AIA Colorado South Livable Communities Presentation

Existing Mission Trace Shopping Center.
Proposed Retrofit of the Mission Trace Shopping Center.

Thursday evening of this past week, I gave a presentation on new urbanism at Colorado College.  The following is the prepared presentation:  CNU-Colorado Presentation PDF

Good evening, my name is John Olson.  I am the Treasurer and Co-Founder of CNU Colorado.  In addition, I own a landscape architecture and urban design company in Colorado Springs called Olson Planning & Urban Landscapes, I am a sustainability coordinator at Fort Carson and I hold board seats with the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority and Downtown Review Board.

This image and the former slide are illustrations of what most think of as new urbanism.  Front porches, alleys, connected street network and walkability.  The breadth of what is new urbanism really stretches much further than this.  This particular illustration denotes the difference in the connectivity and segregation of uses between conventional suburban development and traditional neighborhood development.

As I speak about connectivity of street networks and infrastructure, this slide of the concrete cloverleaf illustrates what our transportation systems have done to not only our land but the connectivity of our spaces.

This is a graphic by DPZ (Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company) of what is often referred to as the urban to rural transect.  It describes the ecological transect in terms of urbanity, density and connectivity.  It is the driving element of a type of frequently used form-based code called the SmartCode.

As many of you know, Colorado Springs recently developed a form-based code for its downtown and a lot of the vision for the code came from the AIA charrette a few years back.  The hopeful outcome of Colorado Springs downtown form-based code, and other infill form-based codes, is that a balance can be made between the ease of developing in the suburbs and infill development.

Agrarian Urbanism is one of the latest evolutions from CNU.  As our country and world gradually evolve away from the peak-oil era that we have been living in, considerations need to be made in looking at where our food comes from.  Agrarian urbanism is the integration of hamlets and villages into the infrastructure of the agriculture and designing communities with an agricultural infrastructure.

Stormwater management has become a major facet to new urbanism in recent years as we develop in greater consciousness to stormwater.  LID, or low-impact development is effective in managing stormwater, however it can lead to extra, unnecessary upfront costs, such as the excess of curbing as well as consumption of land for bmp ponds and raingardens that typically affect the urbanism of a place.

Light Imprint has similar sustainable objectives as LID, yet urbanism is not jeopardized.  The light imprint alternative in this image captures the rainwater and during a light rain, the majority of the water is absorbed into the surface rather than transferred to another place for it to be absorbed. 

In 2006, the EPA released a document titled “Protecting Water Resources with Higher-Density Development”.  This graphic illustrates stormwater runoff as it correlates to the density.  The images show a range of densities from one acre lots to the optimum density of 8 units/ acre.  Increased densities, therefore decreased sprawl and development of our greenfields, manage our stormwater in a more ecologically friendly manner.

HUD has had a poor reputation in recent years for providing housing grants for suburban, single-use subdivisions, where future residents incurred excessive costs for transportation due to their location. A couple of weeks ago, CNU held its annual Congress (or conference) in Atlanta where United States HUD Secretary, Shaun Donovan announced HUD’s future plans for providing grants and necessary qualifications relating to LEED-ND. 

This is a graphic of an abandoned shopping center on Academy that is currently under construction to be replaced by…  another shopping center.  Yes, this will temporarily add a fresh band-aid to the strip mall and corridor, but as a City we should ask for more than simply replacing a failed strip mall with a new strip mall, destined to future failure.  Personally, I would have like to have seen additional connectivity added in the process.  This connectivity would give the option for the ever-so-close residents to utilize the center without driving.

This is an image of how we used to plan our cities and manage our connectivity.

This is how we plan our streets and subdivisions today.  Traffic is funneled to collectors, which are funneled on to arterials, which are then funneled on to highways and expressways.  The problem in doing this is we create several corridors where congestion can and does easily occur and very few options for avoiding it.  Yes, it does make for faster travel times (when the system is not under construction or an accident blocks the roadway) but it also creates these blood clots in the city’s central nervous system.

One year ago, Dream City asked for submittals from the architecture community of our vision for Colorado Springs.  This is the topic that my team, which included Dave Foster and Jim Houk, put together for our Dream City submittal.  The idea and goal behind it is to utilize some of the abandoned structures and buildings that are there today, add residential and other uses to them and open up the connectivity to the surrounding community.  Similar land use alternatives could be applied to various abandoned shopping centers across Colorado Springs.

I am going to briefly go through some of the many corridors in Colorado Springs that could use some Sprawl Repair.  This is of course on South Nevada, just south of our downtown.

Fountain Blvd is a victim of single-use/ single-typology zoning and massive development in response to the need for apartments in the 60’s and 70’s.  Without proper zoning with multiple uses, this area was destined for failure, crime and blight as the buildings depreciated.

This corridor could greatly benefit from incorporating residential into the existing fabric rather than it being simply for commercial uses only.

West Colorado is not exempt from the issues of sprawl.  Shopping centers are already failing and will continue to fail in time due to their single-use approach to development.

A portion of North Nevada is currently an Urban Renewal District, but there are many other areas along North Nevada that can use some sprawl repair.

North Union has a great location near Pattey Jewett Golf Course, however the single-use shopping centers have plagued the corridor itself.

This is not only a Colorado Springs issue, but a problem in the surrounding communities of Monument, Fountain, Widefield, etc.  Eventually it will be a problem in Falcon and other outlying areas that are and have been recently developed.

It is my hope that an outcome of this workshop today and tomorrow are ideas generated for healing the sprawl patterns of yesterday and plan for a sustainable tomorrow.

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