The Congress for the New Urbanism is holding its annual conference in Denver June 10-14, complete with bus tours of our most well-known new urbanist enclaves. But how do you judge walkable, neighborhood-based developments? Is it by the diversity (or lack thereof) of their residents, the number of parks nearby, their stumbling distance to a local watering hole? Over the next few days, we'll explore and judge -- oh yes, judge -- six of these developments and find out for sure just which is the most urban of the new urban.
Lowry is big. The ten-year-old new urbanist development occupies 1,866 acres in east Denver, 800 acres of which are dedicated to playgrounds, ball fields and an eighteen-hole golf course. The rest is taken up by shops, towering office complexes, schools, a museum and library and about 3,500 houses and apartments ranging from modest condos to stately mini mansions.
Before Lowry was dominated by wide sidewalks and dog-walkers, it was an Air Force base. The military closed the base in 1994, but by then, Denver and Aurora -- 11 percent of Lowry is in Aurora -- already had plans to redevelop it. By 1998, the first residents of the new Lowry had moved in.
Today, Lowry seems like the ideal place to host a neighborhood garage sale or play street hockey until dusk. But the abundance of perfectly manicured lawns and artsy bus stops -- not to mention the plethora of parking outside the grocery store -- makes it feel the opposite of urban.
Stumble-ability: Can people stumble home from a nearby bar or restaurant?
Maybe, if you live close enough to the "Town Center," where Lowry's handful of restaurants and bars are located. But because Lowry is so big, it would be a long stumble home for most -- and likely include a few not-so-safe-if-you're-sloshed jaunts through dark-ish office building parking lots.
Multi-modal: Can people ride their bikes/skateboards/unicycles/go-peds without getting smashed by an SUV?
Yes. The streets are wide and sandwiched between neat, well-maintained sidewalks. There are plenty of SUVs but the myriad stop signs that dot the neighborhoods seem to keep traffic at a slow crawl, though a few of the bigger streets -- like Lowry Boulevard -- can be tricky to cross.
Economic diversity: Can poor people live near rich people?
Lowry appears to be a mix of mini-mansions, large one-family homes, duplexes, upscale townhomes and workforce housing. So sure, the rich and the less-than-rich coexist here.
Real diversity: Is there a mix of people or is it just a gated community with smaller lots?
It's not the United Nations, but there is some racial and ethnic diversity in Lowry. A longtime Lowry resident reports that there are a few families of recent immigrants in her neighborhood, and there appears to be a sizable Orthodox Jewish population.
Green space: Are there open, public spaces where people are recreating? (parks, public gardens, creeks, greenways)
Lowry is lousy with green space. You can't walk around a neighborhood without running into a playground, picnic bench or running path. There's also CommonGround Golf Course, the development's brand new eighteen-hole golf course. Plus, Lowry is home to the Montclair Rec Center, Jackie Robinson Little League baseball fields and the Sports Complex, a big, city-maintained collection of every type of court you could ever want. One disappointment, however: the Reading Garden, which -- while pretty -- seems to lack any type of bench or chair that would be comfortable to sit in for more than ten minutes. Seems more like the Reader's Digest garden.
Transit test: Does it have mass transit attached or nearby that people actually use?
There are several bus stops scattered around Lowry and, in my experience, there are usually one or two people waiting for the bus in the morning and evening. But I'd say the majority of folks drive to and from work.
Mixed-useless: Is there a mix of shops and businesses integrated with housing? How many are chains?
Most of Lowry's shops are clustered in the Town Center, on the west side of the development. There are eight restaurants, three of which are chains (including a Starbucks). There's also a giant Albertson's and several smaller, non-chain stores, such as Chewy's Bonetique and Lowry's Liquors. The atmosphere feels a bit like Disney World and can be quite hopping on warm summer nights.
Civics search: Are there public buildings, community institutions or civic centers that serve a non-commercial, public need?
The city-owned Schlessman Family Library is popular, known for its big collections of computers and DVDs. There's also the public Lowry Elementary School, as well as several private primary and high schools and a satellite community college campus -- plus the aforementioned Montclair Rec Center, which has an indoor pool. And for $9, you can get up close to a B-1A supersonic bomber at the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum.
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Priced out: What seems to be the average price of a home? An apartment?
According to The Lowry List, a real estate website, the least expensive townhome in Lowry currently for sale is a 1,321-square foot, two-bedroom, two-bath deal for $150,100. The most expensive is a 3,100-square foot, three-bedroom, three-bath for $800,000. The average price of a single-family home -- which range in size from 1,869 to 3,674 square feet -- seems to be just under $600,000. The most expensive home currently for sale is listed at $980,000.
Urbanish: Does it feel like a dynamic urban place? Or is it just lipstick on a suburban pig?
I wouldn't go so far as to call it lipstick on a suburban pig but, for the most part, Lowry doesn't feel hustling or bustling in a city-ish way -- unless you consider cruising around the Albertson's parking lot on Thanksgiving Eve hustling and waiting for a table outside packed Salty Rita's bustling.