By: Jeff Sheppard, AIA
Cofounder and design principal, Roth Sheppard Architects, Denver
The rapid growth of Denver’s residential urban core is on most everyone’s radar today, yet as our city’s unprecedented development boom continues unabated, a troubling shift has begun to reveal itself to all but the most casual observer.
As downtown Denver becomes increasingly dense with block after block of repetitive five-story, stick-framed rental apartments stacked on top of (or connected to) massive concrete parking structures, banality has begun to quietly replace the well-designed historic buildings that once populated our urban core. Meaningless, uninspiring structures that feature mere surface variation rather than genuine innovation seem to be the zeitgeist of the day.
We’re talking about a huge volume of housing here. In April 2014, the Downtown Denver Partnership stated in its “Downtown Denver Economic Update” for 2014 that, “Residential development in downtown Denver and the city center neighborhoods continues to thrive with 7,170 rental units and 1,173 for-sale units under construction or planned.” Of further note, 99 percent of the above units are or will be rentals.
To put this in perspective, Ken Schroeppel said on DenverInfill.com that there were approximately 10,500 residential units built within Denver’s center city from 2000-2009, while about 5,000 units were added to the downtown core from mid-2012 to mid-2014. He notes that’s roughly half the total from the entire 2000s decade – not including any recently completed units or projects planned for 2015 and beyond.
Schroeppel concludes, “Assuming all of the developments under construction will be completed, then a total of 7,388 new residential units will be added to downtown Denver from January 2012 through mid-2015, (without including proposed projects). That translates into roughly 11,000 new residents and approximately $1.5 billion of residential investment in downtown Denver.”
In other words, the 1.5 mile radius that includes Denver’s urban core is transforming before our eyes on multiple levels – the size of investment pouring into our city to turn it into a major residential market is beyond comprehension for most of us. Yet, critical conversations about how this dramatic shift is fundamentally changing the design aesthetic of downtown Denver, or how msuch a massive number and/or percentage of renters condensed into such a small area will impact residents’ ownership of and engagement in our city, are not taking place anywhere.
This is the time for those who care about the long-term viability and vibrancy of our great city to pause and consider whether there might be more appealing, innovative approaches to building a time-less, dynamic residential urban core before it’s too late.