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Aria Denver Update

A little over a year out from our initial post, I’d like to turn our heads to the progress of Aria Denver. Since its groundbreaking in August of 2012, we have got buildings constructed and new residents entering the neighborhood. In this update, we will look at what’s on the ground, but also take a look at some of the changes that inevitably occur over the course of a multi-phase project such as Aria. [note site changes since August 2012]

Previous Plan

Current Plan

At current, Aria is only about 19% built out. About 76 out of some eventual 400 units are currently constructed, but the project scope is quite complex. With a diversity of living arrangements, some units will be constructed around a pocket neighborhood design that will put residents in an intimate physical environment that promotes social interaction. Townhomes will also play a role, as will large footprint apartments buildings. Also, as mentioned in our original post of Aria, plans for a cohousing component are still moving forward. The newly completed construction of town homes and multi-family units give us an idea of how their design will transform the site, and neighborhood.

   

   

In a residential market that is used to building boxes (maybe with a community room or a pool), Aria is going beyond the standard to bring about a holistic approach to living. If you were to visit Aria today, you would see the attention to detail that makes this project so special. Community spaces are abundant, stormwater systems have been crafted into one-of-a-kind landscaping features, the properties are surrounded by a jungle of native plantings and programming the new construction with the surrounding neighborhood is a cornerstone of this development.

With Regis University neighboring this project, there has been discussion of making room in Aria’s plans to include student housing opportunities for their growing student population. For those already established residents living within a stone’s throw of Aria, an investment has been placed in community-building programs surrounding food, transportation and overall neighborhood health. Working with UrbiCulture, a portion of the site will be transformed into 18 raised beds to generate food for what will eventually become a “pay what you can” marketplace at Elm & 52nd Avenue.  This garden will begin at 10,000 SF and eventually grow to 1 acre. At that point, the garden will be large enough to produce food for purchase by local restaurants. That money will then be reinvested to community education programs on urban agriculture.

    

   

Beyond agriculture, the project team (Urban Ventures LLC and Perry Rose LLC) is also considering plans for a bike program to put the local community in touch with accessible alternative transportation. Quality of life, and balance, are a continued focus in the on-site retail options. Where Aria originally had plans for retail on site, they are now making a concerted effort to bring in businesses centered on fitness, natural foods and overall wellness.

So what’s next for the project? By spring or summer of 2014, 9 additional townhomes will fill out the project site. Most of 2014 will see continued townhome development. Commercial space will likely be open and available by 2015 and final build-out of the site should commence by 2017.  To get a more comprehensive view of Aria Denver, take a virtual tour of the project here!


RTD West Line Countdown at DenverUrbanism!

We’re now only four days away from the grand opening of RTD’s West Line to Golden! To celebrate the occasion, we are doing a five-day countdown over at DenverUrbanism: each day a new transit-related post. Then, after our Opening Day post this Friday, we’ll do another five-day’s worth of transit posts (a “countup”!) to continue the celebration.

Photo credit: Ryan Dravitz

So, make sure you check out DenverUrbanism every day to help commemorate Denver’s rail transit system growing by another 12 miles!


Aria Denver Breaks Ground and Breaks the Mold

When infill is discussed here on the blog, we are most often referring to an instance of revitalizing the entirety, or part of, an urban city block. Well, a little over a week ago, Denver saw the groundbreaking of one of its largest infill redevelopment projects in years. Immediately east of Regis University at W. 52nd and Federal Blvd. (eight blocks from the Gold Line light rail), Aria Denver has positioned itself to be not only pronounced in size, but also in its distinct flavor of design.

The unique aspects of this development are the product of its wholesome past. Once a fruit orchard, turned convent, the 17.5 acre site has been occupied since the late 1930s by the The Sisters of St. Francis. After the Marycrest Convent saw their resident population fade from several dozen nuns to just seven, they began exploring options for redeveloping the site into something that met their needs, and also the community’s. After searching for a developer that could understand and respect their vision, the sisters teamed up with development partners Urban Ventures and Perry-Rose.

As Susan Powers explained, “The sisters placed a great deal of trust in us to develop the land in a way that would align with their mission and their values.” At the heart of this development, community has really become the focus. Though many residential developments may jump to make that claim, it is completely evident in this case. It is shown through the amount of intelligent planning, programming and quality of design represented throughout each component of Aria.

