Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Soul of a City, at Its Very Core

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Soul of a City, at Its Very Core

Article excerpt

DENVER -- From her fifth-floor apartment in a freshly converted flour mill, Dana Crawford surveyed the abandoned railroad yards at the core of downtown Denver and envisioned lofts and more lofts.

As carpenters built 350 apartments and bulldozers opened utility trenches for 3,500 more, Crawford, a developer, waved to a cluster of vacant red-brick warehouses near the freight tracks and predicted, "All these warehouse buildings will be turned into lofts."

Within a one-mile radius of Union Station, Denver's beaux arts historic core, the city is halfway through a decade-long downtown investment of $1 billion in three sport stadiums, an aquarium and urban shopping complexes. Following retail and entertainment, downtown is now embarking on an additional $1 billion in residential construction. A total of 1,334 apartments are now being built or converted downtown, more than the total of the last four years. Denver's move toward downtown living is part of a national trend, according to a new study of 24 large American cities by the Brookings Institution and the Fannie Mae Foundation research groups. In a reversal of a trend that started after World War II, in which inner cities lost population, each city forecast growth in the number of people living downtown. By 2010, the study reported, downtown populations are expected to quadruple in Houston, to 9,500 people, to more than triple in Cleveland, to 21,000, and to nearly triple in Denver, to 9,250. Growth is also expected in bigger cities, with Chicago's downtown population forecast to increase by a third, to 152,000. But the migration downtown is especially striking in Denver, a sprawling city of houses and low-rise buildings. "Denver fits the pattern of a Western automobile city, so for a Sun Belt city, what is happening here is very inspiring," said Brad Segal, an urban consultant who is on the board of the International Downtown Association, an organization of city planners specializing in downtowns. Noting that delegations from cities as diverse as Albuquerque, N.M., and Baltimore have recently toured downtown Denver to get ideas, Segal added, "Most of the cities I work in want to be like Denver." Planners caution that the move downtown, here and elsewhere, is a minitrend in the face of continuing suburban expansion. Indeed, while the city of Denver's population grew by 2 percent, or 12,000 people, since 1980, to about 500,000 people, its suburbs grew by a third in the same time, adding 505,000 people. But looking ahead, Segal and other urbanists believe that demographics and accumulated wealth are pointing to radical transformations in American downtowns in the coming decades. …

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