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Broomfield - Colorado: A Mayor's Vision

Broomfield, Colorado, Mayor Karen Stuart is a pioneering leader whose efforts have helped transform her county from a typical Denver suburb to a thriving, activity-friendly community.

Through a number of measures—connecting trail networks, conserving open space, accommodating bicycle commuters, even creating a sensory playground for developmentally disabled kids—Mayor Stuart is creating opportunities for all residents to be active in everyday life.

Karen StuartMaking the connection between community design and health

“I got an invitation to The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Livable Communities conference that was happening in Denver…The teaser for me was the pamphlet that was sent to me. It said, “As a government official you are uniquely qualified to help residents in your jurisdiction become healthier. Could development patterns in your community be affecting the personal health of your residents? Find out how planning can help you have a healthy community.” Because we’d just established a health department and just become a county…that fascinated and intrigued me. I went to that seminar, and that was really the start of my involvement in pushing this agenda.”

From suburban sprawl to activity-friendly development

“It’s so important to incorporate physical activity into daily routines. It can be as easy as providing trail connections from neighborhoods to schools to rec centers, and as complex as trying transit-oriented development.

One of the things that we did, and are in the process of doing now, is updating our master plan and strategic plan…We were typically a suburban area in the past, but now we’re a free-standing community that will have some transit-oriented development. We’ve talked about how you can live, work and play in one area.

We have a lot of bikers—I don’t mean motorbikers—I mean bicycle-bikers, who like to travel to our business parks on their bikes. They’re high-tech employees, they stay in their cubicles for hours at a time and their exercise is riding to work, so we try to accommodate that."

New street standards, a recreation center—even a dog park

"We’ve made our development standards and street standards accommodate more pedestrian-friendly activity and connections as we incorporate new neighborhoods. And just recently we’ve opened a new [8,500 square foot] rec center…geared around being able to provide recreational activities for people from birth to retirement. So we made sure there’s a component in that rec center for every citizen in Broomfield if they want to get involved.

The other thing we did is that we just put in a 300-acre park in the middle of Broomfield, Broomfield County Commons. This commons area has 87 acres of park and athletic fields, and on Saturday we just opened 2-1/2 acres of a bark park—a dog park—for owners so their dogs can run around in an enclosed area free of leashes. All this has happened in the last three years."

Walkable BoulderGiving all citizens an opportunity to be active outdoors

"Just recently we have put in a sensory playground…This sensory park is for developmentally disabled as well as fully able-bodied kids. What it allows them to do is to have physical activity accommodating wheelchairs, if they’re blind or they’re deaf, to allow them to get out into nature, get out into a playground setting and safely experience physical activity."

Creating funding initiatives and building partnerships

"We have a dedicated open space sales tax. It’s a quarter-cent sales tax garnered through the mall or any other sales tax. There’s a dedicated amount that goes to open space, and we purchase land primarily for open space. Then we’re partners with GOCO [Great Outdoors Colorado, a fund supported by the state lottery] and we provide park areas and open space through our share of the GOCO.

The other thing is that in all of our new developments we require park dedication from the new developers…And we work on grants as well as take any grants that we can get. We’re fortunate in that we’re very healthy financially; for many years we didn’t have the revenue base we have today. But we’ve made a commitment to our citizens that as we collect sales tax, a large portion of that goes into these kinds of amenities."

Personal gains: losing 30 pounds in one year

"As I’ve gotten older I’ve gained that 30 pounds that you get when you’re middle-aged…When I heard about just increasing activity I was very, very skeptical. But at the first Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Livable Communities Conference that I went to, the speaker had a pedometer and said if you just increase your amount of activity you can become healthier, you can lose weight, you can feel better. And so I got a step meter, and I thought, “you know, I’m already very active, I take the steps, I park at the very end of the parking lot.” I was very skeptical. And I put that step-meter on and it was registering 3,000 steps a day. And I thought, well, this thing doesn’t work, it’s broken.

I started wearing my step meter every day and at the end of the day I filled in the gaps. So if I did 6,000 steps that day I got on a treadmill and I did the remaining 4,000.

Amazingly, a couple of things happened. I started feeling better, I looked forward to that exercise—on the days that it was nice I augmented that treadmill with going outside and walking—and I lost 30 pounds in a year. And people said to me, “What did you do—what’s your magic diet plan?” And I told them, “I eat less and exercise more.” And it came from that Robert Wood Johnson Foundation program. You know, it really affected me. I’m like the poster child! "

Lessons learned

"Everyone is looking for quality of life. And when you’re able to promote activity-friendly communities, it becomes a desirable community. It means that people will be willing to invest in your community.

So, the way to promote this activity-friendly community I think is to do a self-assessment. Ask your citizens what it is that they want. We do a citizen survey every two years and ask them what they need, what haven’t we provided, do they use our trails, and those kinds of general questions. And then if there’s something that’s lacking we target it and go after it.

You have to have a city council that’s all on board, you have to focus on that, it takes some money, it takes some work. You have to be innovative, you have to do what works for your community.

People choose to live in Broomfield because of the quality of life and this whole activity-centered community that we have planned…I’m just thrilled to be the mayor of this town. It’s a very wonderful place."

"Everyone is looking for quality of life. And when you’re able to promote activity-friendly communities, it becomes a desirable community."
Read the Full Interview
Additional Links

Healthy Community Design
Karen Stuart is also featured in a new report by Active Living Leadership, Healthy Community Design: Success Stories from State and Local Leaders.

Read more about how government leadership can enable active living at

Related Content:

This report highlights the work of officials who support changes in community design that provide more opportunities for people to get routine physical activity. Some of these efforts stem from a d ...

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