Ten planning lessons from “Unsinkable” Leadville, CO

The historic hometown of the Unsinkable Molly Brown is a scenic gem set high in the Colorado Rockies. Leadville happens to be the highest elevation city in the United States at officially 10,152 feet above sea level. This historic mining city contains many secrets for overcoming adversity and charting a new future. Here are my ten planning lessons from charming and dynamic Leadville, Colorado.

Delaware Hotel in downtown Leadville
  • With tenacity, grit, and determination, a community can recover from economic decline and forge itself a new and vibrant future. Leadville’s population peaked at 14,820 in 1880. After decades of population losses, the city is again growing due to factors including its breathtaking scenic location, its easy access to a myriad of year-round outdoor recreational activities, and its small town charm that hasn’t been overwhelmed by rampant growth and sprawl.
Tabor Grand Hotel building
  • Few inland places on Earth reside in a setting of such immense and unparalleled visual beauty. Numerous fourteeners (14,000+ foot mountains) are visible from this lofty community nestled amid the surrounding peaks.
Mountains as seen from the Mineral Belt Trail
  • Both Marquette, Michigan and Leadville, Colorado have shown that a mining legacy can be successfully transformed into a cultural and historical asset.
Mining-related archaeology along the Mineral Belt Trail
  • The Mineral Belt Trail is the most impressive fully paved multi-modal trail (loop or otherwise) that this retired planner has ever seen or ridden. One could spend an entire day, if not more time, exploring this incredible 11.7 mile loop and all the visual/cultural/historic wonders along it.
Source: mineralbelttrail.com
Approaching downtown Leadville
  • The company-built miner homes that dominate the housing stock in the historic parts of Leadville would be perfectly sized and designed for filling the missing middle of housing. Unfortunately, as is the situation in so many places, speculation, limited housing stock, short-term rentals, and population growth have lead to prices becoming out-of-reach for many.
Historic housing
  • The scalable differences between the environment impacts of 19th and early 20th-century mining techniques and the mass industrial operations of today are mind-blowing. One just needs to drive 20 minutes northeast of Leadville along CO-91 to the Climax Molybdenum Mine to see the extent of ruinous alteration to mountain landscapes that occurs from modern mining.
Aerial image of the Climax Mine – Source: maps.google.com
  • Leadville is a excellent example of how a city does not need to be sliced and diced by expressways, nor be beholding to the automobile. The mere lack of being overwhelmed by traffic is one of the city’s most appealing features. Its also pleasing to see the city has adopted a corridors plan (see below) that considers the needs of both pedestrians and bicyclists. More communities nationwide should consider adopting such a framework.
Source: cityofleadville.colorado.gov
  • Leadville is one of those places where the rigorous geography and climate have created a strong, genuine, and unifying self-sufficiency among its residents and the community at large.
Overlooking the city from the Mineral Belt Trail
  • One hopes that Leadville will remain a hidden gem that stays largely undiscovered (despite this post) so that it doesn’t become deluged by 21st-century prospectors seeking their own fortunes, nor by hoards of tourists who would forever alter the beauty, size, scope, scale, and personality of this unsinkable high-altitude treasure. Leadville is set so majestically against a backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, that one feels as if they could literally reach out and embrace the passing clouds.

This entry was posted in Active transportation, adaptive reuse, Alternative transportation, archaeology, architecture, art, bicycling, bike sharing, Biking, branding, cities, civics, commerce, culture, downtown, economic development, entertainment, environment, fitness, fun, geography, Geology, health, highways, hiking, historic preservation, history, Housing, humanity, industry, infrastructure, land use, Maps, Mining, nature, pictures, place names, placemaking, pollution, recreation, revitalization, spatial design, Statistics, third places, topography, tourism, traffic, trails, Travel, urban design, urban planning, walking, weather, Wildlife, zoning and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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