In the Denver Metro Region, gentrification and displacement are becoming critical issues. With investment in development of our urban core, along transit lines and in other areas of opportunity, skyrocketing rents, rising property taxes and cultural disruption of neighborhoods means that communities in which there has been historic underinvestment are now being pushed out of neighborhoods at the very moment they stand to reap the greatest gains of employment opportunities, services and other amenities.
As a multi-sector collaborative, committed to ensuring our region’s transit system fosters communities that offer all residents the opportunity for a high quality of life, Mile High Connects hosted a call to action event on April 19th. During our early morning event, over 100 people from across sectors and communities joined us and heard from community residents about their experiences around displacement, rising rents, shifting community fabric, and evictions. They listened to federal government leadership talk about their investments to disrupt poverty and increase diversity of housing choices. We also heard about strategies being implemented to increase economic opportunity.
This event served as the touchstone and call to action for the release of our Access to Opportunity Platform: A Regional Call to Action to Address Our Gentrification and Displacement Crisis. The platform outlines strategies and recommendations around housing, place/community and culture, and economic opportunity. Click here to download the platform.
As part of its commitment to pioneering a data-driven culture in Colorado’s social sector, The Piton Foundation’s Data Initiative, recently convened metro Denver’s data community for the first annual Mile High Data Day. More than 120 representatives from across the region attended the daylong event, which provided an opportunity to build relationships, share best practices, learn from experts and strengthen partnerships between social change and data organizations. In addition to the Data Initiative, Mile High Day Day’s key partners included Mile High Connects, University of Colorado Denver, the Denver Regional Council of Governments, and OpenColorado.
Mile High Data Day’s goal was to create a network focused on using open data to make more informed decisions and support community change. The following are some main takeaways from the event:
Data is about people: Throughout the day, participants were seeking formal and informal opportunities to network with each other, and it became clear that a space is needed where advocates for open data can come together to make stronger connections across their areas of work. Mile High Data Day provided a glimpse into what is possible if we begin bridging all these well-intentioned efforts.
Denver has an appetite for data: Denver and Colorado are at the forefront of the open data movement, and nonprofits, government and academia all have the desire to create a stronger network focused on using data to improve communities.
Data utilization for case-making, advocacy and social change: The overall conversation was still very rooted in the effort to open data, but there were hints at how data is being incorporated into active decision-making processes. For example, the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment is working to gain internal approval for sharing more community-level data and simultaneously incorporating it into their grant-making activities. This approach accomplishes two goals: it empowers prospective grantees; and the agency gains confidence in the process when allocating their limited financial resources.
Capacity-building around data utilization is key to driving social change: Open data advocates and those focused on using data to support social change are somewhat disconnected. More engagement is needed at the grassroots level so that communities are better equipped to use data to defend their positions. We must provide social change organizations with the necessary technical assistance to understand the sourcing, analysis and interpretation of data. Some event participants were not familiar with margins of error, which proves that serving up data in a consumable format does not mean users will correctly apply it to their work.
Last week during the Building Station Areas that Build Community event, Denver Shared Spaces and Mile High Connects released a report looking at a handful of station areas in our prioritized geographies and the community benefits they may have to offer to the surrounding neighborhoods. The report, 2015 Community Facility Scan: Opportunities for Community-Benefit Commercial Development at Transit in Metro Denver, illuminates the assets and challenges of the station areas and provides recommendations for each. Participants also had the chance to try out the story map tool. The base layer of the tool are MHC’s prioritized station areas; it then incorporates layers of data on things such as health equity, employment, education, and existing community facilities. In addition to the data, it offers rich context for each station area, which provides a comprehensive story for the user. It also highlights recommendations to consider to increase opportunity around the particular station area. Click here to try out the story map tool. We are excited about the report and interactive tool and will continue to use station areas as touchstones for opportunity for low-income communities and communities of color.
