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Stapleton, Denver: Living up to its New Urbanism Promise?

Stapleton, Denver: Living up to its New Urbanism Promise?

Stapleton, Denver is a New Urbanism development on the site of former Stapleton International Airport, which closed in 1995. The former airport sat on 4,700 acres located about ten minutes east from Downtown Denver. Stapleton, at full build-out, is expected to be home to: Nearly 30,000 residents in 13,000 homes; Ten plus schools; An eighty-acre

Stapleton, Denver is a New Urbanism development on the site of former Stapleton International Airport, which closed in 1995. The former airport sat on 4,700 acres located about ten minutes east from Downtown Denver. Stapleton, at full build-out, is expected to be home to:

  • Nearly 30,000 residents in 13,000 homes;
  • Ten plus schools;
  • An eighty-acre central park;
  • A commuter-rail station;
  • 8.2M square feet of planned office space;
  • 4M of retail space; and
  • 1,200 acres for parks and open space.

On paper, it is an urban planning and New Urbanism enthusiasts dream. Stapleton International Airport provided a blank slate for the redeveloper, Forest City Enterprises and its urban planners, to plan and construct a pre-eminent development in the Denver area.

Housing styles in Stapleton, Denver, Colorado
Housing styles in Stapleton

Despite its international acclaim though, I’m just not buying what Stapleton is selling - and I am not alone.

In 2004, the first residents moved into Stapleton’s first apartments. And just ten years later, it’s not without problems - problems directly in conflict with its New Urbanism principles:

Rental and affordable housing: A report issued by the Stapleton Citizens Advisory Board raised concern about Forest City not placing enough emphasis on developing rental and affordable housing. Indeed, the median home sales price in Stapleton is $434,000. Compare that to the $253,000 median home value for Denver as a whole.

An affordable housing sign across from completed condos in Stapleton, Denver, Colorado
An affordable housing sign across from completed condos

 

Schools: Stapleton has only two Denver Public Schools of the ten it originally planned. They are overcrowded and the largest number of kids in Stapleton right now are two years-olds, so it’s not going to get better anytime soon.

 

Bill Roberts School in the Stapleton, Denver, Colorado development
Bill Roberts School in the Stapleton development

Open space: The same report issued by the Stapleton Citizens Advisory Board noted the lack of open space development and Forest City Enterprises’ inability to meet its deadline.

Retail Development: The expectation of a new-age neighborhood where cars remain parked and residents walk to neighborhood services remains elusive for some homeowners in Stapleton. A planned retail center anchored by a grocery store at Stapleton’s eastern boundary is currently occupied only by a single-bay carwash. Proposed retail along the southern boundary is largely non-existent.

A gas station, car wash, and vacant site along the southern boundary of Stapleton, Denver, Colorado
A gas station, car wash, and vacant site along the southern boundary of Stapleton

A Bit Too “The Truman Show:” From my experiences of walking around Stapleton, studying Stapleton in college courses, and living a mere five miles from Stapleton, I have to say: It’s just a little too much like “The Truman Show” movie for me. A running joke at my former job was you had to be married, have 2.2 kids, and a golden retriever to live in Stapleton. Stapleton just isn’t a good, organic, genuine neighborhood like many other Denver neighborhoods.

The development just seems like it’s “trying too hard.”

Despite it’s promise of walkable streets, mixed-use, and accessibility without needing a car, Stapleton has struggled to meet its New Urbanism promises ten years after residents first moved in.

What are your views of New Urbanism? Why do you think New Urbanism developments struggle so much with affordable housing?

Credits: Images by Jonathan Knight. Data linked to sources.

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Jonathan Knight is an award-winning planner and a recent graduate of Kansas State University with a Master's of Regional and Community Planning and Minor in Business. His interest in planning probably came from his avid playing of "Roller Coaster Tyc...

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