Archive | August, 2013

5 Ways to Partner with Youth for Vibrant Downtowns

14 Aug

Working in partnership with your community’s young people is an essential step toward creating a healthy, vibrant downtown, now and in the future. Here are five ways to get the youth-engagement ball rolling.

  1. Remember what it was like to be 15 years old. Creating successful youth-adult partnerships means taking time to get to know each other and build trusting relationships. One way to do that is to share stories with youth about what kinds of experiences, values, interests and feelings you had when you were young. Think back to when you were 15: what was important to you? What made you different? Who were the young people who participated actively in your community? What were they like and what did they do? Share your experiences and find common ground with young people in your community.
  2. Create “gracious space” for youth-adult interactions. It is often difficult for young people to join in adult-dominated conversations about planning, visioning or economic development, but adult leaders can help by consciously making the spirit and setting of meetings youth-friendly. Gracious space begins with holding meetings in places and at times that are accessible to young people, and includes using meeting formats that facilitate equal interaction, such as circles. Together, groups can define what gracious space, in which everyone feels safe and supported, means for them, so genuine ideas and feelings emerge from the conversation.
  3. Ask youth to take you on a tour of downtown. “Tours that are guided by young people are consistently one of the most valuable methods for understanding their perspectives on and use of the local environment,” writes David Driskell in his book, Creating Better Cities with Children and Youth. In pairs or small groups, hit the pavement with teenagers who spend time downtown. Where do different groups of young people hang out? What places do they avoid? What would make downtown more appealing to them? Show your town’s youth you value their presence and participation downtown by exploring it with them.
  4. Feed young people’s desire to be community leaders. Don’t know where to find youth who are interested in helping improve your downtown? Consider hosting a community dinner designed to bring young leaders to the table. Work with local food vendors and farmers to create a home-grown menu and promote the event through schools, community centers, after-school programs and places where young people are employed. Create a comfortable atmosphere in which youth and adults can get to know each other. Highlight issues or problems that concern youth in your community and offer opportunities for ongoing participation on downtown committees or working groups.
  5. Give youth space for self-expression in the interest of community. Public art is an important component of placemaking, creating vibrant and distinctive downtowns. Make use of vacant lots and storefronts, blank walls and open spaces by inviting young people to create public art they design. Young leaders affiliated with creative organizations or classes can develop public art projects that speak to their values, cultural identities and community-building aspirations.

For more ideas, exercises and assistance, attend the “Leadership in Youth” plenary session at the DCI conference in September, and the November Downtown Institute in Brighton on youth entrepreneurship and young people’s roles in economic restructuring. Also look for DCI’s soon-to-be-published series of workbooks that follow on this year’s Downtown Institute youth engagement series.

Darcy Varney Kitching, M.Ed., MURP, is an educator and an urban planner interested in the development of child- and youth-friendly communities.


DCI Supports Urban Renewal: Successful Urban Renewal in Westminster and Arvada

14 Aug

Urban renewal is an important financing tool for revitalizing Colorado’s communities, particularly those plagued by blight, yet misperception about urban renewal is common. In recognition of the essential and positive influence urban renewal has had in large and small downtowns across our state, Downtown Colorado, Inc., has added a focus on saving urban renewal to our bank of community support services through our Development & Improvement Districts (DIDs) Forum program.

On August 8, DCI hosted its DIDs Forum “Developer’s Bottom Line: Urban Renewal Authorities (URA) using Community Vision to Shape Development.” This session included a review of Westminster and Arvada’s plans for development with the transit-oriented development (TOD) coming out west. Each community has a need for private sector investment to address a public need for parking, housing, and/or community gathering and green space.


The City of Westminster is due to have a commuter rail station constructed in a blighted section of the city that is prime for redevelopment. In response to an initial plan from RTD to construct a large surface parking lot, the city is in the process of planning for the construction of a parking structure that will leave substantial land for new development activity. In addition, the City is planning to construct two public plazas serving the station along with the development of a 35-acre park immediately adjacent to the station and redevelopment area. Combined with the city’s ownership of a strategic parcel of vacant land immediately adjacent to the train station, these improvements are expected to serve as a catalyst to attracting new residential and commercial development in the near future.


The original Arvada Urban Renewal area includes the big box center at Wadsworth just off of I-70, Historic Olde Town Arvada and the Water Tower Village. The story of this development includes the removal of a blighted area, creation of a huge revenue-generating power center, the revitalization of a dilapidated historic district through facade grants, new streetscapes, creation of a town square and the development of four two-story mixed-use buildings. A 26-acre high crime area was recreated into a 600-unit urban styled residential village. The former residents of this blighted area were relocated without use of eminent domain and many of them were able to use the URA support provided to enter a first time homeowner program. When the urban renewal area completed the 25 years of revitalization, the other taxing entities received an increase in tax revenues of over $13 million annually.

The success of Olde Town has now resulted in a parking problem and, as RTD looks at the commuter rail station, there is not only a need for transit parking but also a need to overbuild parking so that the residents and businesses can continue to grow and thrive.

Please visit DCI URA Resource Page to access specific materials referenced at the meeting.