Growing Up In Boulder: Green, Affordable, and Youthful Design Strategy

Growing Up Boulder (GUB) is a unique and visionary program, which empowers children and youth to participate in City of Boulder planning and redevelopment decisions.

In 2012, the City of Boulder began developing a strategic plan for a major redevelopment of Boulder’s Civic Area. This area just south of downtown would include the main public library, municipal buildings, the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art (BMoCA), seasonal farmers’ markets, and a central park and greenway that would extend along Boulder Creek. The goals of the redevelopment plan included developing an urban design vision for public and private spaces, guiding decisions for buildings in the high hazard flood zone of the creek, and exploring potential uses for recreation and culture. In 2014, City of Boulder moved into the site design phase of the process by engaging with the community and a design firm during public meetings and design workshops.

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Growing Up Boulder (GUB) is a “child- and youth-friendly city initiative” based out of the University of Colorado’s Environmental Design Program that partners with the Boulder Valley School District and the City of Boulder. Working with children, youth, and undergraduates GUB  seeks to include young people’s voices in decisions that effect them. Children and youth have created design options for dense, affordable housing, public spaces, transportation, and more. During the 2013-2014 academic year, GUB initiated their “Great, Green Neighborhoods” project in response to the city’s call for a comprehensive housing strategy focusing on affordable and moderately priced housing.

The “Great Green Neighborhoods” project brought together fifty-two 3rd graders from Whittier International Elementary School, sixteen 9th graders from Boulder High School, and 30 Environmental Design (ENVD) undergraduate students from the University of Colorado to design options for green and affordable child and youth-friendly housing.

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The GUB project allowed students to provide their recommendations for the city’s new redevelopment plans, specifically focusing on: (1) building typology, (2) transportation, (3) open space and nature, and (4) site amenities.

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The students visited award-winning, dense housing developments and examined the communities’ needs in order to make recommendations for design including pools, access to open space, paths for walking and biking, flood mitigation, community gardens and playgrounds. In addition to offering a variety of housing types, the students suggested providing community engagement opportunities and keeping parked cars out of sight by implementing underground garages and alleys. To represent these recommendations, the students presented digital presentations, drawings, 3-D models, and persuasive essays. This project promoted teamwork, cooperation, and education.

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Students planning by the creek. Photo by Lynn Lickteig

A summary of their combined recommendations is listed below:

Building Typology

  • Offer a variety of housing types
  • Distinguish housing through materials and colors
  • Build homes between 2-4 stories tall
  • Arrange housing to provide community engagement opportunities

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  • Keep cars out of sight – underground parking/alleys
  • Separate pedestrian and bike paths – painted lines/materials
  • Wind paths through neighborhoods and nature
  • Provide uninhibited access from housing to open space and recreational areas

Open Space/Nature

  • Allow direct engagement with nature through access to wildlife and untamed open space
  • Design Boulder Creek to be the primary recreational space for children through ease of access to the creek and a variety of activities within the riparian corridor
  • Add flex fields for games and recreation that are partially shaded and close to housing
  • Build hills for flood mitigation and recreation

Site Amenities                            

  • Create mixed use buildings with inexpensive restaurants for eating and gathering
  • Add water features such as pools, fountains, and creek play
  • Provide urban agriculture opportunities in the form of community garden plots with learning and social opportunities
  • Design playgrounds with structured and semi-structured play spaces for climbing, swinging, and spinning that are clearly separated from automobile traffic



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