Thinking small rather than big for downtown

Englewood advocates look into incremental development idea

Joseph Rios
jrios@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 5/19/20

Jim Heid sees small-scale development projects and incremental projects as being key for creating vibrant local economies and distinctive, resilient places. And as Englewood continues its process of …

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Thinking small rather than big for downtown

Englewood advocates look into incremental development idea

Posted

Jim Heid sees small-scale development projects and incremental projects as being key for creating vibrant local economies and distinctive, resilient places.

And as Englewood continues its process of creating a downtown master plan that envisions higher density and mixed-use development in the Englewood City Center realm at 901 W. Hampden Ave., downtown planners see a smaller-scale approach as being more appropriate for the Old Hampden and South Broadway area.

Heid, a sustainable development adviser, land planner and developer who founded UrbanGreen, which provides services for sustainable land use and sustainability expertise, spoke about small-scale development in a May 13 webinar.

The webinar was presented by Downtown Colorado Inc., a nonprofit that provides assistance to Colorado downtowns, and the Greater Englewood Chamber of Commerce, which promotes its business members and Englewood businesses.

The event coincided with Englewood’s creation of a downtown master plan, known as the Downtown Matters initiative. The plan will cover the Englewood City Center, areas of South Broadway and areas around Craig Hospital and Swedish Medical Center.

Here are some highlights from Heid’s presentation.

What is small?

Heid says small development does not involve the size or price of a project.

Rather, small is an attitude and perspective, context, connections and a focus on community experience that in turn leads to sales.

“The ultimate way I like to sum it up is many of the people we see and projects we’ve seen see the real estate aspects of small development as a means to an end and that end being great placemaking,” said Heid.

Placemaking is the process in which a physical environment is made meaningful — as defined by Project for Public Spaces, a nonprofit that works to create and sustain public spaces to build strong communities.

“Where we think the greatest opportunity lies going forward is place-based development to where there is market demand both for the boomers and millennials. And it’s really a regenerative tool as a way to create and heal communities at a much finer-grained level,” said Heid.

Make gumbo, not TV dinners

Heid said when you think about a TV dinner, it is similar to the way land use has been carried out for decades.

Different land use in parts of the country are compartmentalized and separated from each other like businesses — just like how different kinds of food are separated from each other in a TV dinner.

“Gumbo is about mixing all of this together in a somewhat blurred between the lines, letting one thing inform the other or letting it all stew together. But the result is something that is really magical,” said Heid.

He pointed to The Newton in Phoenix as an example of letting businesses all stew together. The Newton used to be home to Jay Newton’s Beefeater, a steakhouse that was open from 1961 to 2006.

But for seven years, the steakhouse sat vacant until it was turned into The Newton, a space that holds a bookstore, restaurant, plant store and a consulting business.

“They might think about ways to promote each other, and it opens up ways the owners think about their business as not being free-standing — but as part of a larger ecosystem. And it’s beneficial for the business itself because it attracts (customers), and the place is just that much more interesting and vital,” said Heid.

Art is a value and strategy

Heid believes that if art is leveraged properly, it can become a valued strategy.

Art creates an identity that is unique to a particular place, Heid said. It’s something for people to look at and can become a magnet to draw residents to the area where the piece is.

“There is something about art that is inspiring and invigorating. It creates a point of discussion and a level of curiosity and discovery that you might not find in a regional mall or a strip center,” said Heid.

Why small?

Carrying out small development projects can attract talented workers, create more authentic, human-scaled and interesting places and can lead to a healthier local economic ecosystem, Heid said.

He added that building small can create resilient businesses that are better able to withstand external shocks — like the COVID-19 pandemic. In turn, those businesses are able to adapt quickly.

Restaurants for example, have been able to adapt by flipping their business models from relying on dine-in services to focusing on takeout and pickup models.

“What we are trying to do is raise the awareness of (small development’s importance) and its contribution and develop the capacities in cities and communities to deliver. And thirdly, make people know that this is a tool they should be asking for because it has a lot of benefits,” said Heid.

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