterday to co-working spaces of today. I want our city to be authentic, affordable, and approachable for everyone who lives here. I want it to be culturally rich, with sustainable, healthy communities peppered with beautiful and functional open spaces. 

So, what are your priorities for Denver? 

Over the next 18 months, you can take map-based surveys, connect on social media and attend Denveright meetings to engage with your neighbors as well as city planners. Get started, and together, we’ll chart the course of the Mile High City for the next 20 years.

Brad Buchanan is the Executive Director of Denver Community Planning and Development. 

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