30 January 2006

Auraria Remembered

The Denver Post appropriately takes a moment to recall the Auraria neighborhood that preceeded the current three college campus near downtown Denver, and examines the compensation that was provided when it was built, and has been provided to descendants of those who lived there afterwards.

Auraria is one of those urban planning decisions that falls into the close call categories. Putting the University of Colorado Denver campus, Metropolitian State College and the Community College of Denver on a single downtown campus has without a doubt added vitality to the respective educational institutions and has provided one pillar of many that provide a foundation of the continued vitality of Denver's downtown. It is also well situated to serve one of the largest concentrations of potential full time employee/students in the metro area, which is the population of students the campuses are designed to serve, and is at a hub of the metropolitan area's transportation networks, making it accessable to many more people.

But, the neighborhood that the campus replaced was not seriously blighted, and its elimination has hurt the neighboring Lincoln Park community greatly. Compensation was provided for the sacrifices made by those who owned homes there, and while it was not overly generous, it also wasn't meager. The loss was not so much to the individual property owners as it was to the community, what was lost was the "going concern" value of the neighborhood as a functioning organic urban unit of its own.

Growth in greater Denver's urban areas at the moment, fortunately isn't about destroying existing, functioning neighborhoods with big government projects using the power of eminent domain. It is dominated by infill, much of which replaces uses that have departed the sites now being developed for good like Stapleton (formerly a city airport), Lowry (formerly a military airport), Gates Rubber (formerly a factory), old Elich Gardens (formerly an amusement park), Fitzsimmons (formerly an Air Force base), the Post Properties community in Uptown (formerly a hospital), the South Platte neighborhood (formerly a railyard), LoDo (formerly skid row), Cinderella City (a former mall), Belmar (a former mall), Southglen (a former mall) and the redevelopment of the University Hospital complex. Where existing viable housing is being replaced, it is being done through private transactions, at negotiated fair market value prices, on a lot by lot basis. Much of downtown Denver's redevelopment is replacing parking lots with high rises.

Of course, the infill trend is as much a product of good fortune as good planning. Detroit and Buffalo don't have the luxury of having a real estate market so hot that there are developers ready to seize upon every vacant spot in the city. But, one wonders if rust belt communities couldn't learn from Denver's experience with successful infill to revitalize themselves. Large abandoned parcels of land are not just failures, they are also opportunities.

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