To say that everything Civitas, Inc. touches turns to gold may be hyperbole, but it is entirely fair to say the urban design consultancy leaves places better than it found them. Founded by Mark Johnson and Ann Mullins in 1984 out of a passion for design and love of cities, Civitas began as a name scribbled on a cocktail napkin. The word “civitas” suggests civic-mindedness, citizenship and civility – a sense of shared community purpose that the firm embodies both in the urban places it reimagines and in its own collaborative culture of design experts.
On first meeting, Civitas founder and president Mark Johnson is likely to invoke the firm’s philosophy that design must meet three criteria: creating a genuine sense of place, arising out of a problem, and ultimately being “about them, not us.” Put into practice through an energetic process of listening, questioning and analysis, the philosophy challenges assumptions and looks to unveil the myths of a place. In recent years, Civitas has transformed abandoned brownfield, featureless greenfield – even a decrepit shopping mall – into vibrant mixed-use neighborhoods; reimagined blighted riverfront as a community centerpiece driving economic growth; envisioned the true face of the American museum 100 years in the future; and even conjured plans for a full-blown culturally anchored city out of an Afghan desert.
Because its city-centric work can easily become bogged down in politics and bureaucracy, Civitas has become adept at connecting with local leadership and helping them move their agendas forward, including meeting the real people of the community where and how they live. The firm’s core desire to make a difference – not with monuments to itself but through creating genuinely useful and necessary places – fosters deep friendships and professional collaborations in cities across the U.S. and around the world. Civitas invests itself in the future of places that in turn come to welcome its team as part of their communities.
Working as a creative collective led by a group of thought-leader principals who have been together more than 20 years joined by younger principals who bring a new creative energy and understanding of the ever-changing culture of cities, Civitas approaches problems not by looking for answers, but rather by raising new questions that reframe the starting assumptions. This approach of looking for questions and ultimately answers within the problem itself has allowed the team to create solutions with the potential to last, designing urban places that evolve even as communities – and the technologies that can drive them – change.
“We want to find deep meaning for people, so we have to ask instead of tell,” says Johnson, who explains the firm’s goal of creating design legacy that is protected over time not because of dollars spent or big names involved, but simply “because people love it.”
Founded in 1984 with the core purpose of “creating healthier cities,” Denver-based Civitas, Inc., is an idea-based practice of urban designers, architects and landscape architects engaged in strategic planning for urban change and project design for built works. A consultancy and a design studio, Civitas advises clients on a wide range of strategies for re-imagining city conditions, and designing the ideas, craft and implementation of built spaces and systems at the scale of infrastructure.
Civitas uses design thinking, design form, critical inquiry and political acumen to make meaningful change in cities. Taking an “It’s about them, not us” approach, the firm listens, analyzes and then reframes assumptions into new propositions with an eye to asking questions that provide entirely new – and ultimately more useful – perspectives on the issues presented.
Mark Johnson, Founding Principal; Craig Vickers, Principal; Scott Jordan, Principal; Chris Parezo, Principal; Blake Jordan, Director of Business Development & Marketing
- Denver, Colorado – more than 100 projects evolving Denver into an example of the best in urban living for the U.S., including reclaiming airport brownfield to create thriving, historically anchored Stapleton neighborhood, reinventing defunct shopping mall as walkable Belmar neighborhood and design of coming public-transport community Aviation Station
- New York, New York – create community connection to the Harlem River with socially stable incremental redevelopment at Sherman Creek; and re-envision a people-friendly Atlantic Avenue for Brooklyn
- Los Angeles, California – new vision of iconic LA River as living, active green spine linking 32 miles of parks, trails, rain gardens, habitat, recreational spaces and private reinvestment
- Greenville, South Carolina – historically anchored “fabric of innovation” redesign of downtown piazza
- Calgary, Alberta, Canada – Civitas selected by International Design Competition to redesign/revitalize St. Patrick’s Island
- Miami, Florida – transform high crime area into a 26-acre park on Biscayne Bay, including the Art and Science Museums
- St. Louis, Missouri – Leading a large team toward an integrated and sustainable plan for the regeneration of one of America’s most blighted neighborhoods – the Northside of downtown St. Louis.
