08 January 2006

Denver's New Neighborhoods

Last week I discussed choosing a neighborhoods in Denver in general. This week, I'll profile some of Denver's "new" neighborhoods: Stapleton, Lowry, Elitch Gardens, South Platte and Gateway.

Few central cities in major American metropolitan areas are adding new neighborhoods. Denver would seem an unlike candidate to have done so, as it is virtually landlocked (although Colorado has the interesting legal quirk of allowing incorporated municipalities to be discontinuous), has its ability to annex land restricted by the state constitution, and has been quite heavily developed over more than 130 years. But, it has added new neighborhoods.

Stapleton and Lowry are both former airports. Stapleton was once the municipal airport, and was decommissioned when former Mayor Federico Pena's brainchild, the Denver International Airport opened. Lowry (with one corner at Alameda and Quebec) used to be an Air Force base, which was redeveloped when the military didn't need it anymore. Both were redeveloped by public commissions on which Denver Water Board member and former Mayoral candidate Penfield Tate served.

The Lowry redevelopment came first, and because the base had many salvagable buildings, including residences, retains much of its historic feel. Some of the old barracks and officer's housing has been remodeled, but retained as housing. An old hangar remains the Wings Over the Rockies Museum. Colorado Free University, an adult enterprise that offers short, recreational, non-degree classes has a campus in some of the old offices at the base, and the National Association of State Legislatures (which is a key partner in drafting and enacting most of the nation's uniform state laws, such as the Uniform Commercial Code), has a beautiful new office complex there. It is home to the private Stanley British Primary school, and also have its own complex of shops and a grocery store, as well as a new municipal library across the street. Aside from a large complex of upper-mid range apartments near Aurora's border with Denver, and a senior housing complex on of the entrances to the neighborhood, most of the housing is higher end, new construction, single family housing. While, new urbanism was a goal in creating the development, and it does have some nice parks, this new neighborhood, while lacking the worst flaws of suburban blight, is not terribly walkable, quite divided in terms of use and property values, and not perfectly intuitive to find your way around. Still, it does offer higher end single family new construction quite close to downtown.

Stapleton is probably the best new development of its size anywhere in the nation. It is huge. Ultimately, it will have thousands of new residences, office space, and commercial areas. It is very close to a ideal new urbanist model, with community parks and recreation centers, in addition to larger open space type parks which are in the works, new elementary schools within walking distance of most homes (Westerly is a conventional elementary school and shares a building with a "outward bound" themed school). High density housing of a variety of types, from row houses, to low rise apartment buildings, to "mansion homes" which have several non-uniform units with what appears to be a single large mansion as you see the fascade, to "patio homes" which have seperate houses or duplexes that share a common yard. A mix of builders were granted permission to build in the subdivision. There is a wide range of prices from very affordable (with covenant controls on prices), to higher end housing (just about everything short of mini-mansions). All housing, even single family units, are in fairly small lots, with alley garages, with a traditional grid pattern of streets that integrate into the city at large. A public magnet Science and Technology High School is in the neighborhood, and the Denver School of the Arts has been relocated from the Byers neighborhood (walking distance from my house) to the site of the former University of Denver music and theater complex just outside of Stapleton proper (DU relocated its law school and music school to its main campus at University and Evans, and sold the rest of its old campus to Johnson and Wales University, a culinary school). The Denver School of the Arts is another magnet school (for middle and high school aged kids) and fills its seats by audition or portfolio only.

Stapleton is close to downtown, and public buses connect the two, but the public buses that make that connection are among the least pleasant to ride in the entire RTD system because they pass through some of Denver's poorest and most crime prone neighborhoods, and are often full of drunks and tough guys who seem to be more intent on the ride itself than getting somewhere. Being on a bus where someone is robbed or threatened is not fun, something my wife and I learned while she was living in Chicago, even when you aren't the actual victim of the crime. So, for the foreseeable future, only the boldest of Stapleton's residents during rush hour (and those with the fewest choices) will take it.

Stapleton is more ethnically integrated than many of Denver's older neighborhoods, as well as being more economically diverse. But, the center of gravity is still decidely middle class, with a range from upper working class to upper middle class -- it lacks both the very poor and the very well off. It also seems to have more kids than Lowry.

