April 03 2014

Stapleton, Denver: Living up to its New Urbanism Promise?

Stapleton, Denver is a New Urbanism development on the site of former Stapleton International Airport, which closed in 1995. The former airport sat on 4,700 acres located about ten minutes east from Downtown Denver. Stapleton, at full build-out, is expected to be home to:

  • Nearly 30,000 residents in 13,000 homes;
  • Ten plus schools;
  • An eighty-acre central park;
  • A commuter-rail station;
  • 8.2M square feet of planned office space;
  • 4M of retail space; and
  • 1,200 acres for parks and open space.

On paper, it is an urban planning and New Urbanism enthusiasts dream. Stapleton International Airport provided a blank slate for the redeveloper, Forest City Enterprises and its urban planners, to plan and construct a pre-eminent development in the Denver area.

Housing styles in Stapleton, Denver, Colorado
Housing styles in Stapleton

Despite its international acclaim though, I’m just not buying what Stapleton is selling – and I am not alone.

In 2004, the first residents moved into Stapleton’s first apartments. And just ten years later, it’s not without problems – problems directly in conflict with its New Urbanism principles:

Rental and affordable housing: A report issued by the Stapleton Citizens Advisory Board raised concern about Forest City not placing enough emphasis on developing rental and affordable housing. Indeed, the median home sales price in Stapleton is $434,000. Compare that to the $253,000 median home value for Denver as a whole.

An affordable housing sign across from completed condos in Stapleton, Denver, Colorado
An affordable housing sign across from completed condos


Schools: Stapleton has only two Denver Public Schools of the ten it originally planned. They are overcrowded and the largest number of kids in Stapleton right now are two years-olds, so it’s not going to get better anytime soon.


Bill Roberts School in the Stapleton, Denver, Colorado development
Bill Roberts School in the Stapleton development

Open space: The same report issued by the Stapleton Citizens Advisory Board noted the lack of open space development and Forest City Enterprises’ inability to meet its deadline.

Retail Development: The expectation of a new-age neighborhood where cars remain parked and residents walk to neighborhood services remains elusive for some homeowners in Stapleton. A planned retail center anchored by a grocery store at Stapleton’s eastern boundary is currently occupied only by a single-bay carwash. Proposed retail along the southern boundary is largely non-existent.

A gas station, car wash, and vacant site along the southern boundary of Stapleton, Denver, Colorado
A gas station, car wash, and vacant site along the southern boundary of Stapleton

A Bit Too “The Truman Show:” From my experiences of walking around Stapleton, studying Stapleton in college courses, and living a mere five miles from Stapleton, I have to say: It’s just a little too much like “The Truman Show” movie for me. A running joke at my former job was you had to be married, have 2.2 kids, and a golden retriever to live in Stapleton. Stapleton just isn’t a good, organic, genuine neighborhood like many other Denver neighborhoods.

The development just seems like it’s “trying too hard.”

Despite it’s promise of walkable streets, mixed-use, and accessibility without needing a car, Stapleton has struggled to meet its New Urbanism promises ten years after residents first moved in.

What are your views of New Urbanism? Why do you think New Urbanism developments struggle so much with affordable housing?

Credits: Images by Jonathan Knight. Data linked to sources.

Jonathan Knight

Jonathan Knight is an award-winning planner and a recent graduate of Kansas State University with a Master's of Regional and Community Planning and Minor in Business. His interest in planning probably came from his avid playing of "Roller Coaster Tycoon" as a child: always fascinated in how complex things in the built environment worked; how they fit together; and why people feel certain ways in different environments. He has worked in sustainability, regional planning, and school planning. He is a professional freelance photojournalist and has been published in national, regional, and local publications. Upon graduation, Jonathan followed his dreams of living near the Rocky Mountains and moved west to Denver, Colorado. At some point during his time at The Grid in 2014, he will have climbed all 58 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado--a 12-year journey completed! Jonathan will be blogging about innovative urban planning, transportation, and housing projects occurring in the Denver region as it seeks to be a world-class city for businesses and people.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, April 3rd, 2014 at 9:03 am and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Environmental Design, Housing, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


2 Responses to “Stapleton, Denver: Living up to its New Urbanism Promise?”

  1. Thomas Says:

    While you make some valid points, this article is poorly written and poorly researched. Stapleton currently has five public schools open with a sixth opening in the fall and a seventh opening fall 2015. The lack of affordable housing is significantly impacted by City of Denver’s deed restrictions on affordable units. These restrictions make it difficult for a buyer to resell their affordable unit, causing many qualifying buyers to seek out non-restricted market-rate units elsewhere (see http://www.denverpost.com/commented/ci_15200385). The report cited, is actually a Denver Post article and since it was published, funds have been found to finish Westerly Creek North and the 26th Ave Park will be developed as soon as development of Aurora land begins (soon).

    I am also curious as to how you’d define “trying too hard” as a negative thing and what exactly you mean when you say Stapleton isn’t “a good, organic, genuine neighborhood.” Could you site some examples in Denver of these types of neighborhoods?

    That said, I would agree that Forest City has dropped the ball when it has come to retail and commercial development. Its leadership is primarily focused on conservative ventures that will maximize its profitability, rather than building unique, authentic amenities. Quebec Square is an eyesore that is far from new-urbanism. Northfield was developed ahead of its time and Forest City over-estimated the site’s potential to be a regional retail power center, which has resulted in a high vacancy rate.

  2. Jonathan Knight Says:

    Hi Thomas, thank you for your comments and feedback. My suggestion would be Denver areas like Lowry (where I live; article forthcoming), Berkeley, or Capitol Hill: Mixed-use neighborhoods that have a plethora of mixed-use streets, a mix of architectural styles, mixed demographics, and better urban design.

    Perhaps Stapleton will get there one day. But right now, it seems like it is trying to appeal to everyone, yet only appeals to white, middle-class to upper-class Denver families. I find the urban design suspect, hence it is “trying too hard.” It just seems too programmed, too thought-out, and too robotic.

    As a Stapleton resident, I am sure you are well-versed in your neighborhood. Therefore, I appreciate your comments and incite. It adds to the value of the original post.

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