Urban Design and Landscape Architecture Studio Civitas Celebrates 30 Years of City Building

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Urban consultancy and design studio Civitas works to create healthier cities across the U.S. and around the world. Recent projects for the Denver-based firm, which turns 30 this year, range from a gem-like city plaza for downtown Greenville, SC, to an award-winning revitalization of Canadian St. Patrick’s Island as an integral urban park.

A recent project revitalizing St. Patrick’s Island in Calgary, Alberta, as an integral urban park won urban design studio Civitas an AIA NY award. (© Civitas)

The next generation of city-building depends on making public spaces that are used and loved by everyone," says Civitas President Mark Johnson.

Thirty years ago, Mark Johnson scribbled the name “Civitas” on a napkin over drinks in a Denver watering hole. In the intervening years the community-spiritedness that served as inspiration for the name choice has remained central to the “building healthier cities” mission of urban design and landscape architecture studio Civitas. Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year – with official events planned to coincide with the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) November annual meeting in Denver – the firm has played a key role in changing the face of its Denver hometown, as well as cities from coast to coast and around the world.

“Being a good designer is only the first step in making meaningful change in cities,” says Mark Johnson, Civitas president. “You have to engage communities and understand infrastructure, financing and politics if you want to achieve what you can imagine.”

Pivotal to the firm’s success in evincing real-world urban change in venues from L.A. to Afghanistan is a design philosophy that includes the tenet that projects are ultimately always “about them, not us.” In recent years, Civitas has transformed abandoned brownfield, featureless greenfield – even a decrepit shopping mall – into vibrant mixed-use neighborhoods; reimagined blighted riverfront as a community centerpiece driving economic growth; envisioned the true face of the American museum 100 years in the future; and accepted a special invitation to advise the Czech Republic in strategizing a New Economy future for the UNESCO-listed Renaissance city of Prague.

“It’s not the scale of a project that draws us,” stresses Johnson, noting smaller-scale Civitas projects such as the new ONE City Plaza in Greenville, SC, “but rather the opportunity to make cities more green, more healthy, and ultimately more satisfying for increasingly diverse populations. The next generation of city-building depends on making public spaces that are used and loved by everyone."

Some current Civitas projects across North America include an award-winning revitalization of Calgary’s St. Patrick’s Island as an integral urban park (currently under construction); creating unique park spaces along the one-mile long edge of San Diego’s waterfront, called the North Embarcadero, set to open in October; the recent opening of ONE City Plaza, Greenville, South Carolina’s vibrant new central downtown public space destination; and restoring prairie ecosystem in an innovative series of urban open space parks as Denver’s Stapleton community develops to the north.

Civitas works out of offices in a co-work collaborative that it shares with other creative companies in Denver’s burgeoning downtown cultural center. Locally, Civitas is best known for myriad Denver projects that have literally changed the face of the city, from Stapleton to Belmar redevelopments and encompassing more than 50 projects throughout downtown Denver and the Central Platte Valley including the design of Commons Park, Cuernavaca Park and Centennial Gardens. Other Denver-area projects in the planning stages include a 400-acre wheat field being transformed into a transit-oriented “aviation station” and envisioning a year-round National Western Center cultural destination.

About Civitas:
With a core purpose of “creating healthier cities,” Civitas is an idea-based practice of urban designers, architects and landscape architects engaged in strategic planning for urban change and project design for built works. A consultancy and a design studio, Civitas advises on a wide range of strategies for re-imagining urban life and places. For more information, visit Civitas online at http://www.civitasinc.com.

Anne McGregor Parsons, WordenGroup Public Relations, anne(at)wordenpr(dot)com, 303.777.7667

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Darla Worden
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