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Civitas Designs Water Resiliency Into North Stapleton Open Space Plan

A consultancy and design studio, Civitas advises on a wide range of strategies for re-imagining urban life and places


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With 2017 topping the National Centers for Environmental Information’s list for the worst year of damaging storms since 1980, the alarm is again sounding about development patterns and ever-expanding impermeable urban surfaces across the U.S. Yet sustainable design strategies employed in Stapleton’s newest open space and park system are providing regional solutions to reduce vulnerability and restore native ecology. Denver-based urban design and landscape architecture firm Civitas has been instrumental in the design of Stapleton, a 4,500-acre mixed-use brownfield redevelopment on the former Stapleton Airport site, since the community’s inception in 1988, particularly in the articulation of its beloved parks and greenways. Now as final developable acreage in Stapleton is being graded for construction north of 56th Avenue – years ahead of anticipated build-out – Civitas has taken a nature-first approach to its award-winning North Stapleton Open Space Plan for neighborhoods north of I-70. A final centerpiece of the plan – Prairie Meadows Park – is scheduled to open in spring of 2018.

With the double function as green space and drainage ways, “Stapleton Parks were designed to handle major storm events,” says Scott Jordan, Civitas principal and design lead for Stapleton’s open spaces. At a recent community meeting, a resident observed: “The system is working. When we’ve had heavy rains, our homes didn’t flood,” adding an emphatic “thank you.” Between storms, the creative drainage solutions provide myriad active outdoor uses, including a kid-friendly creek bed in Prairie Meadows Park.

With more than 250 acres of new parks and open spaces between I-70 and 56th Avenue, Civitas has taken the relatively flat site and created a series of strategic and sculptural landforms that naturally convey storm water in lieu of piping it underground. “By using a natural and visible system of water conveyance, residents are offered an array of interactive experiences to better appreciate the role of water in the prairie landscape,” explains Jordan. 

Further inverting the traditional people-first pattern of residential development, Civitas designed an integrated prairie-like landscape that restores pre-airport Front Range ecosystems through a series of interconnected, yet diverse, open spaces that provide residents an increasingly natural experience of the landscape.

“The system was designed as a network of loops to put the parks in motion and enhance potential social interactions,” says Jordan.

On the plantings level, Civitas worked with national firm Great Ecology to calibrate seed mixes and plant species selections for each micro-climate and micro-topography, “not only creating experiences for humans, but also optimal growing conditions for plants to thrive,” according to Jordan. This intertwined approach to living in the landscape will be further enhanced as development pushes northeast toward the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, establishing long-term sustainability and reducing consumption of one of the West’s most valued natural resources: water.

Known for delving into the history of a place to inform its future, Civitas looked to the original wetlands and sand dunes that comprised the indigenous Sandhills Prairie ecosystem long before jets and runways crisscrossed the former Stapleton Airport. By creating water conveyance paths throughout the area, natural water filtration systems are re-established while feeding the landscape and nurturing habitat corridors for birds and other species.

Once completed, the 470-acre Stapleton open space system north of I-70 will introduce the most expansive native prairie grass landscape system within the Denver Parks network. Once established, the plants will no longer require irrigation, effectively reducing the project’s overall water needs by 70 percent. 

A consultancy and design studio, Civitas advises on a wide range of strategies for re-imagining urban life and places. Water quality, conservation, and its integration as an engageable element in the landscape is central to Civitas’ design work which includes award-winning projects such as North Embarcadero waterfront park in San Diego and St. Patrick’s Island in Calgary, Alberta.

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