Research and Development

A Look at Denver Public Spaces

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Each year, KEPHART sets aside one day dedicated to Research and Development. This year, we split into four teams, all with different topics of focus. One team focused solely on Public Spaces in Urban and Suburban Denver.

The team picked nine different public spaces around Denver to tour and rank.  In order to evaluate the spaces and rank them, we created a list of ten metrics to measure the success of a public space and they are: noise, safety, seating, access, scale, cleanliness, seasonal use, materiality, versatility, and activity.

The nine locations we visited were Belmar, Lakewood Cultural Center, Paco Sanchez Park, Denver Art Museum Plaza, Civic Center Park, Skyline Park, Dairy Block, Union Station and Confluence Park. We specifically chose public spaces that have a lot of variety in size, use and location.

After a full day of visiting these locations and evaluating them based on our metrics, we able to rank them from most successful to least successful.

The three most successful public spaces we toured were Union Station (Urban), Dairy Block (Urban), and Paco Sanchez Park (Suburban).

Union Station

Union Station was our top urban public space. Almost everyone has heard about this space and has visited it before. This location rated high in ease of access, scale, cleanliness, seasonal use (good all year round), materiality, versatility and activity.

Union Station Exterior in Denver, Colorado

Dairy Block

Our second top urban public space is the new Dairy Block. The designers converted an alleyway into a lively place connecting residential, retail and restaurants. Dairy Block rated high in safety, seating, cleanliness, seasonal use (good all year round), materiality, and versatility.

Exterior photos of Denver, Colorado's Dairy Block

Paco Sanchez Park

Our top rated suburban public space is Paco Sanchez Park. Located in West Denver, this park is adult in size. It is a park where parents can play with their kids and not feel too large for the space. Instead of parents sitting on park benches on their phones while the kids play, at this park parents can interact and play with their kids. This public space rated high for seating, access, scale, materiality, versatility, and activity.

Paco Sanchez Park in Denver, Colorado

Our bottom three public spaces were Denver Art Museum (Urban), Confluence Park (Urban), and Lakewood Cultural Center (Suburban).

Denver Art Museum Plaza

Our lowest rated urban public space was tied between the Denver Art Museum Plaza and Confluence Park. We noticed that on the lower rated public spaces, they were mainly used as thoroughfares and not destinations to go and enjoy. The Denver Art Museum Plaza rated low in cleanliness, safety, access, versatility and activity.

Exterior view of Denver Art Museum in Denver, Colorado

Confluence Park

Our other lowest rated urban public space with Confluence Park. This park was one of the least clean spaces we toured. It appeared to be more of a thoroughfare than somewhere to go and stay. There were a lot of bikers and pedestrians using the sidewalks to get from one place to another and no one sitting around enjoying the space.

Confluence Park in Denver, Colorado

Lakewood Cultural Center

The lowest rated suburban public space was Lakewood Cultural Center. This public space rated lowest in activity and seasonality. It is a space that can only be enjoyed in the summer since there is no indoor space or shelter from the elements. While we did visit on a Thursday morning, we were still surprised that we were the only people around. This is a great outdoor space for people working in the surrounding buildings, but their wasn’t much foot traffic otherwise.

Lakewood Cultural Center in Denver, Colorado

In the end, we concluded that we couldn’t create a prescribed definition for a “successful” public space. Experiencing a space is personal for everyone. One person may enjoy the hustle and bustle of Union Station, while others despise it. Another person may love the quiet and serenity of the Lakewood Cultural Center, and others may find that boring. Overall, when designing a space it is essential to understand who will be using the space and what they will be using it for.  It is also important to consider programming for a variety of uses to activate the space and allow for flexibility.

We would like to hear from you! What is your definition for a successful public space?

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