Campus & Community

DU Land Use Institute hosts 25th anniversary conference

The Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute (RMLUI) at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law held its 25th annual conference last week with 30-plus educational sessions on topics ranging from urban sprawl, demographic shifts and regional planning to acid mine drainage, water use, climate change and economic forces shaping the future.

This year’s theme, “Western Places/Western Spaces,” focused on lessons learned that can guide actions and policies for the next 25 years. The event drew more than 500 attendees — primarily members of the planning departments in local and county governments, as well as government and private attorneys — from Colorado and other Rocky Mountain states, from Wyoming, Nevada and Utah to Idaho, Montana, Arizona and New Mexico.

Susan Daggett, RMLUI director and a natural resources and environmental attorney, commended Denver lawyers Tom Ragonetti, Chris Duerksen and Ed Ziegler, a DU law professor, for launching RMLUI in 1992 and beginning the tradition of an annual conference. “They made this conference an opportunity to discuss, debate, and dream up the land-use tools that might be useful in preserving our beloved high quality of life in the Rocky Mountain West,” Daggett said. “The conference is all about bringing together some of the nation’s leading thinkers on issues of growth and sustainability.”

On Thursday, keynote speaker Peter Calthorpe, a world-renowned urban planning expert, told the audience that climate change “continues to be the single greatest challenge to our future.”

“No matter what you care about, it will be affected by climate change,” Calthorpe said. “This all comes down to the ways we choose to live.”

Calthorpe, who in the early 1990s developed the now-popular concept of transit-oriented development, added that cities and how they’re built should be a central focus when it comes to reducing carbon emissions. He called cities “superstructures” for the culture, lifestyles and well-being of half of the world’s population today. He added that by 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population will be living in cities.

Calthorpe said that two primary culprits in carbon emissions are transportations and buildings, explaining that both produce most of the emissions seen in cities today.

He shared several slides showing examples of how cities — particularly in China — are reducing carbon emissions with less dependence on cars and more emphasis on pedestrian- and bike-friendly settings.

“I am optimistic, because great urbanism works in all cultures and cities,” he said.

Another conference highlight included walking tours of two well-known Denver neighborhoods: Five Points and the Highlands. Area leaders discussed how the history and cultural diversity of both areas can remain intact while government balances rapid growth and increased density. Guides also covered how walkability impacts the economic and social vitality of a community. Some described the Highlands as one of the most vibrant urban settings in the western United States.

Each annual RMLUI conference introduces new programs and emerging topics. This year some of the topics included:

  • Examining lessons learned over the past 25 years and exploring guidelines for land use during the next 25 years
  • Conserving water and mineral resources and protecting parks and spaces
  • Demonstrating how communities across the West are addressing rapid growth, sprawl and gentrification with regional planning and affordable housing
  • Exploring recent developments in law and planning from across the West

The conference also featured a daylong workshop by Justice Gregory Hobbs, an expert on Colorado water issues, on the legal framework that underlies Colorado’s efforts to regulate water use and maximize water efficiency and conservation.

Beyond the conference, Daggett spoke about the RMLUI’s history and its 25th anniversary.

“Looking back, it’s remarkable to consider the moment when RMLUI was established,” she said. “Coming off the energy bust of the mid-1980s, the West was beginning to boom again by the early 1990s with large metropolitan areas in the Rocky Mountain West posting some of the largest growth rates in the country. Our Western public lands — the iconic landscapes that define this region — were increasingly valued for their recreational and natural values rather than simply for the extractive value of their energy, timber and grass.”

DU Chancellor Rebecca Chopp praised the institute during her remarks at the conference. “For the last 25 years the RMLUI has had a profound impact on changing the West for the better and protecting our natural resources,” Chopp said. “Its goal mirrors DU’s goal to use the power of education to build a sustainable future.”

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