Restoring a River to Engage People in a New Urban Ecology

Civitas has prepared roughly 30 projects in Denver’s Central Platte Valley over a 32 year period. This area was rail yards, an inter-modal facility and warehouses when Civitas was founded there in 1984. The total area of 100 acres had no residents except transients sleeping along the Platte River. Civitas led a pro-bono effort to re-imagine the space as a new mixed-use neighborhood as part of a city neighborhood plan in 1986. The city and other property owners later engaged Civitas in studies of mobility and access, land use, infill development, the design of streets and underpasses at the railroad, and eventually three riverfront parks and five pedestrian/bike bridges over the river.

The core idea that connects all of these projects was Civitas’ belief that redevelopment of this weak, semi-vacant industrial area could be catalyzed by new neighborhood connections, a renewed river and parks. As a result, we were commissioned to develop an overall Vision for the South Platte (10.5 miles in the city) and proposals for a chain of parks along that length.

Our first built project was Elitch Gardens, a new amusement park that brought many people from the suburbs into the core city. This important step brought new attention to the valley as an opportunity to support downtown as a neighborhood and not just a business center. Mayor Webb asked Civitas to lead a public process to give shape to the river corridor and its benefits to neighborhoods on both sides of the river. A Central Platte Valley Steering Committee was established, including neighborhood, non-profit, agency and special interest representatives. The Steering Committee was used as a sounding board for all projects, with ratification of their recommendations at the Planning Commissions

Civitas was then commissioned to design Commons Park, the City of Cuernavaca Park and Centennial Gardens. These parks were all completed by 2003. Civitas was further commissioned to manage the design of three pedestrian bridges that cross the railroad, the river and the freeway. The Millennium Bridge was built first, with its large mast establishing a landmark and identity for the new district.