Taking revitalization to the next level: Denver’s Living City Block

street view of the site for Denver's Living City Block (via Google Earth)

The Living City Block is an ambitious project in Denver’s LoDo (Lower Downtown) to demonstrate the potential of combining environmentally conscious business and economic development with revitalization and livability. In this writer’s humble opinion, it is a fantastic concept that points to one of the ways in which we might shape a more sustainable future.

The project’s ambition is important. While smart growth, urbanism and particularly revitalization are absolutely necessary to achieving more environmentally responsible communities, increasingly I am drawn to the conclusion that they are not enough. First, a paradox of smart urbanism is that, to reduce environmental impacts, we must concentrate them in certain places: this creates an obligation to do much more to mitigate them in those places than our current mainstream advocacy suggests. Second, the environmental challenges of future growth are so daunting that we must use all the knowledge and ability we have to address them. Our solutions must begin with smart growth, urbanism, and revitalization but cannot not end there.

This is why, though I wish it were more ambitious and demanding, LEED for Neighborhood Development is so important: it attempts to encourage a combination of smart growth (where we build), urbanism (what we build), and green technology (how development will function environmentally).

The Living City Block, being pursued by a partnership of the Rocky Mountain Institute and the city of Denver, looks terrific. On the project’s website, its sponsors describe its ambition:

“Living City Block will create a leading demonstration of a regenerative urban center.

“Two prominent city blocks in lower downtown Denver will significantly reduce their energy consumption and environmental impact, while showing a continual transformation towards a thriving, sustainable community.”

The project ultimately seeks to generate more energy than it will consume.

In the images accompanying a longer version of this post on my NRDC blog site, you can see the conceptual vision for the project, its location on a Google Earth image and photos of the surrounding neighborhood. It is fitting that it is placed in LoDo, Denver’s showcase neighborhood of walkable revitalization. Denver’s historic Union Station is just to the north, and the project site is in between Coors Field, the city’s major league baseball stadium, and the Pepsi Center (gotta love these corporate names), a major indoor arena. The heart of Denver’s downtown is within easy walking distance to the southeast.

I absolutely love that RMI and the city are doing this in a walkable urban environment anchored by historic preservation. Bravo. The project seeks to benefit from a diversity of non-profit, educational, business and government partners while providing an opportunity to pioneer features such as buildings producing more energy than they use, “last mile’ mobility solutions, energy capturing sidewalks, green leases, charging stations for plug-in vehicles, large-scale solar installation, urban agriculture/living roofs, vertical gardens, onsite renewables, co-generation, home metering, IT-driven consumer behavioral change… all in one place, all on one block.

Good stuff. More detail and links here.


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