In 4 phases, 380 new homes will be built in the form of townhomes, apartments, condominiums and senior housing. What takes the community aspect beyond the typical neighborhood is its co-housing component. A portion of the housing will be designed and programmed in a way that connects people and encourages interaction. In co-housing, residents play a large part in developing their community by helping to design, and eventually share, certain amenities like a community kitchen, gardens, green spaces, and other common facilities. In Colorado, several examples of co-housing can be found in Boulder, but the concept is still quite innovative for Denver.

In addition to internal community functions, developers also provided opportunities for the greater neighborhood outside of the development. Approximately 20,000 sq. ft. of retail space will sit as the hood ornament of this development to provide new commercial assets to residents of Aria, but also to enhance Federal Blvd. One other community-building element is that both affordable and market rate housing will be available to make the lifestyle accessible to more people.

Taking a step away from programming, aesthetic design is one of the other outstanding attributes of this redevelopment. In addition to Urban Ventures and Perry-Rose, other collaborators include Oz Architects, Humphries Poli Architects, Wenk AssociatesCalthorpe Associates and award winning architect, Michelle Kauffman. Kauffman is known for her modular sustainable designs that have a distinct contemporary flair. As a result of being modular structures, they will be prefabricated and, therefore, will reduce waste, eliminate weather damage to materials, expedite construction, cut back on construction site pollution and prevent cost overruns.

     

Other sustainability wins in the project are evident through the conformity of all residential uses to follow the Enterprise Green Communities Criteria. As part of that standard, recycled materials will be used throughout, units will be equipped with low VOC products (exterior materials, windows, etc.), alternative energy will be sourced, and energy/water conserving appliances will be installed into each home. The entire site will also utilize innovative storm water designs to boost sustainability and water-conserving native plants will dress the landscapes.

Aria brings sustainability, co-housing/community building, and high design to the same table and delivers the final product in a way that pays tribute to the good intentions of The Sisters of Saint Francis. At the same time, it will also bringing Denver a totally new alternative lifestyle. Ground was broken on August 8, 2012 and the first batch of units should be available for move in by Spring 2013. For more information and renderings, click here!


US Patent Office Belongs in Downtown Denver

You probably have heard the news already that the federal government has just selected Denver, along with two other cities (Dallas and San Jose) to join Detroit as the four cities to receive a branch location of the U. S. Patent Office. The positive impacts of this for the Denver region are profound. Now, the speculation is on as to where in the Denver metro area that office should go. According to a Denver Post article from today (click here to view as a PDF), the options include Stapleton, Downtown Denver, Colorado Science & Technology Park at Fitzsimons in Aurora, Centennial, Greenwood Village, the Denver Federal Center in Lakewood, and Lone Tree.

The U.S. Patent Office belongs in Downtown Denver.

Downtown is the obvious choice. Landing this new U.S. Patent office was a big win for the region, and Downtown Denver is almost in the exact geographic center of the region. The other proposed locations form a ring around Downtown. Being centrally located in Downtown would make it easy for people from anywhere—Boulder, the Denver Tech Center area, Lakewood and Golden, Broomfield, or Aurora—to get to the new Patent office.

The feds say that a location next to a transit stop is very important. While the other potential locations are found near existing or future RTD transit lines, the Downtown Denver option would put the U.S. Patent Office at the hub of all of RTD’s transit lines. Why place the office at a location that is accessible from only one transit line? That doesn’t make it very convenient for people from throughout the region to access the office by transit. Only a Downtown Denver location gives people from throughout the region the convenience of accessing the office by transit.

Those U.S. Patent Office employees will have very limited options for walking anywhere from their office at the other locations, but in Downtown Denver, hundreds of restaurants, shops, sports, cultural, and recreational options would be available within a short walk of the office.

Finally, locating this new Patent office in Downtown is by far the most sustainable option. A Downtown office would be proximate to the greatest number of people who could access the office by a mode of transportation other than the automobile. If the feds and regional officials are serious about sustainability (and just yesterday, Mayor Hancock announced his appointment of the city’s first Chief Sustainability Officer), then they will select Downtown Denver.

Mayor Hancock: I call on you to demonstrate your leadership and commitment to sustainability and to Downtown Denver by lobbying hard to bring the U.S. Patent Office to Downtown Denver.

DenverInfill readers, what I’d like you to do is contact Mayor Hancock by email (milehighmayor@denvergov.org) or by telephone (720-865-9000) and tell him “The new U.S. Patent Office belongs in Downtown Denver!”


