South Main

Buena Vista, Colorado


Outside Buena Vista, Colorado, on the site of a former garbage dump, forty acres of riverfront land sat vacant for years. It took two nature-loving developers—risktakers with a background as competitive kayakers—to see what it could become.

Following a public design charrette run by Dover, Kohl & Partners, construction began on South Main—a New Urbanist town extension that reconnects the small mountain town to the Arkansas River. Today, its central South Main Square is surrounded by mixed-use buildings and provides a gathering space for residents and visitors. Neighborhood streets are oriented to allow views to the mountains and riverfront.

“As someone who has lived here for some time, I’m just in awe at all of it,” says Dennis Giese, Chairman of the Chaffee County Commissioners. “I just stopped by the Buena Vista Roastery coffee shop, and I looked up and down Main Street and there were people everywhere. Young people, young families. And that’s what South Main has brought.”

The climbing rock in the town center attracts people from all over.

The developers have delivered on key principles established by residents during the charrette: maintaining public access to the river; creating a high-quality riverfront space; establishing visual and physical connections with Main Street and downtown Buena Vista including a dramatic view of a historic cupola with background mountains; and creating a walkable neighborhood through a mixture of uses, network of pedestrian connections, and human-scale streets.

“We love to walk, and living in South Main allows us to walk most anywhere—for work, errands, and just for fun,” say residents Wil and Christine Franz. “Everything is so accessible–local businesses, great hiking and mountain biking trails, and the river, of course.”

Bicycle friendly streets and single-family houses

South Main feels like a natural extension to the town because the architecture draws from the local vernacular. By providing a connection to the river, South Main helps to complete the town. When Buena Vista residents come for events, they get to walk South Main’s streets, learn about the vision for the neighborhood, and experience firsthand the qualities that make it a great place to live.

Whitewater rafting at the Arkansas River park in South Main.

Top photo: South Main town center. Source: South Main.

Similar Projects

A small city embraces walkability and reverses decline #thisisCNU

Birmingham, Michigan

After three decades of 20th century population loss and commercial decline, Birmingham, Michigan, committed to building a new identity: “The Walkable Community.” Now, thanks to forward-thinking planning across multiple sectors, the city has grown

A model for transit-oriented revitalization #thisisCNU

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Once a railway coal siding and more recently a full city block of asphalt surface parking, North Philadelphia’s Paseo Verde now provides affordable, high quality, sustainable housing for a range of income levels.

Investing in a historic green space #thisisCNU

Savannah, Georgia

"Ellis Square is one of the great stories of preservation and restoration in Savannah," says the group Discover Historic America.