The Future Foretold

The Downtown Area Plan takes Denver twenty years into the future.

Pedestrians are the key to downtown Denver's future, which is why they're such a big part of the new Downtown Area Plan, a twenty-year growth strategy released in July.

"Every decision is focused on how to facilitate pedestrians and bicycle usage in downtown," says John Desmond, vice president for urban planning for the Downtown Denver Partnership. "You see all these chess pieces downtown, but how do you connect the board together to move people quickly and easily through the urban center?"

It's not an easy question to answer. While the new sixty-page plan abounds with vivid images and descriptions of a vital and bustling urban center, making it happen isn't going to be easy. Then again, many of the seemingly far-fetched objectives in the city's first twenty-year Downtown Area Plan in 1986 — from designating LoDo a historic district to redeveloping the Central Platte Valley — are now reality.

Here's a breakdown of some of the new plan's objectives that are likely to generate headlines — both flattering and critical — in the coming years:

• Auraria:There are plans to connect the Auraria campus to the downtown core by encouraging development along Speer Boulevard and by adding or enhancing pedestrian walkways along the street. Higher-education-oriented development has proved beneficial in East Coast cities, such as Hartford and Philadelphia, where there were blighted neighborhoods. The difference in Denver is that the area around Auraria isn't blighted. Critics argue that development on Speer would eliminate or obstruct much of the campus's green space, and they wonder if the development would actually attract high-end shops or restaurants.

• Arapahoe Square: Little-known Arapahoe Square is labeled in the plan as "Downtown's new neighborhood." Located just northeast of the commercial core and bounded by 20th Street, Larimer Street, Park Avenue West and Tremont Street, the 24-block region is roughly the size of the Central Platte Valley — and could hold just as much potential, some say. The plethora of vacant lots seems fertile ground for urban lofts and trendy retail. But Arapahoe Square is also home to many of the city's homeless shelters. Figuring out how and where to move them could prove to be a political conundrum.

· The Commercial Core: Downtown Denver has long had one primary "spine": 16th Street, running from Union Station to the Civic Center. With the development of Auraria and Arapahoe Square, the Downtown Area Plan suggests widening that spine into a square, with the commercial core in between enlivened by new transit services, improved pedestrian corridors and attractive retail, such as a European-style public market. How and where to get all that done, however, may be tricky. Some potential redevelopment sites, like the Federal Reserve Center, could be tied up by those arguing that the buildings should be preserved. Other vacant lots could be stymied by stubborn landowners.

 
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