Heather Fitzmorris 30 April 2009 Environmental observation report
Denver Metro Area Map from http://www.coloradoresourcecenter.com/assets/images/map_colorado.jpg
Fitzmorris 3 Throughout the Denver, Colorado metropolitan area, the harmful effects of a booming population on a particular environment are becoming more and more evident. These problems are also developing into more serious ones and seem to be difficult to reconcile. Overall, these problems are caused by the growing issue of urban sprawl, or the effects that remain. The population growth that Denver has been experiencing in the past decades is catching up with the environment. There are several main issues that need to be addressed, which include the issue of urban sprawl and its damaging effects, as well as poor design by developers when they sought out to expand the city. Most importantly, however, there are several ideas that need to be executed properly to ensure the improvement of the current city conditions. Much of the population of historical Denver spread into surrounding areas to create suburbs. These include the cities of Aurora, Littleton, Lakewood, Cherry Hills, Highlands Ranch, and Westminster. Yet in more recent years, these suburbs are beginning to disappear. The whole area is becoming developed, and it is hard to tell where the city proper begins or ends. If it weren’t for the lack of sky scrapers and changing zip codes, one would never notice the change. Eventually, the sky scrapers may infect the suburbs making the distinction even more difficult. The physical impact of urban sprawl on Denver includes the “commercial, industrial, and residential development into open spaces located on the fringes of urban centers” (Williams, 2000, p. 247). Other negative effects that are produced by sprawl are traffic congestion, increased pollution, overuse of resources, loss of productive agricultural lands, as well as the loss of the open space areas that are home to many different species. One of the most evident problems caused by this continuing sprawl in Denver is the ever increasing congestion of traffic. It is caused by the overuse of vehicles by a population that depends on that use. It is most certainly a driving force, no pun intended. Today’s society is
Fitzmorris 4 designed to accommodate the motorist and their vehicle. In fact, in recent surveys taken across the nation, “Americans have identified the top problems of the new millennium as sprawl and traffic congestion. The two are intimately connected, for the billions we have spent to eliminate congestion, we have inadvertently given birth to sprawl” (Nozzi, 2003, p. 14). Denver was designed no differently. Most people, especially those who live in the suburbs, are more likely to travel by car to run daily errands than any other mode of transportation. Even if it were possible to make the short trips necessary with another option, people still choose not to walk or ride a bike. It is just the easy and most natural choice to make. It has become so convenient that there is little thought about alternative options. It is also made the simple choice because more people in the Denver area are able to afford a vehicle for personal transportation than many other urban areas. According to Colorado Open Lands, an organization that is dedicate to protect open space areas in Colorado, Denver has “one of the highest per-capita motor vehicle ownership rates in the country, with an average of one licensed vehicle for every man, woman, and child” (“Denver-Metro Area”). This makes the constant construction on Colorado roads continue and the traffic on those roads will then continue to increase along with the booming metropolis. Dom Nozzi, the Senior Planner for the Department of Community Development for the City of Gainesville, Florida, notes Denver among the “car-friendliest cities”, saying that it is included with Phoenix, Detroit, and Houston in having the “most miles of road asphalt per person” (2003, p. 3). This is one of the reasons the problems continue. If more roads are widened to accommodate more people, more people are going to continue to relocate into Denver and the surrounding areas. This will only cause more growth, and in turn, more sprawl.
