A 21st Century Colorado

by Logan R.R. Perkins

November 1999

On January 1, 1990, I crossed the Colorado border for a new lifestyle. I turned my back on the career advancement potentials of Washington, DC, and moved here for an improved quality of life, especially with respect to an active outdoor lifestyle of hiking and skiing.

In 1990 I was amazed by the lack of media coverage on growth issues in Colorado compared to the daily flood in The Washington Post and county papers of Maryland and Virginia. Of course, the Denver of 1999 features articles on growth daily. The costs of real estate, traffic, and the eyesore of suburban sprawl have become the top issues of citizens and politicians.

For five weeks last autumn I drove from Denver to New Orleans, via Maine, to look at different development patterns, examine transportation systems, and identify examples of human scale, livable communities. I also spent five weeks in Europe, in total visiting 12 European countries and 27 states. Last spring I toured Singapore and Malaysia with the same objectives.

In my travels I've asked myself what makes a city great. In most cities the most enjoyable neighborhoods are the old sections where people can walk around, visit marketplaces, town squares, parks, and artisan quarters. Pedestrian oriented areas with shops, cafes, interesting architecture, and special landscaping have always been appealing.

Despite public outrage, a review of the developments that will occur over the next few years will assuredly lower the quality of life for front range residents and future generations. In the suburbs of the past 50 years the landscape throughout the US has been developed to accommodate people driving automobiles. The transportation and social needs of the approximately 80 million elderly, disabled, poor and children have been ignored.

When you look at the whole of Denver, one can name the truly exciting, fun neighborhoods on both hands. The vast majority of our landscape consists of homogeneous, auto-dependent, boring bedroom communities and ugly commercial strips.

We know what we don't like about our development patterns of the past 50 years. One should ask what new and worthwhile proposals exist for the future of the front range? My observations and conclusions mirror those of hundreds of thousands of citizens and policy makers across the country.

First, in the short- and long-term interest of Colorado, certain lands should never be paved over, including:

Specifying such lands for preservation is not an anti-growth stance. It's simply a recognition that, just as our national parks are protected, there is relevance in looking at undeveloped lands closer to our homes with similar scrutiny. Many political and economic tools exist to accomplish this, including tax easements and development credits. Where there's a will, there's a way.

Second, with the lands that remain, assess them for carrying capacity, including water availability and traffic issues. Third, for areas designated for development, create sustainable, livable cities that have high-density, mixed-use zoning around public transportation stops. Light rail and high-speed rail are desirable. Examples of such planning exist in Singapore and with Vancouver, Canada's Livable Region Strategic Plan.

Ideally, such new communities should aim to be relatively self-reliant, ecologically sustainable and auto-less in their core, with numerous alternative transportation options, such as separated trolley, bike, roller blade, and horse paths. Energy efficient building designs with recycling pantries, community garden plots, xeriscaping, and community centers constitute a short list of what constitute sustainable communities for the 21st century.

Related to such planning ideals, The Colorado Responsible Growth Act, or some variation of such, should have been passed. Promoted by Democrat state Senator Pat Pascoe and Republican state Representative Bryan Sullivant, this proposal would have created urban growth boundaries around existing cities along the lines of Oregon's twenty year old state ordinance. Amendment 2000 is another initiative that promoted "smart growth" around Colorado. The issues of growth control will not go away. New initiatives will continuously appear, both piece-meal and comprehensive.

Growth control proposals are seen as undesirable to the short-term profit motives of major financiers, developers, speculative land owners, and, too often, from the politicians whom receive major financial contributions from such special interests. This is why every citizen must take a stance regarding land use planning in this beautiful state. By any legal means necessary, just say no to continued suburban sprawl.

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