Do Urban Centers Support Regional Goals? An Assessment of Regional Planning in Denver

Rebecca Lewis and Richard Margerum, University of Oregon

Regional organizations use urban centers to incentivize local governments to align land use and transportation. An article in the December 2020 issue of Land Use Policy, by Rebecca Lewis and Richard Margerum of the University of Oregon, examines whether existing conditions and future plans for centers support regional goals.

The article draws on findings from their NITC project "Metropolitan Centers: Evaluating local implementation of regional plans and policies," with co-investigator Keith Bartholomew of the University of Utah.

Metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) in the United States have instituted regional strategies to encourage development around mixed use, higher density urban centers in response to air quality and transportation challenges. Because MPOs lack regulatory authority, these organizations have relied on voluntary approaches to coordinate regional planning for land use and transportation. While scholars have examined voluntary regional planning, there have been few studies of the urban centers concept.

In Denver, Colorado, the MPO’s Metro Vision plan promotes local adoption of centers supported through incentives. To date, 103 centers have been designated in the Denver area.

This research generated a typology of five center types: historic town centers, greenfield, industrial, commercial, and suburban mixed use. Researchers found that the adopted centers fall short of meeting regional goals under existing conditions, but future plans for center types show promise.

This typology offers more refined strategies and targeted incentives for other metropolitan regions considering a centers policy to support regional goals.

Read about a related NITC research project, on a similar topic, from the University of Utah: Reducing VMT, Encouraging Walk Trips, and Facilitating Efficient Trip Chains through Polycentric Development

The National Institute for Transportation and Communities (NITC) is one of seven U.S. Department of Transportation national university transportation centers. NITC is a program of the Transportation Research and Education Center (TREC) at Portland State University. This PSU-led research partnership also includes the Oregon Institute of Technology, University of Arizona, University of Oregon, University of Texas at Arlington and University of Utah. We pursue our theme — improving mobility of people and goods to build strong communities — through research, education and technology transfer.

Photo by nick1803/iStock

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