By Beth Mosenthal, AIA

It’s no secret that Denver is growing.  But how is the city accommodating growth as it relates to available and/or affordable housing (and are these two things mutually exclusive?)

On Thursday, November 16, AIA Denver members gathered with City of Denver urban planners and officials to engage with these issues by participating in a case study on “Integrating ‘Missing Middle’ Housing into Existing Neighborhoods.”

IMG_3616The gathering was organized by AIA Colorado’s Denver Housing Knowledge Community, a group of Denver-based architects invested in developing relationships and initiatives to encourage “safe, attractive, accessible and affordable housing options” for all.  Most recently, the housing group has worked with the West Denver Renaissance Collaborative, Habitat for Humanity and the City of Denver to explore the potentials of accessory dwelling units (ADU) as one of many tools that might provide more affordable housing options to Denver’s growing population.

The City of Denver representatives began the night by presenting the on-going development of the Integrated Land Use and Transportation Plan, otherwise known as “Blueprint Denver.” Knowledge community member, Cesar Olivas, AIA, helped to kick-off the event by discussing statistics regarding Denver’s population growth and the city’s subsequent housing shortage.

Notable in Olivas’ introduction were statistics illustrating that Denver’s population has grown by 590,000 people from 2009-2016; surpassing the city’s 2002 projections. Related to this growth, the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Colorado has increased by 22% since 2014, at a price that is twice the national average. Complicating matters is the lack of diversity in housing options. Currently, most available housing stock in Denver is either a single-family home or an apartment in a 20+ unit building complex.  IMG_3646

Olivas shared that “these two typologies cannot absorb Denver’s current growth—therefore we must identify opportunities in Denver’s ‘missing middle’ housing and strategies to integrate this missing middle into Denver’s existing and new housing blocks.”

The 30+ attendees were then asked to split into groups that would help the City of Denver and the Housing Knowledge Community address the following questions:

  1. How do we harness growth to benefit everyone, regardless of age, ability or income?
  2. How do we implement more diverse housing typologies in existing neighborhoods (for example, providing housing options that might accommodate aging in place, entry-level home buyers and multigenerational households, etc.)?

Each group was given a large-scale aerial image of a different Denver neighborhood. With sharpies and trace paper readily available, group members were asked to identify scale and use-appropriate rezoning opportunities that might facilitate additional densification.

After 45 minutes of robuIMG_3629st discussion, sketching, and scenario-testing, the groups presented their various strategies to city planners, including Brad Buchanan, the Executive Director of Community Planning and Development at the City and County of Denver.

In a very short amount of time, architects created promising solutions to identifying feasible strategies for introducing “missing middle” housing typologies such as ADU’s, two-four-unit urban homes, townhomes and smaller apartment buildings into Denver’s existing urban fabric.

In every solution, architects were mindful of preserving and integrating the current character of the neighborhoods they worked on, and suggested that this is one of the best ways we can grow the city.

The event concluded with parting words from Buchanan—thanking everyone for their involvement in providing new insights and solutions for an ongoing project that is extremely timely and time-sensitive. He urged architects to use their expertise and training to be part of the development dialogue that is pervasive in Denver right now. Members lingered later into the evening, excited by the opportunity to engage in an issue that is both professional and, as residents and practitioners in the City of Denver, highly personal.