- Salt Lake City, Utah – strategize new civic and cultural spine connecting to Civitas-designed Library Square Park and Utah Arts Festival site
- San Diego, California – North Embarcadero waterfront development; restoration of historic Balboa Park; San Diego’s Convention Center rooftop and waterfront park
- Memphis, Tennessee – Riverfront Master Plan connecting downtown and neighborhoods to the Mississippi River including relocating industries and finding opportunities for new investment and living along the riverbank
- Raleigh, North Carolina – vision plan to extrovert the North Carolina Museum of Art into Museum Park with new active venues for social engagement with the arts
On December 7, 1984, Mark Johnson wrote the word that would become the firm’s name on a cocktail napkin. “Civitas,” with a definition of “a body of people constituting a politically organized community, a state, especially a city-state,” embraced both the firm’s mission of bettering cities through design and a focus on the common good. The firm’s cooperative “community of equals” comprises an idea-driven culture of designers from multiple disciplines and approaches to urbanism.
1200 Bannock St., Denver, CO 80204. The Civitas offices are in a turn-of-the-century brick former automotive building, anchoring the corner of 12th and Bannock in the heart of Denver’s burgeoning cultural center with an up-close view of the outsize Dan Ostermiller bronze Scottish Angus Cow and Calf sculpture. The firm’s offices are a co-work collaborative including other creative firms in architecture, lighting design, and architectural photography.
LOCATION (VIRTUAL) www.civitasinc.com
Aurora, Colorado — March 17, 2022
Painted Prairie Named the National Community of the Year
Tampa’s Civitas-designed Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park has won double honors in the 2019 American Architecture Awards, the nation’s highest public awards for design excellence, with an award for the park design and a separate award for the W-designed River Center.
A new Civitas study of the busy Port of San Diego was presented to Port Commissioners to rave reviews. The fully achievable vision energizes the working waterfront’s mile-long North Embarcadero as a world-class destination, creating vibrant, inviting, pedestrian-friendly and sustainable public space.
ASLA-NY has honored Civitas with a 2019 Design Award for the Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park in Tampa, Florida. The transformed 25-acre park redresses social justice issues and engages its West Tampa community, including with a reengineered river for calm-water paddling education.
Two Denver projects are taming big streets: Civitas is reframing the conversation in favor of nature, community and culture on Denver’s iconic Alameda and Hale Parkways, providing traffic calming measures while enhancing pedestrian amenities, habitat and environmental resiliency.
In honor of its 35th anniversary, Civitas has created a new website and logo as a means of shifting the conversation from projects to philosophy of practice. New Marketing Director Blake Jordan spearheaded the effort, updating messaging to express the evolving Civitas mission and culture.
A community-centric “living room” for Golden, Colorado’s historic city center has broken ground. The 150-year-old Calgary Episcopal Church led the effort to improve downtown connectivity and parking while providing new public gathering and event space.
From declining midcentury mall to vital urban neighborhood, Civitas’ “dying mall retrofit” of suburban Denver’s Villa Italia into Belmar Town Center wins the 2018 International Making Cities Livable Honor Award for Excellence in Designing Healthy, 10-Minute Neighborhoods.
With over 25,000 people attending opening night, Tampa, Florida’s new $35 million Civitas/W-designed Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park on the Hillsborough River was conceived as a “park for everyone,” investing in the long-underserved West Tampa community.
Wayzata, Minn., City Council has approved Civitas to move forward with the design of implementation plans and construction documents for its Lake Effect Project revitalizing the Lake Minnetonka waterfront. The plan enhances the community’s waterfront connectivity and restores lake-edge ecology.
The Downtown Denver Partnership has selected Civitas to lead a design effort for a bold vision for the 5280 Loop. The Partnership and project team are asking the community to help reimagine 5+ miles of center city streets into a uniquely Denver amenity that prioritizes people, culture, nature and health.
Civitas has been instrumental in the design of Stapleton, a 4000-acre mixed-use brownfield redevelopment on the former Stapleton Airport site, since the community’s inception in 1988, particularly in the articulation of its beloved parks and greenways.
