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Of all the things that an African president might be impressed with during a visit to Colorado, the Denver Tech Center would probably be on the bottom of the list. Oddly enough, though, when Rwandan President Paul Kagame toured Colorado urban centers during a 2003 trip to the Aspen Institute, the president liked the DTC, as well as Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall. At the time, Kagame was looking for a solution to his country’s poor infrastructure, which had been decimated by a 1994 genocide, and so he sought out the center’s designer, Denver’s OZ Architecture, and its director of planning and urban design, Carl Worthington. Kagame had a simple, yet enormous pitch for OZ: Come to Rwanda and shape the future of our cities.
The urban design firm accepted the challenge, and now, five years later, OZ is finishing up its master plans for Kigali, the capital city of 1 million people; Rwamagana, a city of 15,000; and a new international airport and hospital. OZ’s designs include mixed-use residential neighborhoods, business districts, and transportation systems, all with an eye toward preserving land for open space, forests, and ecotourism. Construction, which is being funded by the Rwandan government, the World Bank, and private investments, will take at least 10 years.
The model for many of the plans is none other than Boulder’s blend of mixed-use living and open space. “Boulder has been my little laboratory of experimenting with urban-design things all these years,” says Worthington. This time, though, the goal is far loftier than the Pearl Street Mall. “It’s not just master planning a vision for a capital city,” he says. “It’s literally writing the script for an entire country.”