Fitzmorris 5 The tragedy that may be missed in this whole situation is that the land for these 4-lane highways has to come from somewhere. It is then that the government turns to the open spaces of Colorado. From 1990 to 2000, the six counties that make up the Denver metro area experienced a 49.8% population increase (“Denver-Metro Area”). This large population increase put great strains on natural resources and makes the desire to preserve open spaces even more difficult. As more people move in, more area is taken for residential development. This drives up the costs of land, which is already high in Colorado. In turn, it makes it more difficult for the government to preserve the land, as well as more difficult for agricultural land owners to stay in business. There is also the strain all of this development has on natural resources. With the loss of open space, and the fact that agricultural land owners are finding it more and more difficult to support themselves and families, it may be possible to drive so many of them out of business that there may not be the resources to feed the growing population. As Denver moves outward, the suburbs are replacing the agricultural areas that once produced food for the city. Because of this, farms are being pushed from these more productive soils and “agriculture demands more chemical inputs to increase its production per acre” (Cieslwicz, 2002, p. 27). This, in turn, is something that many farmers have been striving to avoid. The need for more chemicals is simply not appealing. The greatest challenge to the environment in the early 21st century is managing growth, and that includes resource consumption. Without the correct amount and type of monitoring placed on the use of resources that remain in the Denver area, it is possible to overuse and deplete them. “If not properly managed, increasing population and expanding commerce throughout the metropolitan region can consume natural resources, reduce open space, add congestion, cause waste, and contribute to the brown cloud” (“Our Long-Term.”). Another
Fitzmorris 6 concern is the rate at which this could happen. In 1998 the population of the metropolitan area was estimated at 2.3 million. An additional 770,000 new residents are projected by 2020. That is a great amount of growth, as well as a great amount of stress on what is left of the ecosystem. Along with loss of land and open space, there is degradation of air quality. With the increase of drivers and vehicles, there are greater amounts of pollutants released into the air. These harmful pollutants are known to cause serious health problems, which can lead to chronic issues if overexposure is reached. Although, it is difficult to say for certain exactly what issues are caused by pollution, due to the large amount of toxins from so many different places that a person comes in contact with on a daily basis ( Ehrlich, 1977). It is, however, assumed that the majority of the pollution filling up the city areas is due to the increased use of motor vehicles. One interesting point made on the subject of air pollution and land sprawl, also incorporates the issues of the density of the two. â€œIf sprawl leads to more driving, and if driving contributes to air pollution, then alternatives to sprawl offer a way to reduce air pollution exposure. But if one of those alternatives is greater density, the result would be paradoxicalâ€? (Frumkin, Frank, and Jackson, 2004, p. 77). One of the alternatives that Denver is exploring could in fact lead to greater density in certain areas. This is even supported by the growth boundaries set through the metro area to eliminate any further sprawling, the idea being to improve existing areas. But there is always the issue of overdeveloping and causing a population density that is harmful. Certainly, there are alternatives to driving personal cars for every trip made. And there are a few people who take advantage of these alternatives, such as walking, riding a bicycle, or using public transportation. In fact, Denver is relatively advanced in public transportation options. With the recent development and expansion projects related to the light-rail, which
Fitzmorris 7 moves thru the city, public transportation has never been easier. However, the fleet of public transportation vehicles is also forced to grow along with the population. During peak hours, there are 862 buses in circulation (“Facts and Figures”). This causes a large amount of pollution that it not typically considered when looking at smarter alternatives. Another concern about the pollution of air quality is that it has begun to leave the city and affect the areas that surround. The environment simply cannot take the stress that has been brought on. According to a resource from Ecoscience, “Humanity is taxing the capacity of the atmosphere to absorb, and to transport away from areas if high population density, the enormous amounts of waste exhausted into it” (Ehrlich, Ehrlich, and Holdren, 1977, p. 542). Of course, there are precautions taken to limit these issues. This includes required emissions testing, which helps to control the amount of pollution from individual cars. The only problem with this is that many of the cars that are causing these problems are not required to complete the testing. If the car uses a collector tag, it does not need testing. If it is registered outside the seven county area, (including Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Denver, Douglas, Broomfield and Jefferson, with the exception of the rural portions of Adams and Arapahoe counties east of Kiowa Creek) the vehicle does not need testing. But it is the vehicles like that frequenting the highways in Denver that release a great deal of unnecessary pollutants into the air. With Denver being the center of commerce, it is quite probable that even if the vehicle is registered outside the area, it still makes trips into the city for whatever reason. And being that the area outside of the metropolitan area is vastly rural or mountainous, these vehicles are typically trucks and SUVs, older models of which tend to send out an increased amount of pollution due to age. One of the main struggles that Denver suburbs face with them being so spread out is whether or not the area has “walkability” (Boone and Modarres, 2006, p. 145). This is something