St. Patrick’s Island Park has been awarded a 2017 International Architecture Award by the Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design and the European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies.
Beyond the steel entry to the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA), a towering red metal sculpture by internationally renowned artist Mark di Suvero draws your eye up and invites you into the newly expanded Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park.
St. Patrick’s Island Park in Calgary, designed by Denver urban design and landscape architecture firm Civitas Inc. with W Architecture and Landscape Architecture of New York, has been named 2016 Great Public Space by the Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP) in its Great Places in Canada contest.
Civitas and W Architecture and Landscape Architecture of New York have been lauded by Fast Company magazine’s 2016 Innovation by Design Awards for the revitalization of St. Patrick’s Island Park in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Civitas and W Architecture and Landscape Architecture of New York have received a 2016 Excellence on the Waterfront Award from the nonprofit Waterfront Center for their completed revitalization of St. Patrick’s Island Park in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn and the City of Tampa, Florida, broke ground this week on the redevelopment of Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park designed by Denver urban design and landscape architecture firm Civitas with W Architecture and Landscape Architecture of New York.
Denver-based urban design and landscape architecture firm Civitas has promoted Christopher Parezo, AICP, to principal. Parezo, who holds degrees in both architecture and urban planning, has worked in the field for 15 years, the past decade with Civitas.
Civitas has released the first two in a planned series of short films to explore the multi-layered and collaborative design process behind its work while providing digital visitors with an experiential perspective on its projects.
Titled “The Ribbon of the Thames,” the winning design from the Civitas+Stantec team features renewed access for a 5-kilometer stretch of the Thames River radiating from central forks at the heart of London and stressing active four-season engagement and revitalized natural habitat.
Despite envisioning the $20 million project that would bring the Calgary, Alberta community flocking to the once-derelict St. Patrick’s Island for an authentic experience of nature in the city, Civitas founding Principal Mark Johnson was gratified by the community response at the fall grand opening ceremony.
Civitas has partnered with the New York Restoration Project on the groundbreaking Haven Project to design, build and secure funding for a network of connected open spaces to improve quality of life for residents in the South Bronx’s Mott Haven and Port Morris neighborhoods for measurable positive public health impacts.
Co-led by Civitas and W Architecture and Landscape Architecture, a transformative plan for Calgary’s St. Patrick’s Island that will return a vital downtown landscape in the scenic Bow River to active public use received honors in the urban design category in the 2014 AIA NY Design Awards.
The original base paths, pitcher’s mound and home plate served as inspiration for San Diego’s new Lane Field Park, built on the historic former site of the Padres’ first baseball stadium and visually tied to the port’s massive North Embarcadero Visionary Plan, including the recently opened Civitas-designed Grand Esplanade.
With $80 million of projects on the boards, Civitas hires Mark Naylor, RLA, as a Project Manager, putting his 32 years’ experience and collaborative style to work as a team leader overseeing major urban redevelopment projects including Tampa’s Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park.
Opening with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Nov. 15, 2014, San Diego’s new North Embarcadero waterfront park forms part of a revitalized gateway to the city’s downtown center and establishes an energized destination within a rapidly developing area of the city. (view Backgrounder and Fact Sheet)
The Civitas team’s 30-year-history of helping transform Denver into a poster child for the 21st-century image of a healthy and thriving urban center follows a course through downtown, the Central Platte Valley and into the metro area’s farther reaches.
Currently at work on the master planning and design of more than 250 acres of Stapleton parks, recreation areas, open spaces, storm water management facilities and habitat development, Civitas is responding to an evolving aesthetic in the northeast Denver community that has homeowners increasingly placing a higher value on natural open space over more formally circumscribed parks.
Civitas Advises City of Prague on Strategies for New Economy. How does one of the world’s most intact Renaissance cities stay relevant and compete in the new millennium? This week Mark Johnson is in Prague helping the Prague Institute of Planning and Development (IPR) strategize possible solutions to this question.
Civitas is turning the big 3-0! Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, the firm has played a key role in changing the face of its Denver hometown, as well as cities from coast to coast and around the world.