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The End of the Runway
Converting a former airport into neighborhoods highlights the conflicts that come with "smart growth."
By Rachel Brand

Colorado natives remember the old roadside vistas: wide fields of rabbit brush blowing under cottonwoods, prairie dogs digging habitat for burrowing owls, an occasional fox stalking through the fields. Those pristine short-grass prairie plains contrasted handsomely with the blackened Rocky Mountain foothills and robin's egg blue sky above. But such sights are rare these days as highways play Main Street to blossoming subdivisions.

It's the classic dilemma of the West: Its beauty and sense of space will continue to attract migrants until those qualities are gone, planners say, unless developers create more sustainable, dense, affordable housing within cities. Colorado has increased its population by 2 percent a year for the past 10 years, twice the national average, and expects to add one million people in the next decade. Acknowledging growth's inevitability, one public-private partnership has crafted a solution. They're turning a seven-and-a-half square mile patch of land just minutes from downtown Denver, the site of the former Stapleton Airport, into a dense new community to house 30,000 people. Built in stages over the next 15 to 20 years, the new planned neighborhood promises to conserve water, restore native habitats, and reduce dependence on the automobile. But it also highlights the sacrifices and conflicts that come with smart growth.

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