Fitzmorris 8 that has been conflicting with the ideas that many European cites were built around. It is not very easy to reach everything that is needed by foot, as it is in many of the historical cities in Europe. It is entirely commonplace to live where people will literally walk everywhere. For this reason, town centers are essential. This is even an issue that has been recognized about Denver itself. Roberto Pirzio-Biroli, who is an Italian architect and city planner, was concerned about the lack of a central common area in Denver. “‘Where is the city square?’ he asked. ‘Where do people go to be together? Where is the piazza? Without a piazza, you cannot live!’” (Nozzi, 2003, p. xxvi). The Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) has been working for several years to combat issues with sprawl. DRCOG is a nonprofit association of local governments that is focused on solving the main problems that face the area. They are also known for many of the environmental advancements in the area. This organization has been working on new ways to develop and improve many areas of the existing city, and therefore continue to remain within the growth boundary. Developers, however, continue to make attempts to make the city renegotiate the growth boundary that is in place. The boundary is not a permanent fixture, but while the government can manage to limit the new construction that is beyond the line, it will be important that they do so. The Denver Regional Council of Governments as a whole has recognized this issue and the need to change city structure. One of the ideas born of concern utilizes the Denver light rail system. The light rail system, which was mentioned in an earlier topic, begin running in 1994. Since then, it has expanded to include 30 different stations in the Denver area to conveniently cutback on traffic use. In 2002, the area that the light rail covered was greatly increased and will continue to do so until the planned completion in 2013. Although, this transformation certainly results in construction traffic and possible air pollution, it is a very positive change for the city. A
Fitzmorris 9 change that will result in a step in the right direction. With the establishment and growth of the light rail through the metro area, there are many great development opportunities, which will be explored as a solution. But the question remains: who is to blame for the continuing sprawl, and all of the problems that were created by the sprawl? One could certainly argue that it is the automobile and the population that is overrunning the nation’s cities with it. This could be seen as true. The city was forced to expand with the booming population. But the problem is more than just that. The sprawl began with the lack of restrictions for development. For this reason, it is most realistically the developers that are to blame for the poor planning in a city that should have been prepared to expand. As the city extended into rural areas, the land was developed poorly, into a low-density pattern, which is relatively wasted space. Because of this rapid expanse, the Denver metropolitan area contains many different types of land use. This has caused many different problems. These different uses include: “housing, retail stores, offices, industry, recreational facilities, and public spaces, are kept separate from each other” (Frumkin, 2009, p. 141). Developers did not communicate when planning some areas. New zoning laws had to be created or reinforced. The biggest issue was the end result. Because of this separation of the land uses, “regional planning and coordination are relatively weak” (Frumkin, 2009, p. 141). In other words, the end result is a weak city system, caused by developers. And unfortunately, it is the planning that was skipped that could protect the integrity of an area. “Good planning protects the quality of our life and enhances our sense of community” (Diamond and Noonan, 1996, p. 137). With good planning, there could have been the best of both worlds, development and a strong system that supported remaining environmentally minded and diverse.
Fitzmorris 10 Of course, the Denver area cannot be completely described in negative terms. In recent years, developers have been trying to clean up their act. So have many open space enthusiasts. It was from such people that the greenway project was born. Greenways are intended to preserve the resources that exist, while improving the surroundings for the cities that they are in. In Denver, this began with the Platte River after it had been neglected. After floods in 1965 and 1973, attention was turned toward the need to clean the area up. It had historically been noted that Denver had failed to take advantage of their natural surrounds, like many of the cities that grew out of the west (Erickson, 2006, p. 167). Now, Denver has made a commitment to remain a “city in a park”, according to the 2003 Game Plan, created by the Denver Parks and Recreation Department (Erickson, 2006, p. 171). It is a fifty-year vision for transforming Denver. It is also a guideline for any new neighborhoods that have been built following the creation of the plan, as they are now required to have a park open space within six walkable blocks. This should be very influential and reduce the amount if space lost in development. The goal is to develop a clearly connected system of public open spaces. It is designed to strengthen the connection between the downtown area and the surrounding neighborhoods. In the area surrounding Denver, one of the main goals is to make open space seem closer. In a survey done in 2001, Denver residents “said that improving connections and access were priorities. ‘Our parks and trails are great, but we can’t get there,’” (Erickson, 2006, p. 172). Another practice that has made its way into Denver’s development is Transit-Oriented Developments (TODs) are pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use developments, which located within a half-mile of a transit stop. These developments are designed to allow residents and workers to drive their cars less and ride transit more. This has become especially popular with the continual
