The New York Times discusses a new building in Denver that embraces many of the ideals of transit-oriented development. The Spire is a mixed-use condo building that includes retail and recreation space along with residential units. Saqib Rahim explains:
If they wish, the denizens of this mini-world can step outside into the arts district, or they can walk fractions of a mile to three of Denver’s light rail lines. Spire scores a 91 on WalkScore.com, earning the label “Walker’s Paradise.”
To reach paradise, though, Spire residents won’t have to give up their cars. The 33 floors of residences sit atop a “parking podium” eight floors tall. It contains bikes and cars for rent, but most of the room is for 600 parking spaces. The building has 500 condos.
Denver residents clearly enjoy the option to live in a walkable, transit-friendly neighborhood, as The Spire is one of the fastest-selling condo buildings in the country. It exemplifies that walkable development can be achieved in Western cities that have been primarily built around the automobile. The building’s prime location in the city’s downtown Arts District allows it to command high enough prices to pay for an
underground parking podium, but Rahim questions whether transit-oriented development should include any parking at all.
While Denver has adopted many Portland-style Smart Growth features including one of the nation’s largest light rail systems, many city residents still rely on and enjoy easy use of their vehicles. Scott McFadden, a Denver area developer who focuses on TOD said in the article:
“You still need it to go to work and to shop and, quite frankly, to take it to the mountains, which is why you live in Denver in the first place.”
The Spire is located in an area of the city that does not have parking mandates, so the garage was built based only on the perceived demands of the building’s potential residents. Furthermore, the
underground podium parking mitigates the negative externalities that unsightly surface lots can create for pedestrians. Rather, the building’s ground floor retail serves adds vitality to the pedestrian landscape.
Stephen tweeted this article last week and makes another interesting point on the parking policies at work here. Throughout most of the Denver area, low densities restrictions and high parking minimums are in place, so the only new housing projects in the city center will necessarily be luxury condos. These residents will demand parking regardless of required minimums. I’m not sure I completely agree here — as a Colorado native, it seems to me that many Denver residents of all income levels will place a high premium on parking for the reasons that McFadden outlines. However, Stephen is certainly correct that many intertwined policies affect parking and transportation policies, beyond those directly intended to.
In my opinion, a more important criticism of the project is that the units would likely be selling for much less if the building were not located in the midst of Denver’s $14 million public-private redevelopment project. This will be a regressive effort, benefiting some of the city’s wealthier residents who are moving into this desirable neighborhood, largely at the expense of other less-affluent residents.
The Spire itself represents a building that will allow residents to enjoy urban living even while still maintaining car ownership. While this is great for those residents and urbanist supporters, Denver citizens should not have to subsidize this lifestyle when they are not enjoying it themselves.