Shiny, Happy Places

Denver’s most compelling residential areas have something more appealing—and more meaningful—than uncertain appreciation values: They offer a true sense of community.

May 2011

Urban Planning: If You Build It…

How the construction of three simple bridges revamped an entire side of town. plus, where similar efforts around denver might produce equally spectacular results.

Denver has many wonderful neighborhoods, but too often they’re islands that require a car or bus trip to get from one to the other. Northwest Denver has been around since streetcars were chugging up the Zuni Street hill, and 15th Street has ushered drivers and pedestrians to and from downtown for a century or so. But what we now call Highland didn’t become Highland—Denver’s smaller-scale, homey, and hip answer to Brooklyn—until the city built three simple but picturesque bridges that provided the practical (and psychologically pleasing) link between northwest Denver and LoDo.

The three spans sit in an almost perfectly straight line from west to east. The Highland Bridge runs across I-25 and offers a pedestrian- and bike-friendly width absent from the narrow freeway-crossing 15th Street sidewalks. The simple wood-and-steel Platte River Bridge sways gently under your feet (or bicycle tires) as it ushers you to and from Commons Park. And the striking Millennium Bridge—the world’s first cable-stayed span—enables walkers and bikers to trek up and over that last stretch to downtown without getting drilled by a passing freight train.

These projects transformed northwest Denver, particularly the suddenly booming LoHi neighborhood. “Because of the bridges, the whole area around 32nd and Tejon has become this awesome little mecca,” says Ken Schroeppel, a Denver-based urban planner, who was so enchanted by the developments that he bought a condo at the western end of the Highland Bridge. “Now you can walk from the state capitol to [LoHi] along this pedestrian-oriented street.”