Pikes Peak Park: A Design-Based Approach To Colorado’s Affordable Housing Crisis

By Chris Parezo

About one hundred miles south of Denver, on Pueblo’s west side, a new kind of residential neighborhood is in the works. This community will be more than houses and sidewalks, more than yards and playgrounds, and even more than open green space that brings people together outdoors. This development goes beyond those baselines (albeit important ones) to consider the additional resources residents need in order to feel supported and empowered to live a stable, healthy lifestyle. Because, when individuals and families are stronger, the whole community benefits with improved stability too.

This is Pikes Peak Park, a shared equity, mixed-use and mixed-income neighborhood that includes a range of permanently affordable housing types as well as access to childcare, healthcare, and healthy food options. It’s envisioned by NeighborWorks Southern Colorado (NWSOCO), an independent non-profit organization that is a member network of NeighborWorks America, a national mission-driven organization. NeighborWorks raises funds through federal grants and community investments—distributing $9.3 billion in fiscal year 2020—in order to create opportunities for people to live in homes they can afford, improve their lives and strengthen their communities.

This kind of community has never been so sorely needed. With median home prices and rents rising to record levels, an increasingly large part of the population is being priced out and left behind, with little opportunity to catch up. Recently reporting on the Common Sense Institute’s (CSI’s) analysis of Colorado’s housing deficit, the Greeley Times put it like this: “Colorado is on the verge of an affordable housing crisis so severe that it could derail the state economy and contribute to a significant deterioration in the quality of life for those priced out of the market.”

Pikes Peak Park is poised to become the exemplar of how it’s done, and done right.

FUNDING AFFORDABILITY

One of the recommendations in CSI’s housing development blueprint is to “utilize community land trusts to create and maintain affordable home ownership,” which matches the model of Pikes Peak Park. NWSOCO owns the land and will act as the master developer, and then originates low-cost mortgages to homebuyers, who gain equity over time. In 2019, NWSOCO received a grant for $1M from The Colorado Health Foundation (TCHF) to fund a mortgage program for low-income homebuyers (at or below 80% of area median income) in the Pueblo region.… and an additional $3M to fund programs going towards affordable homeownership in Pikes Peak Park.

Urban Land Conservancy—a Denver-based non-profit with a mission to preserve, develop and manage affordable real estate—is another active participant and advocate who encouraged Civitas to get involved. And how could we not. This project aligns well with our own mission to design holistically sustainable communities, connecting people with the land, the city and with each other.

BUILDING COMMUNITY

A neighborhood, being a subset of the larger city, represents a physical construct for human settlement often organized around a common place(s), set of streets or natural systems.  Whereas a community represents a cultural or social network, organized around a shared interest (gardening, school, activism, pickle ball, music, books, cycling, soccer, etc.), in any given neighborhood, there is an intangible web of formal and informal social communities.  Our goal at Civitas is to design neighborhoods that helps people feel valued, included and inspired to participate, to care for each other and the land; to establish the physical platform that allows communities to grow and flourish. Pikes Peak Park is envisioned as a collection of distinct neighborhoods each with its own personality and physically connected by a network of walkable streets, open spaces, and paseos that encourage human interaction necessary to develop the personal bonds that grow a strong and inclusive Pikes Peak Park Community.

Pikes Peak Park has the opportunity to set a new standard for neighborhood design, both physically and socially, and be a catalyst for future public and private investment in Pueblo. The urban design takes a long-term view by creating a neighborhood pattern within the projects’ 77-acres that thoughtfully integrates with existing context and anticipates future growth and planned multimodal investments such as extending bus routes to and through the site and proposing high ease-of-use bicycle facilities that that link the neighborhood to existing regional trails, schools, community centers, health care facilities and employment centers.

