THE GREEN BOOK
Pioneering Plan Guides Redevelopment of Stapleton
Mayor John Hickenlooper, Sam Gary, and Mayor Wellington Webb with the Green Book
The redevelopment of Stapleton is guided by a plan crafted 25 years ago by some of Denver’s most prominent and talented civic, political, business, community and philanthropic leaders.
It came to be called The Green Book for no particular reason other than it was bound in recycled green cover stock.
The Green Book predicted that Stapleton would become “a model for addressing the economic and social needs of people while respecting the natural world.”
In many ways it has accomplished that. Getting there was not easy.
Construction began in earnest in 1990 on Stapleton’s replacement, Denver International Airport. For the next several years not many folks thought much about Stapleton’s future as an ex-airport. And even fewer people thought the huge site would be much other than home to large scale commercial and industrial uses.
But there were a few who knew that the opportunity was ripe to do something different and truly special.
A group of three dozen citizens, primarily from northeast Denver, began in 1989 to gather ideas from an array of interests and research and mold them into what was possible with the redevelopment.
Known as Stapleton Tomorrow, the group delivered a conceptual plan in 1991 that emphasized economic development; benefits to adjacent neighborhoods; enhanced environmental quality; high standards of urban design, educational and cultural opportunities; and the generation of revenues to support airport objectives.
The city of Denver adopted that plan in 1991 as part of its' comprehensive plan for the future.
The city’s acceptance of Stapleton Tomorrow’s work was appreciated but concern remained. Many leading community and business folks justifiably worried that the redevelopment would not get proper attention and expertise from City Hall, a place subject to the unpredictable winds of politics and ambitions of each new mayoral administration.
Denver oilman and philanthropist Sam Gary saw Stapleton as an opportunity to avoid more urban sprawl and introduce a different way to grow. Mr. Gary, as humble as he is wealthy, knew the effort required professional help, joking that “if I had to do the Green Book I’d get the color wrong.”
Mr. Gary started the Stapleton Redevelopment Foundation in 1990 with $2 million of his own money. He pulled together another $2 million from an unprecedented collection of 26 foundations, businesses and individuals.
“It was simplistic, but I found it simplistic enough that I could understand it,’’ he said. “So, I embarked on this very naïve journey that involved a number of friends who believed there was no such thing as “How?” but it was “Why not?"
The foundation brought together a talented local staff and a good number of local and national consultants and other firms to craft a plan.
There was uncertainty about what was best that was met with excitement about the potential to make the largest piece of vacant urban land in the country – 7.5 square miles, a third the size of Manhattan -- into a national model.
“Every other day we’d all get together and say: ‘This isn’t going to work.’,” said Tom Gougeon, the foundation’s initial staff leader. “I didn’t know how we were going to do it.
“It was great!”
The staff studied the physical, economic, social and environmental aspects of the site and surrounding areas. They became steeped in the emerging sustainable development movement, analyzing and gaining inspiration from local community input and from experts and similar projects from around the world.
They built on the Stapleton Tomorrow work and arrived at five principles on which to base work on the plan: environmental responsibility, social equity, economic opportunity, physical design and implementation.
The resulting Green Book laid out four principles to guide redevelopment: Healthy Living, Lifelong Learning, Neighborhood Connections and Sustainable Development. It was inspired and shaped by the approach known as New Urbanism.
“New Urbanism is a planning and development approach based on the principles of how cities and towns had been built for the last several centuries: walkable blocks and streets, housing and shopping in close proximity, and accessible public spaces,’’ according to the Congress for New Urbanism.
“In other words: New Urbanism focuses on human-scaled urban design.”
NewUrbanism.org describes it this way:
“New Urbanism promotes the creation and restoration of diverse, walkable, compact, vibrant, mixed-use communities composed of the same components as conventional development, but assembled in a more integrated fashion, in the form of complete communities.
These contain housing, work places, shops, entertainment, schools, parks, and civic facilities essential to the daily lives of the residents, all within easy walking distance of each other.
New Urbanism promotes the increased use of trains and light rail, instead of more highways and roads. Urban living is rapidly becoming the new hip and modern way to live for people of all ages.”
“New Urbanism is the revival of our lost art of place-making and is essentially a re-ordering of the built environment into the form of complete cities, towns, villages, and neighborhoods - the way communities have been built for centuries around the world.”
The city of Denver adopted the Green Book in 1995 as its formal plan for the airport’s redevelopment. Forest City, a national real estate company out of Cleveland, Ohio, won the competition to become the project’s master developer in 1998. As part of the deal, Forest City agreed to follow the Green Book’s overarching principles and recommendations, which it has done while making a large amount of money.
Stapleton is now widely recognized as one of the country’s largest and most successful infill projects. The Green Book’s approach to redeveloping Stapleton has become a model for other communities and has received national recognition through awards from the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Housing and Urban Development, Urban Land Institute, and the United Nations Council on Sustainable Development.
In 2002, Stapleton received the prestigious Stockholm Partnerships for Sustainable Cities Award from the King of Sweden, in recognition of the project’s commitment to sustainable development, community-building and environmental stewardship.
That’s where the far-reaching influence of the Green Book was glaring to Mr. Gougeon.
“In Stockholm I saw two people speaking Russian,’’ he said. “One had a copy of the Green Book! Just cracked me up!
“The Green Book has taken on a life of its own. It’s hung in there like the Bible.”