Chris Duerksen’s Planning Leadership in Colorado

Chris Duerksen received APA’s 2017 Planning Leadership award based on three decades of energetic, innovative planning practice and advocacy in Colorado. The award was based on four key achievements.

First, Chris conceived of the idea of the Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute and collaborated with Professor Ed Ziegler and Denver attorney Tom Ragonetti to make the Institute happen. Chris believed that the Rocky Mountain states needed a forum for the exchange of ideas concerning law, planning, and real estate development that would attract practitioners in each field. He also used his national network of contacts to attract practice leaders, authors, and elected officials to keynote Institute conferences. Chris worked with Prof. Ziegler to find the Institute a home at the University of Denver Law School, recruited a series of committed Executive Directors, and served as Chairman of the Institute for the next 20 years. The Institute is now celebrating its 26th anniversary as a thought leader on planning in the western United States.

Second, during his four years working as a planer under Denver Mayor Federico Pena, Chris lead the effort to create a unified land use plan and zoning ordinance for the Denver Gateway area, ensuring that the new international entrance into the Denver region would be attractive, orderly, uncluttered by signage, and organized with nodes of density that could support rail transit when it became economically feasible – which it now has. Mayor Pena then appointed Chris as the first head of planning for redevelopment of the Stapleton airport site – a task that was later transferred to the Stapleton Foundation. Chris was instrumental in laying a strong foundation for planned development and redevelopment in two of the most visible large growth opportunities in Denver.


Third, Chris conceived of the idea of creating a Sustainable Development Code Framework that would gather together examples of successful sustainability initiatives and make them available in a web-based format – and then made it happen. He recruited leading practitioners and students to write chapters covering the field of sustainability, organized the information by topic, by type of tool, and by the level of political support for change, and included web links to successful ordinances that showed how those tools were being used throughout the U.S. The resulting on-line resource was then donated to the Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute to strengthen that organization, and has since been transferred to the University of Colorado School of Architecture and Planning / Center for Sustainable Urbanism, where it is being integrated into the teaching curriculum.

Fourth, Chris established the Denver office of Clarion Associates and remained its Managing Director until his retirement in 2010. Under his leadership, the firm’s work won several APA state and national awards, and several of the professionals he mentored have gone on to serve in positions of planning influence throughout the state.

Chris now splits his time between Colorado and Florida, where he specializes in fishing, fishing, fishing, writing, and grandfathering.


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