Painted Prairie

Painted Prairie

Setting New Standards for Community Development

Painted PrairieAurora, CO—USA

Painted Prairie is a new residential neighborhood in Aurora, Colorado, master planned to include 30 acres of open space across seven parks, each featuring native landscapes and plants from the Colorado plains.

With a community-wide emphasis on shared spaces, the parks include gathering spaces, trails, community gardens, art installations, playgrounds and dog parks. A central town center will also include gathering spaces for concerts, movie nights and markets, along with a mix of retail, restaurants and hotels. The team has embedded the prairie into the community rather than butt the two into each other—stabilizing the native landscape and creating a place where people can live within it. Paying homage to the prairie and its colors and textures, the team tells stories through landscape design and art of what’s native and what’s not, and how people have connected with the land for generations.

In Implementation
Alberta Development and Resolute Strategies
Master Planning, Urban Design, Landscape Architecture
Project type/category
Community Planning & Development, Mixed Use, Parks & Recreation
2022 National Association of Home Builders Community of the Year, and Best Landscape of a Community; 2021 Colorado Community of the Year
Painted Prairie
Painted Prairie
Painted Prairie

The team’s commitment to sustainable development, community building and environmental stewardship differentiates Painted Prairie from conventional suburban neighborhoods and sets new standards for future development. Civitas and the client, a real estate developer, have a decades-long relationship and share a genuine motivation to focus on people and the land first, prioritizing high quality design in order to deliver a better community. Both understand that by investing in shared spaces that give residents a sense of pride and belonging, the development’s overall ROI ultimately goes up.

While Painted Prairie is a new suburban community that will ultimately include 3,600 modern homes by eight different builders, it’s inspired by pre-war urban neighborhoods with eclectic house sizes and styles, diverse demographics, walkable amenities and green spaces coming together in an intentional-yet-organic way. By applying principles of new urbanism, the team has created a meaningful, sustainable, values-driven community.

With these principles in mind from the start, Civitas’ team thought about what it takes to settle the prairie and considered all of the beauty and tragedy that’s been seen there for generations. They recognized that to settle on this land sometimes requires heroic interventions, and yet the prairie does not need to be replaced or removed. It’s more diverse and interesting than many realize, and it’s magnificent when paired with the backdrop of the mountains and the open sky, and with the weather patterns that form over the prairie’s expanse.

This motivated the design team to embed the prairie into the community rather than butt the two into each other—to stabilize the native landscape and create a place where people can live within it. People adapt to the land, rather than forcing the land to adapt. 

Painted Prairie

Eighteen miles from downtown Denver, Painted Prairie is located on the ridge that forms at the edge of Colorado’s high prairie—the edge where the Platte River Valley drops below and the Rocky Mountains rise in the distance—and is designed to pay homage to the prairie and its colors and textures. Through landscape design and art, the team tells stories of what’s native and what’s not, and how people have connected with the land for generations. For example, in one of the parks that features a shade pavilion and barbecue amenity, a local artist was commissioned to carve abstracted images of native grasses, antelope and prairie chickens, and other native symbology into squares of Corten steel, resembling a Colorado quilt block pattern. Nearby, gridded circular patterns are carved into the land to resemble the patterns created by pivot arm irrigation systems (which were invented in the region), juxtaposed with dunes that reflect the way water was pushed around by the wind and shaped the prairie and its flat grasslands and undulating dunes prior to development.

Painted Prairie
Painted Prairie

Additional parks feature plants that exemplify the past, present and future of the prairie; while others offer space for cultivated gardens that illustrate culture as much as nature—harvesting community and connection as much as crops. This mix of abundance and diversity gives residents and visitors the opportunity to connect with the land in whatever way is meaningful for them.

Water is another big part of the community’s story. In addition to the connection to pivot arm irrigation systems, the last mile of the High Line Canal—a nearly 70-mile man-made canal that was built in the 1880s for irrigation and recreation—lies within the Painted Prairie site. It’s named after the method of designing a canal to follow the land and its natural contours, allowing the water to flow naturally with gravity rather than pumps. Emphasizing conservation of this natural yet increasingly scarce resource, native, drought-tolerant grasses and indigenous vegetation are planted in the shared spaces. In their personal lots, residents are encouraged to consider xeriscaping, or landscaping that requires little to no irrigation. 

Painted Prairie

Finally, the expansive 22-acre High Prairie Park is built at the highest point of the development with unobstructed views of the Rockies’ front range. A mix of subtle and specific design elements point to the mountains that have ski resorts (or have had ski resorts throughout history) to make a point about water extraction from the mountains, and about water and snow being an important resource for the region. Old wooden ski chairs have been turned into swings that hang on arching steel, oriented toward the ski resorts, giving residents and visitors a place to sit (or swing) and contemplate the delicate relationships between people and nature.

This uncommon approach to suburban development is already attracting nationwide attention. In early 2022, Painted Prairie won a total of seven awards—including Community of the Year and Best Landscape of a Community—at the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) annual ‘Nationals’ awards competition. The year prior, as the residents started to move into Painted Prairie, it had been recognized as Colorado’s Community of the Year.