Denver Development

Denver Hires Chief Urban Designer from NYC Planning Department

Eugenia Di Girolamo will start on August 1 as Denver's chief urban designer.
Eugenia Di Girolamo will start on August 1 as Denver's chief urban designer. City of Denver
After an almost year-long search, the City of Denver has hired Eugenia Di Girolamo, an architect who's currently the deputy director for urban design at the NYC Department of City Planning, as its chief urban designer.

"Eugenia will work collaboratively with policymakers, Denver residents, and the development industry to create public spaces and neighborhoods that, by design, promote inclusivity, resiliency to climate change, and improve public health and well-being," Laura Aldrete, executive director of Denver Community Planning and Development, wrote to city staffers in a June 27 email. "In this position, she will champion design excellence citywide, from how it feels to walk down the street in Denver’s neighborhoods to large-scale transformative projects."

Di Girolamo will be Denver's first employee to focus exclusively on urban design. When the city announced the job opening last July, Community Planning and Development said the department was "looking to elevate the role of urban design in preparing Denver for the future while preserving our historic buildings and staying true to Denver’s heritage."

As Aldrete explained then, "Since the days of mayors Speer and Peña, Denver has answered the needs of a growing capital city with innovative design, which we continue to do now with the challenges of this century and our community’s values in mind."

Di Girolamo, who's originally from Italy, will start work in Denver on August 1. Saying that she's still focused on concluding her work in New York City, she declined an interview request but offered this statement: "I am extremely excited to join the City and County of Denver. Denver is a beautiful city with so much to offer and I’m honored to be able to bring my passion and expertise in urban design and engagement to this great city. I am currently still working with the Department of City Planning in New York City and my immediate focus for the next few weeks is wrapping up a few major projects here. I look forward to exploring Denver’s neighborhoods and hidden gems and hearing from Denver residents very soon!"

Blueprint Denver, a land use and transportation plan adopted by Denver City Council in 2019, will serve as a guidebook for Di Girolamo. It includes this description on the challenges Denver is facing regarding urban design and development: "Our community wants new construction to create great new places while respecting the existing character of our neighborhoods. Much of the recent infill in existing residential neighborhoods is out of context with older homes, particularly in massing and scale. Similarly, recent development in mixed-use areas often lacks street activation, public spaces, human scale or contextual design historically found in these places. There are many tools to create high-quality design outcomes and to encourage development sensitive to the existing or desired character of an area. Many of these design quality tools, including design standards and guidelines, will require additional staff resources
to implement."

According to Ken Schroeppel, the director of urban design at the University of Colorado Denver's College of Architecture and Planning, creating the chief urban designer role was a great move by the city. "As somebody who teaches urban design, this is something that's very important to me and something that Denver needs. I'm thrilled that the city has taken this next step," Schroeppel says.

"I think our biggest need at the moment is finding a way to continue to densify and accommodate the tens of thousands of people that are moving to this city, particularly in the non-downtown areas," Schroeppel adds. That means building more infill housing like row homes, townhomes and walk-up apartments, and ensuring that these are "high-quality products that we want in terms of housing and that they fit in with the neighborhood."

In New York City, Di Girolamo has "led urban design research and policy development, neighborhood studies and developed rezoning proposals," according to Aldrete. 
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.

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