Sierra Club Fall 2000 Sprawl Report States at a Glance: Colorado

Stapleton Airport (Denver) Shuttered Airport Yields Affordable Housing

Denver is one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States. Like similar communities in the West, it suffers from all the problems of poorly planned growth -- air pollution, gridlocked traffic and creeping sprawl. But a plan to convert Denver's former airport into a model smart-growth community points out several practices that cities can use to recycle and rejuvenate older development. The downside is that this well-planned project is marred by a lack of public transportation.

Stapleton Airport was built in the late 1920s just a half-dozen miles from what was then Denver's city line. In the 1970s and 1980s, as sprawl encroached and jets got bigger, the airport began to become less useful. The upshot: What was once an isolated airfield had become prime urban land to redevelop. By 1989, as the airport's commercial use was about to end, planning for the future of the site began.

The conversion of Stapleton to a smart- growth development has many positive aspects. It's only 10 minutes from downtown Denver, and instead of chewing up more green space on the fringes, this development makes use of vacant land near the city's center. The new Stapleton will also contain a mix of housing types, including some affordable housing. The project has a town center and puts schools, retail shops and office development all within easy walking distance.

The Stapleton conversion also sets aside at least one-third of the area to preserve Sand Creek, an important wetland. And it uses parks and parkways to create a mini-greenbelt, which will provide a transition from the city to the open space on its border.

Despite the great location, intelligent design and innovative plans to protect open space, the transportation plans need improvement. Tens of thousands of commuters will add hundreds of thousands of trips to area roads and make polluted skies worse. Public transportation is part of the plan, but it won't be in place until 2019. Denver and the developers of Stapleton need to move more quickly.