Imagine a Denver where teachers can afford to buy homes near the schools where they teach.
Imagine a Denver where new residents and working families can afford owning a home, and where longtime residents can afford to age in community.
Imagine a Denver with clean air and a transportation system that allows us to get places without sitting in traffic. Imagine a Denver where people of all ages, identities and ZIP codes enjoy a great quality of life.
2023 will provide continued challenges to this vision, but there is an opportunity if we think about housing and transportation differently.
Denver is growing and changing. The issues we are facing are real, including the rising cost of housing, gentrification and displacement, homelessness, traffic deaths and injuries. This spring as Denver residents head to the polls, we will elect a new mayor and city council members. It’s time for bold leadership willing to implement solutions that will guide us towards a more inclusive city where all residents can thrive.
Our future city leadership has the power to enact policies that will make Denver more livable. We need more attainable housing and transportation options. Many desirable neighborhoods are not accessible to an average income earner and there is opportunity to diversify housing options.
This could be achieved through the creation of income-restricted, attainable, “gentle density” infill in all neighborhoods, particularly near schools and within one mile of bus transit. This type of development includes small-scale infill consisting of townhomes and multiplexes, which have been historically present in many Denver neighborhoods such as Capitol Hill.
Denver made great progress by implementing the Expanding Housing Affordability program that will create more rental housing in areas designated for high density development. Now it’s time to expand the program to the rest of Denver and create affordable homeownership options for Denverites in neighborhoods with good schools, parks, and access to employment, transportation and other opportunities.
As we expand the housing affordability program to address homeownership, we have an opportunity to improve the quality of neighborhood design as well. Too often, new development has become synonymous with big, boxy structures that stand out from the surrounding context, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Cities have the ability to create “Pattern Zoning” which establishes predictable design outcomes that are consistent with community character and vision. Pre-approved concept plans, created through a community engagement process, are then free to use by developers.
The plans would speed up the building permit approval process and produce designs that fit the scale of the neighborhoods. With this approach, we can create more housing, make housing more affordable, and be respectful of traditional Denver architecture by creating a publicly accessible library of plans for accessory dwelling units, stacked flats, and townhomes.
We can also think differently about transportation. Denver has a rich tradition of public transportation that shaped our city; our beloved neighborhoods were created on a streetcar network. As Denver grows it’s time to give Denverites options beyond driving a car.
The 2019 Denver Moves Transit Plan laid out a strategy for making transit a more practical and attractive alternative. More frequent — and more dependable — bus service can become a better choice to sitting in traffic. The city can allocate drive lanes for buses so they can run on schedule without competing with traffic and can buy additional service from RTD to increase frequency.
Fewer cars will make our streets safer and improve our air quality. The new city leadership has a great opportunity and responsibility to implement the adopted plans and deliver a transportation system that our growing city needs.
As we look towards 2023 and beyond, let’s make resolutions to become a city that is inclusive, affordable, and accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds. To that end, we need abundant housing options for people of all income levels and transportation choices that support that diversity.
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