Spotlight on Belmar, Lakewood, Colorado
October 24, 2012 2 Comments
After leaving Topeka, I spent the night in Denver. The problem with Denver, however, is that it is just too big to be fully covered in an hour or so. So instead, I decided to focus on a specific part of metro Denver: Belmar, the New Urbanist development in neighboring Lakewood, Colorado.Belmar faces the same problem that many New Urbanist developments face: it’s an island of urbanism in a sea of suburbia. Belmar is particularly bad in this case, because it has a decidedly urban side and a decidedly suburban one. On two sides, it is surrounded by huge suburban arterials with no on-street parking which is fronted by enormous parking lots. Driving into the development, it doesn’t look any different than standard suburban power center schlock.
Probably the strongest part of the development was Alaska Drive, the main street of the development. It is pretty well put together. Although part of the street is lower in height, most of it is three stories, with retail on the ground and other uses above. Street lights are strung across the street, much like is seen in many parts of Scandinavia. There are some buildings that step back from the street to form small plazas and cafe areas. This should really be pursued on a rare basis, but it can be a great effect if used sparingly.
Another successful element is a pedestrian pathway. It is lined by retail and has higher buildings than in the rest of the area so that the path is framed better. It is a neat little public space, and I’m sure it’s pretty cool when it has some sort of an event drawing people there, but when I was there it was pretty dead.
The housing in the development is of an appropriate density and is architecturally interesting. You need the high density to support the retail along Alaska Drive. There are still large vacant lots waiting to be developed at Belmar, and hopefully it will be closer to complete in a few years.
Belmar, like many New Urbanist projects, is a step in the right direction, but isn’t quite there. While there is some nice stuff on the inside of the development, you wouldn’t notice it without looking because it looks so terrible from the road. To make it truly urban, line the parking lots with new buildings, calm the arterial streets with on-street parking and trees, and get some sort of transit connection. Belmar is further along than a lot of suburbs, but they’ve got a long way to go.