A New Development

The way developers view the blank slate of open space in America says a lot about us as a nation. For example, our understanding of postwar culture begins with Levittown, New York, where the Levitt family mass-produced almost 20,000 virtually identical homes in the late 1940s at a peak rate of 30 per day, transforming 6,000 acres of Long Island potato farms into the prototypical U.S. suburb.

If Levittown was a Ford, then Stapleton, a massive redevelopment project on the former site of Denver’s airport, is a bicycle. Boasting its own “green book” of sustainable guidelines as well as an explicit effort to rectify virtually every postwar sprawl-related ill—economic stratification, air pollution, car reliance, community disintegration, detachment from nature—Stapleton garnered the prestigious Stockholm Partnerships for Sustainable Cities award in May 2002.

By comparing the nuts and bolts behind Stapleton’s departure from the Levittown template, it becomes clear that the more things stay the same, the more they require a paradigm shift. It remains to be seen whether any Stapletonians will actually investigate, for example, their new Central Park’s distant past as an open plain, as its swaths of prairie grass are meant to suggest. But if nothing else the project comforts design nerds by at least considering that residents have minds of their own. Ultimately it’s a 4,000-acre step in the right direction.

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