Exploring new developments tends to fill my weekends and absolutely drives my kids crazy. Nothing beats the eye-roll of a ten year old tween asking in newly-mastered sarcasm, “Why are we driving around here?!?” (You know the tone, dragging out every second or third word with way too many vowels.) For this trip, I had the luxury of cruising around Midtown on my own, without the prodding of disinterested passengers who quickly move on from the inquiries of “why” to refrains of “when are we leaving?” Free of this understandable encumbrance, drifting around Midtown at Clear Creek felt like sitting down for a second cup of coffee on a bright Sunday morning before the world has fully shaken its sleep.
The quality of the urban design is paramount to establishing Midtown as a place you’d be willing to sink roots into, with key details delivering the substance of place that’s often value-engineered out of projects. Though quiet with a winter frost clinging to the trees, the community garden will undoubtedly emerge in the spring as the crux of the neighborhood, pulsing with activity.
As a case-study of development standards, the developers of Midtown - Brookfield Residential - unapologetically embrace and translate the fabric of a true urban neighborhood. Lot sizes are definitely compact, minimizing setbacks and maximizing coverage with alley access throughout. But the amenities are clustered nearby to ensure the tightly woven blocks don’t detract from the minimal maintenance lot sizes.
Tooling around the hub of the neighborhood - a mixed-use, activity center anchored by a community garden – the space checks all the boxes of modern urban burgs, innocuously congruent with the prevailing hipster vibe. Yet, reflecting back on the history of the site, the spotlighting of such an overt connection to nature is in actuality a bold statement for a neighborhood built on a former brownfield site. Midtown has sprouted from shadows of the former Hamilton-Sundstrand facility, where aerospace parts were manufactured and tested from 1955 until decommissioned in 2004.
My interest in the project was piqued after crossing paths with brownfield sage Mary Hashem, partner of RE|Solutions, who is facilitating cleanup and redevelopment of the former Hamilton-Sundstrand property. I first encountered Mary when she agreed to keynote a developer’s forum for the West Edge project in Cheyenne, Wyoming. One of those people you can immediately sense holds the intangible spark of innovation, my best description is that Ms. Hashem is the Dana Crawford of the brownfield world. Her portfolio includes facilitating redevelopment of projects like the emerging Asarco smelter cleanup in Globeville, currently being built out by Trammel Crow as the Crossroads Commerce Park. Mary’s the type of visionary every redevelopment manager hopes will take a second look at their district in hopes that some of the magic will rub off and linger for a while.
Her prior experience - under the flag of the firm Brownfield Partners which Mary launched with partner Stuart Minor – included the Dahlia Square redevelopment in Denver’s North Park Hill neighborhood. Ironically, this area was the focus of my master’s studio course years ago in grad school. The blocks my classmates and I had dabbled in as starry eyed students actually became reality based on Mary’s commitment to bringing new life to discarded properties. A tour of the area reveals a dramatic change from the rough strip malls and vacant commercial sites, now home to senior housing and a family health clinic.
That’s the attraction of brownfield redevelopment for me on a personal level. It’s the satisfaction of playing a role in transforming something that was once beyond imaginable repair, and helping turn it into something no one ever would have considered possible. From polluted to possibly the perfect place to enjoy a steaming brew - that’s something to be proud of.
Matt Ashby, AICP CUD, is an Urban Planner with Ayres Associates’ Cheyenne, Wyoming office. He has helped cultivate a vision for Wyoming’s Capitol City while spearheading innovative endeavors like the West Edge brownfields revitalization project as the Planning Services Director for the City of Cheyenne. He serves as a member of the Western Planning Resources Board.
- Learn more about Midtown at Clear Creek by visiting http://hellomidtown.com/
- Midtown at Clear Creek is being developed by master developer Brookfield Residential, with projects including Tallyn’s Reach in Aurora, Solterra in Lakewood, and Brighton Crossing. http://www.brookfieldresidentialco.com/
- For more information on Brownfield cleanup, visit www.epa.gov/brownfields