Will the Real Urban Stewards Please Stand Up? Economic Development ‡ Urban Renewal

Guest Contributor Don Bruns

The legislative declaration in Title 31, Article 25, Part 1 declares that Colorado’s Urban Renewal law exists to prevent and eliminate slums and blight that are injurious to public health, safety, morals, and welfare of its residents.  That verbiage does not appear difficult to comprehend.  Colorado’s urban renewal legislation—despite all its faults—seems to be clearly focused on stewardship of the urban environment.

How then have so many, including apparently even some Council members, been deluded into thinking that economic development is akin to urban renewal?  To regard urban renewal as a primary tool for infusing dollars into our economy appears misguided on several fronts.

Continued advocacy of economic development as a surrogate for community stewardship—under the guise of urban renewal—is not only a false premise, it also presents a false hope to Littleton’s citizens.  There will be no end to the development if elected officials cannot focus on taking care of what we already have.  Indeed, community stewardship is more about caring for the value we already have and perhaps making it better, but not bigger.

Continued growth inevitably leads either to greater urban density or sprawl.  Yet Littleton has no room to sprawl without eating up the open space that sets it apart and is the reason why so many choose to live here.  And high-density development is already impacting the city’s objective small-town and open-space character that generates its subjective charm.

The now predominant kind of economic development advancing “mixed-use” with high density fails to reckon the negative effects of transformative urban growth.  People who value Littleton’s character and charm are increasingly unwilling to embrace the architecturally sterile “cracker-box” architecture sweeping down from Lo-Do, Denver’s urban perimeter, and now encroaching on Littleton.  Transit-oriented development advanced by some on Council, and the crime that goes with it, seems to have little to do with resolving Littleton’s growing traffic congestion or maintenance of our communities.

To call this “smart growth” is a deception.  Much of the growth being driven by economic development advocates not only ignores community stewardship but is not yet constrained by definitive guiding strategies.  For example, it is mysterious why Council has not yet emplaced strategies that not only slow or limit growth but especially ensure that all development fits the cityscapes into which it is being placed—including architecture; landscaping; and street, parking, and walkway hardscape design.

All of this suggests that continued insistence on keeping currently identified urban renewal areas and the LIFT board as a prerequisite to the achievement of economic goals appears to be something far different than the stewardship of Littleton’s community environment—if it is not actually inconsistent with the objective intent of the urban renewal legislation itself.

The city’s residents desperately need to have Council members who understand these issues stand up and face off the opposition along with Littleton’s citizens.  The people have already spoken clearly in many times and ways, including passage of ballot initiative 300.

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