Green Infrastructure for Denver's 5280 Loop

Date: 8/20/18
green trees and stream with city in the background
Faculty Advisor: Austin Troy

CU Denver's College of Architecture and Planning recently partnered with the Downtown Denver Partnership to develop a series of green infrastructure plans for the proposed 5280 Loop. Masters of Urban and Regional Planning students in Professor Austin Troy's Environmental Planning and Management course worked to create a greening plan for the 5280 Loop that would increase green infrastructure, create more people-friendly spaces, implement ecological improvement techniques, and contribute to the greater goals of the 5280 Loop.

Conceived by the Downtown Denver Partnership, the 5280 Loop is a conceptual 5.28 mile-long urban trail that would circle Denver's downtown, connecting diverse neighborhoods and increasing connectivity. The Downtown Denver Partnership envisions the Loop as a unique amenity that will prioritize people, place, culture, and experience; promote public health and betterment; celebrate the culture of distinct urban districts, connect landmarks, destinations, and special places; bring nature into the city, promote active transportation, create a safe, fluid, intuitive route; and strengthen community or catalyze development.

For the students in Austin Troy's Environmental Planning and Management class, the first phase of the project was to identify the highest priority blocks for greening and environmental interventions along the segment of the 5280 Loop. Students were divided into four groups, and assigned a section of the 5280 Loop to study. Each group conducted a block-by-block assessment of their section and developed a set of criteria to identify high-priority blocks. Students then made specialized recommendations for green interventions in their study areas. Recommendations included adding vegetated medians, vertical planters, raised planter beds, street trees, permeable pavements, rain gardens, storm-water planters, In addition to making recommendations for green infrastructure improvements, students also created preliminary cost estimates for installation and maintenance and analyzed the potential benefits of green infrastructure.

The student's work found that green infrastructure has a slew of benefits that not only improve the environment but also foster more comfortable and aesthetically pleasing urban spaces. Green infrastructure benefits include treating storm-water and preventing runoff, thereby reducing pressure on man-made storm-water systems and decreasing flooding; improving air quality by providing additional greenery and tree canopy coverage that filters urban pollution caused by automobile usage; and reducing the urban heat island effect by reducing the amount of impervious surfaces, increasing albedo, and reducing temperatures. Students also identified non-environmental benefits of green infrastructure such as improvements to mental health, the creation of a safer and more pleasant pedestrian environment due to slowing traffic, and noise abatement. Taken together, this study shows that the benefits of green infrastructure - both in environmental management and improved health outcomes, outweigh the costs of installation and maintenance.

While complete implementation of the 5280 Loop is still many years away, this study, led by CU Denver's MURP students, demonstrates that the inclusion of green infrastructure in the project can help the 5280 Loop achieve its desired outcomes of creating spaces that are both environmentally friendly and well as beautiful and enjoyable places for people.