Investigating The Societal Benefit Of Urban Infilling

How Denver Urban Infilling Projects Can Have A Significant Social Benefit

Modern U.S. Cities face challenges when trying to efficiently build new urban residential and commercial structures within government-regulated zones. The issues usually relate to how cities can save money, protect the environment, and reduce resource-usage while still revitalizing communities or building new communities altogether. Infill Development is a type of construction that can significantly benefit Denver’s urban zones in two critical ways:

  1. Economically – urban infill projects in Denver can significantly boost the local economy and create more efficient and productive work systems via compact urban, mixed-use zones.
  2. Environmentally – urban infill reduces urban sprawl. It helps define and increase agricultural landscapes and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by allowing workers to live closer to city job centers.

Urban infill development has gained popularity in recent decades as professionals – including those in Denver – have sought to live closer to business centers. It is an alternative to greenfield development; rather than building on undeveloped land, developers invest in the creation of new infrastructure to “fill in” vacant lands within fully developed urban zones. This creates easy-to-navigate, compact, mixed-use urban centers with built-in residential and commercial systems. While infill development often requires higher capital – mainly when it includes the requisite remediation processes to clean up brownfield infill areas – the payoff makes the construction paradigm worth it in the long-term. Benefits are usually realized in the form of environmental protection (and reduced urban sprawl), more financial investment, more agricultural land separation, and more economic benefits in the form of compact residential/commercial centers that allow more efficient workspaces, among other things. 

What Is Urban Infilling?

“Urban infilling” or infill development is a construction paradigm where new structures are developed on vacant land within a previously developed zone or center. The critical advantage of urban infilling is that vacant land exists within an already developed infrastructure: extra resources aren’t needed to connect the newly built structures with infrastructure systems and amenities. Examples of potential Infilling projects include suburban neighborhoods with empty parcels of land, commercial districts with empty land, and industrial centers with vacant land. “Urban,” as a term, can be defined as a city or area that is neither rural nor suburban. Denver has many vacant parcels of land within different regulatory zones that can benefit from infill development. The process of urban infilling is dependent on zoning regulations. 

Zoning is the regulatory system that dictates how parcels of land can be used: what structures can be built on the vacant land, how tall they can be, and how dense they can be when built.

Zoning regulations are composed of zoning maps and zoning codes and usually includes five to six zoning districts:

  1. Residential
  2. Commercial
  3. Industrial
  4. Institutional
  5. Open

Denver has many zoning regulations and zoning districts in place that must be understood. Developers require specific permits and entitlements to embark on infill development construction projects successfully.

1. Revitalize A Struggling Neighborhood

Infill development’s principal purpose is to “breathe new life” into an existing community and instill new interest, investment, and money into the community by making the neighborhood more attractive. This revitalization process typically results in more residents, improving property values and making the area more livable and productive. Population growth within the urban area can also attract more businesses, which boosts the economy.

2. Provide A Boost To The Local Economy

The local economy can benefit from infill development. Compactly built urban areas connect residents with nearby businesses: enmeshing residential and commercial districts benefit local businesses by placing more paying and potential customers nearby. Additionally, vacant land can be a strike against property values for local homeowners. Infill development increases property values by utilizing vacant land.

Communities and businesses often benefit from brownfield infill development when infill projects demand remediation of the environment, resulting in the cleanup of hazardous areas that may impact both living conditions and business projects. 

3. Contribute To City’s Finances

Local businesses also often benefit from infill development due to increased residents who become local customers. Urban infill development tends to benefit a city’s finances since the creation of compact city centers reduces sprawl (thus promoting land conservation) and blight while helping to reinvest back into the community with improved neighborhoods. 

Compact urban centers with residential and commercial zones bring in more residents who will spend more money within the city limits, benefiting the city’s finances. From arson to other crimes and hazards, vacant lots cost U.S.cities millions of dollars in property damage per year. Revitalizing the city with compactly-built infill structures can save a city millions of dollars by mitigating this issue. 

Furthermore, population growth within an urban community results in more income and more taxes for the city, resulting in its increased ability to invest in the community.

4. Help Lead To Better Infrastructure

Infill development within urban zones has many benefits that can improve existing infrastructure from increased taxes (and more investment into the city) and business investments. It often leads to higher investments into neighborhoods and their infrastructure, creating more business, higher property value, and a better economy for everyone. Infrastructure improvements that can result from urban infill development projects include:

  • Repairs to damaged properties
  • Better roads
  • More roads
  • Optimized sewage systems
  • Enhanced public transportation systems
  • Remediated buildings

5. Create More Jobs Within The Community

Infill development tends to increase residential populations by creating more attractive neighborhoods within existing urban spaces. This growth often results in increased businesses and jobs in the community. These may be jobs associated with the infill projects – since workers are required to demolish, develop, clean, and build within an underdeveloped area – or jobs created as communities and businesses grow. Infill development of urban centers usually creates more lucrative job opportunities and investments along with increased property values.

6. Have A Positive Environmental Impact

Infill development results in myriad sustainable development and construction practices that can help to preserve communities in the long term, including:

  • Reducing urban sprawl
  • Reducing transit times for workers and job centers, thus reducing car/bus transport times and greenhouse emissions
  • Creating compact, clearly-defined city limits in a way that doesn’t negatively affect agricultural land and the agricultural economy. More land is conserved for agriculture and natural uses and historical site preservation due to a compact design.
  • Ensuring that land is efficiently used and that existing water, electricity, and septic resources aren’t wasted. Enhancing or repairing existing infrastructure is a sustainable choice: it costs less and can save money to be used for future sustainable development.

Ultimately, urban infill development promotes efficient use of existing resources and supports sustainable development and construction paradigms with more efficient land-use.

Urban Infilling Can Have A Positive Impact On The Community

Urban infill development optimizes and revitalizes an existing community without developing an entirely new metropolitan area. It moves residents closer to local businesses in compactly-built urban centers while preserving rural and agricultural space. While requiring up-front funds and resources to initiate these types of projects, urban infilling offers long-term improvement and investment possibilities for residents and businesses. 

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