The Gateway neighborhood (aka Green Valley Ranch) is also Denver International Airport related. It is built on the land annexed by Denver to connect DIA and the rest of the city. Much of it is multi-family, a mix of condominiums and apartments, although there are also single family homes. Almost all of the construction and the schools are new (and the schools tend to be grounded). It is the most affordable of Denver's new neighborhoods, comparable in most cases to closer new subdivisions in the suburbs, and is far less idealistic in its planning than some of Denver's other new neighborhoods. You could easily confuse it for neighboring Aurora and it gets worse airport noise than any other neighborhood in Denver. It is full new schools, and is a quite ethnically diverse working class to middle-middle class neighborhood, but unlke similar neighborhoods elsewhere in the city has very few people who are in poverty.

Elitch Gardens in Northwest Denver just a few blocks from the Western boundary of the City near 38th Avenue, is far smaller in scale than Lowry, Stapleton or Gateway. It was developed after the amusement park was relocated to the South Platte Valley near downtown. Its tidy townhouses, condominiums and single family homes, as well the most historic remnants of the amusement park (an old theater in a park), all of new construction that fits pretty well into the city grid. It does not, however, have the critical mass to define the neighborhood entirely by itself (unlike the larger developments mentioned above and the Parkway at 11th to 13th from Inca to Speer). Also, efforst to put a grocery store or other major commercial development into the neighborhood have lagged behind original plans. Thus, rather than being a truly self-contained neighborhood, Elitch Gardens is part of a larger scene in Northwest Denver of pockets of gentrification dotting a larger scene of a sprawling working class predominantly Hispanic part of Denver with poor definition between the different neighborhoods that make up the region. Also, rather than sticking with local schools and strengthening them, most of the new middle class reisdents who have turned to the area because of its more affordable housing prices have chosen to elect to either "choice in" to schools like Steele in Washington Park, to schools in neighboring school districts (Colorado allows choice between districts as well as within them), and to private schools, leaving the local schools primarily with children of less affluent children, many of whom have grown up in families that are not very familiar with the American educational system and speak a language other than Englsh at home.

Finally, the South Platte neighborhood has sprung up from old railyards between I-25 and Denver's trendy downtown LoDo area (formerly Denver's skid row). This is almost all high end condominiums and moderately expensive to very expensive apartments, with a smattering of shops and office buildings that are thriving as the area grows. It is as close as you can live to downtown without actually living there, and does not yet have a school of its own (ask a realtor about attendence areas, I suspect that most residents with children won't be happy with the local options). Like LoDo, the property owners are mostly childless people or empty nesters, and many of the apartment dwellers seem intent on soaking up the downtown life for a few years before moving on to an older residential neighborhood. The area is dominated by new Commons Park and by Confluence Park (which was also the title of a Denver Post serial novel). Both are also among the best places in the city to see the Fourth of July Fireworks for free. It also houses a skateboarding park, and abuts Elitch Gardens, the Pepsi Center (home to professional hockey and basketball), Coors Field (home to professional baseball), the Children's Museum, the Denver Aquarium (now a for profit venture after the old non-profit collapsed due to financial stresses), the REI headquarters, and the professional football stadium official known as Invesco Field at Mile High but commonly called Mile High Stadium like its predecessor. A new contemporary art museum is also moving into the area, which is also home to the headquarters for Gates Rubber, once an industrial giant in the City (its former plant site will be the next big new neighborhood in Denver when it is completed) and the font of one of Denver's largest charitable foundations, but now, the headquarters for an enterprise whose operations have moved elsewhere.

More profiles of more neighborhoods will come in future posts, but probably not so many in one post.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The 15 and 20 both run from Stapleton, The 15 does not pass through any "poor" neighborhoods on the way to the city proper.

Look, you live in the poor mans version of Washington Park, not really Washington Park at all real estate agents applied that name for out of state dummies looking for a name better than small, old, energy inefficient shacks close to Broadway.

The 0 bus which passes through your neighborhood sees more low income surroundings and in my experience is ever more dangerous than the 15.

Working class folks in Stapleton? Where? While there are some (very few) income qualified rentals and condominiums the average home is Stapleton of any consequence starts at over 500,000 dollars and quickly escalates to over 1 million. Yes, there are some homes in the low 400's but they are fewer as are the condominiums in numbers.