Page 46 - CCD-Mag-Summer-Fall-2020
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  When I was growing up in the 1960s, the word ‘urban’ was inevitably paired with ‘decay,’ ‘decline,’ and even ‘cancer.’ Industry fled cities leaving the legacy of foul air and burning rivers. Riots decimated downtowns and neighborhood shopping districts. Neighborhood anchors like public schools plummeted. My beloved New York City lost about a million residents in a decade and went bankrupt.
Smoldering 7th Street N.W. after the 1968 riots in Washington, DC. This downtown area is now one of the most desirable places to live and work in DC.
In the 1970s and 80s, the emergence of suburban malls, office parks, and master-planned communities picked over the economic and social remains. Cities became housing of last resort. My parents fled for Long Island, but I far preferred pre-hipster Brooklyn where a kid was independent and could walk or take transit anywhere. My loyalty remained with New York. Granted it seemed a doomed love like rooting for the ’63 Mets (or most every year Rockies).
To my surprise, cities large and small came back in population; re-attracted corporations that left for the suburbs; rebuilt downtowns, neighborhoods and transit systems. This was not by accident. Exemplified in Metro Denver, a regional approach to urban planning and economic development posed that thriving urban cores are essential to civic pride and economic health.
46 | Colorado Construction & Design
The resident of Thornton or Lone Tree is as proud of the Denver Union Station redevelopment as the denizen
of LoDo.
For 15 years I have worked for the organization most responsible for urban revitalization (as well as taking a more compact, walkable, transit-friendly “urban” approach to suburban development). The global ULI and its 45,000 members provide the theory, research, economic impetus, and case studies that have cast “urban” into a more favorable light.
Our members are also practitioners. They are the developers, architects, planners, financiers, brokers, and policy-makers who create redevelopment projects. For many residents and businesses, walkable and transit- friendly cities now offer an alternative to suburban life. Older suburbs too have sought these lifestyle options with dense, mixed-use redevelopments such as Belmar and Downtown Westminster. An additional potential benefit is limiting the sprawl that threatens our farmland and natural environment. (I am not attacking suburbs and suburbanites—this is a factual byproduct of low-density land use.)
Then came March 2020. Urban decline returned, but this time with the sudden impact of an Allied van slamming
a wall. Within days vital urban districts became ghost towns. For many “urban density” suddenly meant stuck working at home in a microunit with no outdoor space and nowhere to go. Mixed-use vitality seemed little more than an invitation to infection. Transit ridership shrank to almost zero.
The murder of George Floyd added mayhem and vandalism to the mix. Pedestrian activity in downtown Denver dropped 85 percent, Capitol Hill became an extended homeless camp.
That’s the end of my column. I am now in a permanent funk and am just sharing my despair. No I must go on.
So where is the hope? If I was an optimist in the ‘60s, I can be an optimist now.
Urban Perspectives
Has ‘Urban’ Become a Bad Word Again?
by Michael Leccese
Michael Leccese, executive director of ULI Colorado, recently bought an e-bike to replace RTD trips and a heated snowmobile suit for outdoor dining this winter. |

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