Fitzmorris 11 expansion of the light rail through Denver and the surrounding suburbs. This was also called upon by the changing demographics, especially in Denver proper. The majority of people that have chosen to take residence in downtown are now younger and more single than they have been traditionally. This is the up and coming generation. This is a generation that wants simplicity. It is also an older generation, those who have retired and live in the city to participate in elderly activities. They are more laid back. This had resulted in â€œdiversification of real estate productsâ€?, and that is where TODs come in to play (Dittmar, 2004, p. 3). When looking to develop Transit-Oriented Developments, there are several factors that are considered key components in location efficiency when choosing a prime location for a transit station. The first is density. This means that there is a sufficient amount of customers within walking or bicycling distance of the transit station to generate enough riders for the station to be efficient. The second is transit accessibility. This is the idea that the stations should be placed centrally within the TOD, so that it allows riders to be able to reach their destinations easily. Third, it is important to be sure that the area contains a certain amount of pedestrian friendliness to it. This means that there is a network of streets within the transit district that is interconnected and designed to be convenient for the use by pedestrians. By examining these three areas, developers are able to be more certain that a transit station will be effective for the area (Dittmar, 2004). With the way that downtown areas are evolving, this seems like a perfect time to incorporate what has been very effective in many different cities. One thing that should be very important when planning such a project, however, is to be sure that the area creates a strong neighborhood image, so that it is identified as such. TODs should merge into an area and create a mixed use community. TOD will be successful in the Denver metro area because they simplify
Fitzmorris 12 life and allow people to experience a strong sense of community. They also give people the option of living, working, and playing in the same area, all without adding to the traffic problems. The idea of these Transit-Oriented Developments is too look for areas of the city that can be improved. The point is not to continue grow out, it is to grow within. For example, there are many forgotten areas of the city that neglected and nearly impoverished. If these areas can be redeveloped and result in the convenience that is needed to create a TOD, then efforts will be made to improve the neighborhood. It will also be very beneficial to clean up the city. But in order for it to be effective, developers need to take care not to create density problems that could result from over development. This issue will not take care of itself, and if the government and developers do not continue to repair the problems that they created with the sprawl they allowed to become out of hand, it will not be any better in the years to come then it is today. The roads will continue to be overrun, creating more and more pollution. Existing residential areas will continue to need to expand to satisfy the growing population. If the next steps are not taken with these issues taken into consideration, the plans to grow Denver efficiently will fail. Had developers been more careful to plan and consider the long time effects of what would result from the way the city was being developed, there would most certainly be less problems. Governments should have been more conscious of the effects the developers would leave on the city, and created regulations. They need to continue to do so, in order to stop any further issues. Therefore, it is very important that these and other programs to repair the Denver Metro area are completed, to regain the â€œcity in a parkâ€? that may otherwise be lost in all of the traffic congestion and construction.
Fitzmorris 13 References
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Fitzmorris 14 Facts and Figures. Retrieved April 15, 2009, from RTD: Regional Transportation District Web site: http://www.rtd-denver.com/factsAndFigures.shtml Frumkin, H. (2009). Urban Sprawl and Public Health. In Hynes, H. P., & Lopez, R. (Eds.), Urban Health. (pp. 141-167). Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers. Call number: RA 566.3 .U73 2009 Frumkin, H., Frank, L., & Jackson, R. (2004). Urban Sprawl and Public Health: Designing, planning, and building for healthy communities. Washington, DC: Island Press. Call number: HT 371 .F78 2004 Nozzi, D. (2003). Road to Ruin. Westport, CT: Praeger Call number: HT 384 .U5 N68 2003 Our Long-Term Physical Environment. Retrieved April 22, 2009, from Denver Comprehensive Plan 2000 Web site: http://www.denvergov.org/Portals/146/documents/PLAN2000/ENVIRO.pdf Williams, D. C. (2000). Urban Sprawl. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. Call number: HT 384 .U5 W55 2000