Denver – Park Planning

At the turn of the century, the Denver City Council adopted the Denver Comprehensive Plan 2000, which is a planning and development guide for all city departments and agencies that establishes a vision for Denver as a “city that is livable for its people, now and in the future.”[1] A key recommendation of this plan was for Denver Parks and Recreation to develop a master plan for the management of its properties.

In order to develop this plan, Denver Parks and Recreation spent 16 months engaging the public on ideas through public forums, surveys and focus groups. All of this feedback was used to help influence the Denver Parks and Recreation Game Plan, which was released in 2003. The Game Plan unveils a 50-year vision for Denver’s parks alongside short- and long-term policy, management and community actions to implement the vision. The Game Plan revolves around 10 goals:

  • More parks and recreation for all, citywide;
  • Greener neighborhoods with lots of new shade trees …
  • … while using less water …
  • … and conserving other natural resources;
  • Improved access to parkland;
  • Predict and prepare for recreation activities of the future;
  • Bring a “taste of nature” close to home;
  • Protect Denver’s historic parks, parkways and structures;
  • Revitalize the mountain parks; and
  • Change the way Denver Parks and Recreation works, focusing on sound economics and creative partnerships.[2]

A layer deeper into the plan are the performance goals, which define how exactly these broader goals will be accomplished. For instance, the Game Plan outlines that at least one-half acre of public open space must be within one-half mile of every resident’s home. And, there’s the canopy goal of 15-18 percent for residential areas and 10 percent for commercial areas — numbers that are reflective of Denver’s challenging climate.[3]
“Our ultimate goal is to preserve and enhance the legacy of Denver’s urban forest,” says Rob Davis. “Then, there’s the long-term goal of trying to raise our canopy cover for all of the environmental benefits doing so would provide.”

Three years after these performance goals and measures were laid out in the Game Plan, the department’s canopy goal would gain new attention and scrutiny. During then-Mayor John Hickenlooper’s 2006 State of the City address, he announced a goal of planting one million new trees in the city by 2025 as part of his larger Greenprint Denver initiative, which addresses sustainability issues like greenhouse gas emissions, waste, renewable energy, green-building practices and more.[4] This announcement gave birth to The Mile High Million regional tree planting initiative.

The initiative — led by the city and county of Denver, Parks and Recreation, Greenprint Denver and Suncor Energy — is designed to engage residents, communities, neighborhood organizations, schools, nonprofits and business in supporting tree planting efforts in order to increase the city’s tree canopy and tree count.

Denver's City Park. Credit: Greg Ness

Denver’s City Park. Credit: Greg Ness

“Trees provide a long-term benefit,” says Sara Davis, The Mile High Million program manager. “We don’t get the return on investment immediately. The work we’re doing to meet those goals is going to take a while.”

Helping the city with these goals is its long-time, nonprofit partner The Park People.


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[1] City of Denver. Community Planning and Development. Comprehensive Plan 2000. (accessed Sept. 14, 2012).

[2] City of Denver. Denver Parks and Recreation. Game Plan Chapter 1. (accessed Sept. 14, 2012).

[3] City of Denver. Denver Parks and Recreation. Game Plan Chapter 3 – Part 1. (accessed Sept. 17, 2012).

[4] Greenprint Denver. About. Download the Action Agenda. (accessed Sept. 17, 2012).