ULI – Recharging Colorado on December 9

Mark your calendars! The biggest event of the year for Urban Land Institute-Colorado is this Thursday, December 9. Here’s what’s in store:

The overall theme is “Recharging Colorado”. This Explorer Series event (open to both ULI members and non-members) will take place at the new 1800 Larimer building, Denver’s first LEED-Platinum office tower. The first panel discussion will focus on “The Art of the Deal”… what it took to build 1800 Larimer. Hear from the project team (developer Westfield, architect RNL, contractor Mortenson, and anchor tenant Xcel Energy) about the vision and story behind Denver’s greenest building.

After the first panel, check out the fantastic views from the tower’s 20th floor while exploring the 1800 Larimer Exhibit Hall, where about 20 contractors and vendors who contributed to the city’s most energy-efficient building will feature displays and demonstrations of the technologies that went into the project.

Then, the second panel will focus on “The New Energy Economy and Job Creation” and will begin with a welcome from Governor-Elect John Hickenlooper, followed by an in-depth discussion about the future of Colorado’s green economy by top leaders from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Rocky Mountain Institute, Vestas, and the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation.

After the second panel, head back to the 1800 Larimer Exhibit Hall to enjoy the city lights and a cocktail, and to take a tour of some of the finished tenant spaces at 1800 Larimer. Finally, the event wraps up with ULI-Colorado’s legendary holiday party featuring plenty of food, drink, and music!

For all the details and to register, please visit this page at ULI-Colorado. See you on December 9!


RTD Shuttle Grant!

2010-07-09_newmallshuttle1

RTD received word yesterday that they will receive $5.2 million through the US Department of Transportation’s Bus & Bus Facilities Discretionary Grant Program to replace 8 mall shuttles!

The new shuttles will be built by DesignLine of Charlotte, North Carolina. (Rendering above of the model of bus which will be used was provided by DesignLine and RTD.) They’ll be branded, just like the current mall shuttles – the exterior branding design is still undecided though, so that’s why the rendering is simply white. They will employ a state-of-the-art hybrid propulsion system and produce about 90% less exhaust emissions over the current shuttles, take advantage of a regeneration feature – a process in which electricity is generated by taking advantage of frequent braking action along the mall. This way, the shuttles can operate in electric zero emission vehicle (ZEV) mode about 50% of the time. Last, but certainly not least, these new shuttles will have both heating and air conditioning!

You should start seeing new mall shuttles out on 16th Street sometime next year.

RTD submitted 5 grants total – Broadway/Euclid Improvements (Boulder), US 36 BRT Buses, Downtown Distributor, Civic Center Station Rehabilitation, and the Mall Shuttle Replacement Project – in the Bus & Bus Facilities and Urban Circulators Grant Programs. Sadly, they didn’t receive any money for the other grants. But, some is better than none!

For a full listing of grant winners, check out http://www.fta.dot.gov/news/news_events_11820.html.


The Slow Home Project

The blog today was written by Caroline Tracey, a college student from Denver in the Urban Studies program at Yale University. She contacted me and offered to research and author a blog post for DenverInfill. Around the same time, I was contacted by John Brown, a Professor of Architecture at the University of Calgary, who suggested a great design topic for this blog. I put the two of them in contact with each other and… here we go: Caroline’s well written blog article on John’s Slow Home project. Thank you both for your contribution.

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Do you live in a fast house or a slow home?  Do you know how to tell the difference?  Though everyone reacts to design intuitively, most people do not know how to interpret it, or understand how it affects them.  If you have felt allured by design but unable to understand its language, Slow Home has an antidote for you.  And it has arrived in Denver.

After observing “a lack of understanding about the fundamental problems of the housing industry and a disconnect between the understanding that professionals learn and what builders are doing in practice,” John Brown, a professor of architecture at the University of Calgary, started Slow Home.  He recognized the need to raise awareness about good design, and hoped to foster widespread understanding about the importance of good design.

Brown came up with the idea of a “slow home” during a conversation about the Slow Food movement with his sister, a chef. He found that the more he developed the analogy, the more it seemed appropriate to explain the current housing industry in North America.  “I started to tell my clients,” he says, “that houses in suburbia are the fast food of housing – all standardized and homogenized.”  In the same way that Slow Food considers the source of ingredients, their composition, and the act of preparing meals, Brown’s Slow Home Project intends to raise awareness about the sourcing of materials for homes, the decisions that go into the design of a home, and its workmanship.

So what does the project do? At is foundation is the Slow Home Test, which Brown describes as a tool that gives people a skill set through which to understand design and evaluate design quality.  Fourteen indicators are weighted to add up to a possible twenty points.  Points are earned in the categories, “the house in the world,” “the house as a whole,” and “room by room.” Continuing the analogy of Slow Homes to Slow Food, Brown says, “until we knew about trans fats, we didn’t have a language to talk about the problems they cause.”  The understanding of the language of design afforded by the test allows it to be a tool to influence consumers’ buying decisions and to understand what could be improved in one’s own house.  It allows consumers to be educated about how to “vote with their dollars.”

