Partnership in the News: Denver Neighborhood Focused on Residents' Health

Photo credit: Mariposa- South Lincoln Redevelopment Master PlanMithun

A redevelopment site in Denver, Colorado is seeking to create healthy lifestyles through healthy environments. The project, called Mariposa, featured in the New York Times this week, has gone to great lengths to improve the quality of life for its residents. Led by the Denver Housing Authority, the project seeks to create a thriving community on a neglected site in Denver’s La Alma/South Lincoln Park (SoLi) area. Mariposa will employ best stormwater management practices; generate green jobs; promote energy efficiency by including renewable energy sources onsite; and reduce waste in its construction and operations. The project hopes that fostering healthier lifestyles will reduce the costs of living for both residents and greater community.

The Mariposa redevelopment was partially funded by the Brownfields Pilot Program, a collaborative effort between the Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields Program and the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. The Brownfields Pilot Program enables communities, such as SoLi, to lay the groundwork for turning a severely distressed sites into assets. The program facilitates redevelopment and helps urban, suburban and rural communities leverage public and private sector investment.

Yesterday, a bipartisan group of Senators put forward a bill to continue and enhance the EPA’s Brownfields Program. The Brownfields Utilization, Investment, and Local Development (BUILD) Act, introduced by Senators Lautenberg (D-NJ), Inhofe (R-OK), Udall (D-NM) and Crapo (R-ID), will make long-lasting, crucial investments in neighborhoods. With the assistance of the Brownfields Program, communities are able to redevelop blighted, contaminated and abandoned sites that inhibit economic development and pose risks to public health. Smart Growth America supports the BUILD Act as it promotes a continued successful partnership between the EPA, DOT, and HUD. In many redevelopment projects, support from the EPA Brownfields Program is the first assistance communities receive to address their Brownfield sites. The BUILD Act reauthorizes the EPA’s Brownfields Program, providing communities across the nation the opportunity to build strong, heathy neighborhoods.

The BUILD Act would support the efforts of communities like SoLi. At Mariposa, the Denver Housing Authority has led an initiative to design and construct a green community of 250 affordable housing units with 800 mixed-income rental and for-sale units on a formerly distressed 17.5-acre site. The Brownfields Pilot Program will help to build an affordable, mixed-use community with access to a light rail station – funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The project’s partners hope to connect SoLi’s residents to employment centers while increasing the mean income of the development’s residents.

The project uses a newly developed health impact assessment tool to evaluate the success of its planning efforts. The assessment, led by Mithun, an architecture firm, has found the majority of SoLi’s residents have poor health. The project hopes that, through a focus on healthy environments, the neighborhood can improve the well-being of its residents. With construction expected to complete in 2018, the health assessment has already provided the project with popularity and success.

Patrick L. Phillips, the chief executive of the Urban Land Institute, spoke on health assessments’ growing prominence,

“What has struck us is how quickly these assessments have emerged as a public concern sufficient to be incorporated within the traditional land-use decision-making regulatory framework”

Now well into development and construction phases, the project’s partners have found that resident and community participation is critical. The health assessment has included more than 140 community meetings where local residents can provide their input and insight for planning efforts. The project believes this collaboration with community members, partnership organizations, and stakeholders is essential to ensure that projects outside of Mariposa’s jurisdiction compliment its goals.

SoLi is one of five pilot communities selected to work with the Partnership for Sustainable Communities Brownfields Pilot Program, a collaboration between the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Department of Transportation (DOT), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Pilot program seeks to promote equitable redevelopment of brownfields sites near transit and build upon the working relationships between HUD, DOT, and EPA and local stakeholders. The Partnership helps communities create lasting economic strength. Smart Growth America supports continued funding for the EPA’s Brownfields Program and Partnership for Sustainable Communities because, through strategic planning, communities are able to better leverage private sector investment to make the most of federal investments. Since 1995, the Brownfields Program has assessed 20,066 brownfields sites across the country and cleaned up 38,585 acres of previously contaminated land.