Can 19th-century ideas improve Denver’s outdated zoning codes?

Should city leaders go back to the future for inspiration in revising Denver’s 52-year-old zoning codes?

SustainLane.com ranked cities’ sustainability by age — comparing the predominate era of its primary development when either 19th-century urbanism or post-World War II suburban sprawl ruled community planning offices coast to coast. In this case, age wins out over youth.

(Illustration/Sustainlane.com)

(Illustration/Sustainlane.com)

Denver, which falls in the pre-1945 category, ranks quite high at 11 while its younger post-1945 cousin to the south, Colorado Springs, does not. Why?

SustainLane suggests that the rankings, a reflection of modern-day concerns about carbon output, pollution and quality of life, are largely affected by American’s love affair with cars and the open road.

Simply put, cities built up in the latter half of the twentieth century were car-oriented. Americans could travel further for goods and services they needed. The mega malls and big-box stores found on the fringes of many communities are featured in countless mediums: music’s “Rockin’ the Suburbs” and “Little Boxes”; TV’s “Weeds”, “Desperate Housewives” and “The Wonder Years”; and movies “Over the Hedge”, “American Beauty” and “Little People”. Residents in these communities drive to work, drive to school, drive to eat, drive to entertainment.

The result: cities and their residents have suffered. A dependence on driving increases social isolation and exacerbates health problems (including obesity and heart disease). Cars pollute our environment: their exhaust degrades air quality and urban runoff from roads and freeways pollutes watersheds and groundwater supplies. Streets are unsafe to play on. And they’re noisy. And finally, cars are dangerous: about 40,000 Americans die in car crashes per year.

In light of all these negative aspects of “car culture” (what is America without cars?), cars were initially seen as an environmental solution to the formerly overwhelming pollution of horse and buggy days: thousands of tons of horse manure piling up each day in cities around the country.

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Wendy Norris

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