Denver Development Shows Urban Growth Can Be Green

Not so long ago, Denver and its seemingly uncontrollable sprawl gobbled up the meadows and foothills of the Rockies. Nowadays, city residents have changed their minds about ‘burbs that attack like the blob. New Urbanism is the city’s new chic, with the old Stapleton Airport being redeveloped and countless smaller projects sprouting up on infill sites. Highlands’ Garden Village (HGV), Denver’s latest planned neighborhood, continues the trend, showing that even more can be done with a model of controlled growth.

Developed by Jonathan Rose Companies LLC on the site of a former amusement park and botanical garden, the 27-acre HGV is a mixed-use community just 10 minutes’ drive from downtown Denver. The development includes single-family homes, townhouses, and apartment units that are available to a variety of incomes; it also contains 150,000 square feet of office and retail space.

Many New Urbanism projects have been criticized for being as land-hungry as any other subdivision. HGV is different, though, not only because it occupies a previously developed but abandoned site, but also because it refuses to squander resources. Being mixed-use, HGV creates the opportunity for some residents to walk to work; the site is also transit-linked, with its own bus stop. The development even runs a program whereby residents who feel too ecologically responsible to own a gas-guzzler can rent compressed-gas cars by the half-hour.

Moreover, all of HGV’s building materials—recycled and recyclable— exceed Colorado’s Built Green and Energy Star programs. Concrete from site demolition was reused for roadbeds, the landscaping is native (which means that it can probably tolerate the region’s recent drought better than transplanted species), and some of the buildings run on alternative power sources (such as wind-generated electricity). These efforts have not gone unnoticed: In March, HGV received the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Excellence Award.

Funny, even with all of its environmentally friendly measures, HGV doesn’t look terribly different from its neighbors: perhaps just a little more cheerful. And what a good thing that is, since most people prefer housing that is more familiar than foreign. In fact, what sets the development apart isn’t some crunchy granola solar housing, but rather the restored theater and carousel buildings, which date from the bygone days of roller coasters and hothouse flowers.

HGV is a financially tenable development—it can be replicated elsewhere, with recoverable costs. There’s no better example of this point than the Jonathan Rose Companies’ other sustainable developments, which include the Denver Dry Goods Building and the Burnham Building in Irvington, New York. These structures should stand not as exceptions, but as inspirations to other real estate developers who are considering doing business with a conscience.