New development in Colorado Springs might consist of mixed-use neighborhoods with homes, retail businesses, office buildings and entertainment centers in highly walkable areas that are less dependent on the automobile.
These multiuse neighborhoods could link to the rest of the city by sidewalks, walkways, trails, bike lanes, bike trails and multimodal transit, i.e. buses and light rail. Also close by, accessible by foot and bike, should be schools, parks and recreation.
That’s the basic vision put forth in PlanCOS, an aspirational planning prescription for Colorado Springs proposed under Mayor John Suthers’ administration by the city Planning Department.
PlanCOS is undergoing a round of public hearings. Many ideas are being discussed, but mixed-use development is getting most of the attention.
Mixed-use contrasts with most of the city’s urban development since it began growing rapidly after World War II. Large housing developments with strict residential zoning are served by somewhat distant large shopping centers. An automobile is required in such a “single-use” zoned world.
PlanCOS makes the case that multiuse neighborhoods shall be more “environmental” and “sustainable,” two words that appear frequently in the document.
The plan emphasizes higher-density housing, more diverse housing styles and costs, and “attainable housing” for low-income citizens.
Apartments, townhouses and a few single-family homes will make up this “inclusive” urban residential mix. People will be encouraged to build outbuildings on large lots surrounding single-family homes, thus increasing housing supply. And “small homes” that occupy little ground will be welcome, along with “urban farms and gardens.”
There could be an emphasis on “vertical development” — stacking residences, offices and shopping in one structure so residents can get most of the services they need in the high-rise building they occupy.
PlanCOS also focuses on creating street life. Large grassy front yards should shrink so houses and apartments are closer to the street, and retail businesses should be built out to the sidewalk line.
Large parking lots in front of businesses will be eliminated so pedestrians can walk right into a small shop or restaurant.
The rationale to underscore high-density and socially-interconnected urban development is changing demographics. The family of two parents plus children, perfect for single-family housing in giant developments, is in decline.
More one-person families (widows and widowers), unmarried couples and empty-nest families don’t need homes on large lots with shopping and other services miles away.
PlanCOS notes: “Over the next 20 years, the average size of households is not expected to increase but our household types will continue to diversify. This includes an increase in demand for more urban and walkable neighborhoods and housing options.”
The plan divides Colorado Springs neighborhoods into four groups and gives different prescriptions for each:
• Established neighborhoods, mostly clustered around downtown, include three that are historically significant — the West Side, Old Colorado City and the Old North End. The plan recommends traffic-calming on major streets, encouraging older neighborhoods to seek designation as national historic districts, and helping neighborhoods develop master plans to provide more parks, bike lanes, bike trails and other amenities. PlanCos cites Knob Hill, Ivywild and Patty Jewett as neighborhoods ripe for this sort of urban upgrading.
• Changing neighborhoods. These are characterized by unused small shopping centers and big-box stores, and they need attention from city government.
PlanCOS recommends that declining shopping centers and stores be repurposed as high-density attainable housing. Infill projects on vacant ground are recommended to bring in better housing and perhaps office buildings. Southeast Colorado Springs, Valley Hi, Park Hill and southwest downtown are examples of this type of neighborhood.
• Emerging neighborhoods. These newer neighborhoods tend to be concentrated in northeast Colorado Springs, in the Powers Boulevard area. “These neighborhoods with recently completed construction are assumed relatively stable and less vulnerable to near-term and mid-term change,” the plan says, recommending more walking and bike trails and bike lanes for them.
• Future neighborhoods. Developers would present master plans to the city that embody the guiding principles of high-density mixed-use neighborhoods. In other cases, Planned Unit Development zoning would allow city planners to judge and approve the proper mixture of uses. No place in Colorado Springs has been built to such standards. The plan recommends a visit to the Stapleton neighborhood in Denver, built on the former airport, to see successful high-density mixed-use development.
PlanCOS contains much more than this, so attend one of the public meetings to learn about it and hear what your neighbors have to say. Dozens of differing reactions can be expected, but the ideas deserve discussion, debate and reflective consideration on the future of Colorado Springs.
You can access the plan here: coloradosprings.gov/plancos
Tom Cronin and Bob Loevy are political scientists at Colorado College.