NWSOCO and the broader team behind the Pikes Peak Park development are motivated to help people not only succeed as homeowners over the long term, but also as active and engaged members of the community.  So creating new, innovative ways for people to access workforce training and/or employment within the neighborhood is an important component of long term sustainability.   Approximately two acres of the site have been donated to the Pueblo Fire Department, with whom a proposed junior firefighter program could provide training and illuminate pathways to fire and rescue careers.  We’re also strategizing with NWSOCO to create its own parks program that can maintain the community’s parks and open spaces, streetscapes, even private front yards.  Local residents, even community teens, could be employed thereby keeping money spent on landscape maintenance within the community. People not only gain the pride of keeping their community looking great, but also the pride of employment—which can be life changing.

This is one of several strategies that acknowledges the realistic challenges of homeownership, especially for individuals and families who are juggling work (maybe multiple jobs), school, raising children, and perhaps the care of elder generations as well. Pikes Peak Park and other NWSOCO communities don’t erase these challenges, but they focus on providing the resources that ease some of the burdens, even with seemingly simple tasks like taking care of your front yard. These small signals of caring can have a big impact.

DESIGNING RESILIENCE

Pikes Peak Park is organized around a central Town Green where neighbors can gather and connect. Two community buildings are planned along the Town Green and we are working with community partners to bring in the right types community service uses that may include workforce training, satellite library, child care, a boys and girls club, and market/bazaar space.  Two linear parks extend from the Town Green; one to the northwest providing stunning views of Pikes Peak, and one to the northeast connecting the community to the planned regional trail and Wild Horse Creek open space system. 

The neighborhood will offer a variety of types of housing types and price points (targeting less than 80% AMI), including single family, paired homes, rowhomes, rental apartments, and even modestly priced market rate condos above the town center’s restaurants and retail shops.  The housing mix and depth of affordability will promote social and economic diversity, enhancing the community’s energy and vitality as well as its long-term resiliency.

Pikes Peak Park is intended to have multi-generational appeal. Children can gather in the community’s many open green spaces and playgrounds, as well as in the green courts and pocket parks that organize homes into small clusters, making it easy for neighbors to look out for each other, and each other’s kids. Accessory dwelling units—which CSI’s blueprint wisely recommends for policymakers to allow and make standard—are also proposed to be part of the neighborhood, built above many single family homes’ garages in order to provide space for family members, or to generate rental income.

Pikes Peak Park is located in the Piedmont Plains and Tablelands ecoregion, which is a semi-arid desert-like environment, yet it builds upon lessons and inspiration from Painted Prairie, a community we’ve designed in Aurora. Throughout the community, you’ll find more native grasses and vegetation than concrete and asphalt. The prairie and desert can be harsh environments to live in, so sustainable development and environmental stewardship are important components to community building. The land must be able to last in order for the people to be able to last. Native plantings, water management programs and responsible design considerations are integral parts of our master plan. 

Pikes Peak Park is currently in the entitlement process, seeking final approvals to the master plan as we continue working on schematic design for the first phase of parks, streets, and infrastructure. NeighborWorks has a goal to start construction in 2022. This will be a project to watch closely as it comes together in the years ahead. Not only does Pikes Peak Park set new standards for affordable housing, with a higher level of design quality that signals to residents that they matter. It also signals that change is possible, and that deepening housing crisis can be mitigated through inspired leadership and partners organized around a common vision and principles.

Would you like to be part of the solution too? Join us.

 

Christopher Parezo,
AICP, Principal

As the urban design leader and Principal, Chris oversees a variety of project types ranging in scale from corporate and medical campus design, transit-oriented communities and urban infill neighborhood design, to long-range city planning. Chris recently completed an urban design vision plan for the new downtown in Brno, Czech Republic and the Rivers District Master Plan for Calgary. He is currently leading The 5280 Loop, a 5.28 mile linear park and urban trail connecting six distinct neighborhoods in downtown Denver, as well as two urban design plans for new town centers in both Broomfield and Castle Pines, Colorado.

Chris received undergraduate degrees in architecture and environmental design in 2003 and a Master of Urban and Regional Planning/Urban Design in 2006 from State University of New York at Buffalo.

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