Reconsidering Growth Management

by: Andrew Spurgin, AICP, Principal Planner, City of Westminster

Why should a community desire to manage growth? In Colorado there are many reasons. Recent news of the dire water situation in Paonia is a reminder that water is limited and few new resources exist. Conservation is critical but in many situations the highest efficiency plumbing fixtures are already in use and climate appropriate landscaping is in place. Managing growth commensurate with water supply is thus critical.

Figure 1: Clarence Perry Neighborhood Unit (Source Wikipedia, accessed 3/2/19)

Second land is limited, particularly in the Front Range communities and mountain communities. Easy to develop lands are disappearing from the inventory and increasingly redevelopment of underutilized retail and industrial areas has become the inventory for new housing such as Downtown Westminster or RiNo.

Inclusive growth should accommodate new populations, but should not overwhelm existing communities, thus importance is also placed on a healthy balance. A high pace of growth can challenge infrastructure – whether it is utilities, transportation, schools, or public safety. Planners should cast a broad net in discussions about planning and development – a well-designed subdivision that may tick all the boxes for a planner may still be challenging for public services to be provided in a way that does not take away from existing levels of service. Overburdening the financial capacity of a municipality, county or other public agency does not equate to inclusive growth, and of course we cannot forget the limits imposed by TABOR and thus communities must find a path to live (and grow) within their means.

A second consideration to a healthy balance is being cognizant to not oversaturate the community with too much of one housing type. For decades communities brought about large scale single family communities such as Highlands Ranch. In the last few years luxury multi-family has been a dominant component of residential growth. Planners should be mindful of housing needs – from homeless and low income households to the needs of the workforce that is the backbone of the strong Colorado economy to the needs of the growing senior population and aging Baby Boomers. Conversations about housing needs should be community-based and visionary while also sensitive to market realities and the limitations of housing finance.

Figure 2: Downtown Westminster plan (Source City of Westminster)

A balanced growth management program should consider all these factors – water, land, municipal resources and housing diversity. How can these get implemented on the ground? I would encourage planners to revisit Clarence Perry’s “Neighborhood Unit” concept of neighborhood planning. Perry’s concept included a centrally located school to allow a child typically a ¼ to ½ mile maximum walk without having to cross a major road, a well-connected circulation system to provide safe and convenient travel with streets no wider than necessary, shopping to serve residents and parks and open spaces to promote public health and community interaction.

While nearly 100 years old, Perry’s concept is adaptable and scalable to different sites and may be modernized to transit oriented development and to the evolution of retail and industrial areas into new neighborhoods. Planning complete neighborhoods as building blocks of inclusive communities must be part of successful growth management.


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