Sustainability and NU converge at Denver’s Stapleton

Are New Urbanism and environmentalism potentially strong allies? One place to look for an answer is Denver’s Stapleton Airport redevelopment. Not only does the 4,700-acre project offer a combination of housing, employment, shopping, and neighborhood gathering places for an eventual 30,000 residents; it is also becoming known as a model of sustainability.

In June, Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf presented one of 14 Stockholm Partnerships for Sustainable Cities Awards worldwide to the Stapleton redevelopment. It was the only US project to win the award, intended to promote environmentally sound development.

“The Stapleton Airport reuse project breaks the old pattern,” said a juror, “by demonstrating that sustainability is economically viable and contributes to the bottom line, while calling into question 50 years of single-land-use development and automobile-dependent design.”

Peter Calthorpe, who was hired by master developer Forest City Enterprises to master-plan the airport’s conversion into a series of neighborhoods, parks, employment centers — with EDAW providing the project’s landscape design — views Stapleton as “the greyfield to end all greyfields.” Eleven hundred acres of pavement from runways, parking lots, and tarmac have been removed and recycled. Westerly Creek, which had been in a pipe below a runway, has been brought into the sunlight. Four miles of the degraded Sand Creek have been reclaimed and made part of a trail network connecting with areas beyond Stapleton.

The award honored Stapleton for pursuing an ambitious set of goals: diverse housing, pedestrian-friendly design, convenient public transportation, energy efficiency, recycling, use of sustainable building materials, xeriscaping, water conservation, improved indoor air quality, and environmental remediation. Housing is required to meet the “built Green Standards” of the Metropolitan Association of Homebuild-ers, reportedly making it the largest “green” development in the US as well as the nation’s largest infill redevelopment.

The jurors especially praised the system of citizen involvement and the public-private partnership between the City of Denver, Forest City, and the Stapleton Redevelopment Foundation. The nonprofit Foundation raised $4 million, primarily from businesses, foundations, and individuals, to produce an overall design in collaboration with the city government and citizens. In the 1990s the Foundation put together a design team led by Cooper, Robertson & Partners, BRW, Civitas, and Andropogon Associates. From that team came the original development plan.

The first residential neighborhood in Stapleton, about five miles east of downtown, is now under construction. Quebec Square, a regional shopping center, opened in June. Eleven hundred acres of parks and open space will be in the development at completion. u

Editor’s note: see article on page 12, “Making Big Boxes More Civil,” for more information on Stapleton.