Next, Brown took Slow Home on tour.  This is where Denver comes in.  Brown recognized a “sizeable online community” at theslowhome.com, and decided to put it to work surveying design in nine large North American cities.  Denver follows Los Angeles, Toronto, and Dallas.  Members of the online community evaluate floor plans of new houses in each city using the Slow Home test, in order to create a data set about the quality of new home design in the cities.  So far, 2,100 homes, in the categories apartments/lofts, townhouses, and single-family detached homes, have been evaluated.

The preliminary results about Denver “are essentially an inversion of the results from other cities,” says Brown.  In the apartment/loft and townhouse categories, the percentage of plans meeting Slow Home’s minimum design quality standards is lower than in other cities.  But in the detached single-family home category, in which the percentage meeting the minimum standards – thirteen out of twenty points on the test – is generally the lowest, Denver’s results are higher than other cities.  More than forty percent of new single-family homes surveyed meet minimum design standards.  Eleven percent meet standards to be considered a “Slow Home,” which Brown says is an impressive fraction – to be considered a “Slow Home,” a home must earn seventeen of twenty possible points on the Slow Home Test.  It must be well designed inside, well located, and meet environmental standards.  Seven percent of single-family homes in Dallas were “Slow Homes,” and just three percent of those in Toronto.  And Miami? “Miami is just out to lunch,” says Brown.

2010-05-22_slow_home_graph

Brown attributes Denver’s higher quality of design of single-family homes to a citywide interest in the environment and in community.  There are several urban renewal projects in the city that are doing well, he adds, including the redevelopments of Lowry and Stapleton.  Whereas “in other cities, all the new single family houses are way out in the suburbs where no one cares about them,” these projects in Denver are closer to the center of the city, and are under more scrutiny than new suburban projects.  Their design was considered more carefully, and in turn they score higher on the Slow Home test, shifting Denver’s results towards slowness.

Brown asserts that where we choose to live affects our lives.  To illustrate this point, he turns to an analogy about shoes: “wearing a pair of shoes that doesn’t fit is unpleasant – it makes your life harder, not better.”  In the same way, buying a house that has a “large unused front living room, a garage that blocks the whole front of the house so that there’s no natural sunlight, or that requires you to commute two hours each day” will not improve your quality of life.  Brown hopes that Slow Home’s design education tools will allow consumers to demand better design.  It values not expensive design, but simple, intuitive considerations by developers.  “People who understand design will refuse to buy a house without front entry closets, bedrooms with natural light, or a walkable neighborhood,” he says.

“There are people doing good work,” he continues; and with the right tools, “people will see the differences.  It’s not about telling people they’re living the wrong way, it’s about providing entertaining, educational tools to be a more informed consumer.”

Anyone can join the entertainment and education at theslowhome.com, where Brown posts daily video design exercises including analyzing and comparing floorplans and voting for the Slow Home awards for the surveyed cities.  The Slow Home awards for good new design in Denver are viewable at http://theslowhome.com/slow-home-project/denver-wrap-up/#comments.  WashPark Green, the winner for a single-family home, is pictured below.

2010-05-22_slow_home_winner


Denver B-Cycle Ready to Roll

On April 22, Denver launches B-Cycle, an ambitious bicycle-sharing program that will provide hundreds of bikes for rent at around 30 locations in the Downtown area and another dozen or so locations elsewhere in the city, such as Cherry Creek and the University of Denver.

Seeing the B-Cycle stations installed around Downtown over the past few weeks has been exciting. Here are two that I pass on my walk to work:

B-Cycle station at 16th & Platte B-Cycle station at 16th & Little Raven

As the B-Cycle website states, about 40% of all trips Americans take are less than two miles in length… perfect for a bicycle trip! B-Cycle gives Denver citizens another viable transportation option, and is one more step in the process of transitioning our automobile-dependent society into one that relies on multiple modes of transportation that are healthier and more environmentally and economically sustainable.

Here’s a map of just the Downtown locations. You can view an interactive map of all B-Cycle station locations on the B-Cycle website.

B-Cycle station locations in Downtown Denver

The Downtown Denver Partnership and the City of Denver are committed to improving the environment in Downtown for bicycles. Adding the B-Cycle program only reinforces that need and strengthens the argument for committing more of our public rights-of-way to non-motor vehicle uses.