Visions of Vibrancy: Denver's LoDo

The vibrancy of cities comes in all shapes and sizes. Many believe that what works in internationally known cosmopolitan settings may not be applicable for cities in America that have struggled with embracing walkability. If we look hard enough, we may realize that this type of view should be challenged. Despite the diversity around the globe, all lively cities, downtowns, and urban cores have something in common: being pedestrian friendly.

About Lower Downtown (LoDo) Denver

The Downtown Denver skyline

Lower Downtown (LoDo) is the oldest neighborhood in Denver and the first to designated as a local historic district. Named after James W. Denver, the 5th Territorial Governor of Kansas, Denver was established in 1858 after the discovery of gold in the South Platte River. Platted by General William Larimer, Lower Downtown quickly became known for its rowdy brothels and saloons. Additional growth came when the railroad arrived in 1870, making the neighborhood the main gateway to the growing city. With the railroad in place, Denver’s population increased from 4,759 residents in 1870, to 133,859 in 1900, and to 213,381 by 1910. The impact transformed LoDo into a district characterized by industry and multi-story brick warehouse and commerce buildings.

1933 aerial of LoDo. Courtesy of City and County of Denver, Technology Services

Due to the increasing popularity of suburban development and a national decline in the importance of passenger rail, Lower Downtown became known as a skid row in the decades following World War II. During the 1960s and 1970s, roughly 20% of its buildings had been demolished through urban renewal policies. This would lead to the Lower Downtown Historic District being created by the Denver City Council in March 1988. The purpose of this zoning ordinance enactment was to encourage historic preservation and promote the revitalization of the city’s founding neighborhood in a way that would provide protection to the Lower Downtown Historic District’s historic sense of place and architectural heritage.

1999 aerial of Denver Union Station. Courtesy of Google Earth

Today, home to more than 2.7 million residents, the Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) is ranked as the country’s 21st most populous MSA. Restricting building heights and encouraging mixed-use development and adaptive reuse, the March 1988 historic district ordinance has been very successful in economically transforming Denver’s Lower Downtown. After being a desolate wasteland for much of the 20th century, Lower Downtown Denver is a major urban destination known for its historic lofts, entertainment venues, restaurants, parks, trails, pedestrian friendly streets, and preserved late 19th and early 20th century architecture.

2018 aerial of Denver Union Station. Courtesy of Google Earth

Next Page: A Virtual Tour of LoDo Denver