In 2015 Mile High Connects focused much of its jobs-related work on exploring place-based community workforce development strategies. One of our projects, funded by a grant from JP Morgan Chase Foundation explored the linking of local residents with construction employment on an affordable housing development project in the Northeast Park Hill area of Denver. The grant provided funding for improved job placement for graduates of training through the Colorado Construction Institute (CCI), the organization that trained East Denver residents for new careers in construction and for an evaluation of how well place-based community workforce initiatives worked in Park Hill Village West and two other TOD project sites – Denver Housing Authority’s (DHA) Mariposa Redevelopment at La Alma/Lincoln in Denver and Alameda Station in Central Denver.
This report, Construction Community Workforce Programs: Recommendations from Three Transit-oriented Developments in Denver, details the learning experiences of the three projects that capitalized on infrastructure investments in order to generate employment and training opportunities for local residents and expand the pipeline of qualified workers to meet industry workforce demands. The report was authored by Katrina Wert, Director of the Workforce Initiative Now (WIN) program at the Community College of Denver. WIN was one of the workforce training providers for the three projects, along with CCI and DHA, who also contributed data to the report.
The report contains recommendations related to the planning and execution of community workforce development programs connected to targeted construction opportunities and the potential for recruiting and training traditionally disadvantaged low-income workers for those opportunities. The intended audience includes community-based or education and training organizations engaged in construction workforce preparation, employers or project owners interested in community workforce initiatives, and prospective private and public funders. Key recommendations from the report, some of which apply to community workforce development initiatives in other industries, include:
• Aligning all stakeholders to communicate and set realistic goals
• Supporting expansive community outreach and recruitment of resident
• Fund services to overcome residents’ barriers to employment
• Providing financial incentives to complete training
MHC will continue to work on community workforce development opportunities in 2016 in construction, as well as health care and other industries. If you’re interested in participating in the learning and/or implementation of these efforts, contact Jennifer Billig, MHC Coordinator for Business, Local Workforce and Middle Skill Jobs at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Graduate students from the University of Colorado at Denver’s Masters of Urban and Regional Planning Program recently finalized a report on Metro Denver’s transit area stations, which provides a comprehensive analysis of the stations. “This report evaluates the design and development of the half-mile areas(transit zones) around the 45 light rail transit stations in the Denver Metro area as of January 2015. Each transit zone was scored on the level of site development, accessibility, affordable housing, and jobs and economic development.” This lifts up the important issues areas of Mile High Connects and tells the story of how the stations are leveraging opportunity for the communities around them as well as where challenges still remain. Read the full report here.
The buildout of FasTracks, a multi-billion dollar expansion of public transit throughout metro Denver, has highlighted major challenges that low-income riders face when attempting to access the transit system. Many transit station areas have missing or inadequate sidewalks, dangerous crossings, and poor lighting. First and last mile connections (FLMC) refers to the built environment elements that help people get from their home to a transit stop, or from a transit stop to their final destination. Mile High Connects did a deeper dive into these important issues and this research is the culmination of 48 survey responses, 3 best practice case studies and 7 focus groups with participants representing city staff and agencies, non and for-profit developers, community organizations, and transportation management agencies all of whom provided stakeholder insight into barriers and solutions to financing these crucial connective elements.
The report provides a baseline understanding of how FLMC are currently funded in the Denver region, identifies best practices both locally and nationally, and makes recommendations on policies, practices, and funding mechanisms to address FLMC challenges. MHC hosted a report release event on September 3rd and over 100 people attended from jurisdictions around the Denver Region, the nonprofit sector, planning departments, RTD, the Denver Regional Council of Governments, and other community organizations. Resident leaders from Globeville Elyria-Swansea LiveWell also shared their important advocacy work on FLMC and highlighted these issues in real time. Recommendations from the report were shared as well as case studies on FLMC from other cities. The links below include the report, presentations from the release event, and the media pieces on Colorado Public Radio and Denver Streetsblog.
* WalkDenver Presentation
* NRDC Presentation
* Colorado Public Radio Piece
* Denver Streetsblog Piece
WalkDenver and BBC Research developed this report on behalf of Mile High Connects (MHC), with support from MHC members FRESC: Good Jobs, Strong Communities and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“Look out for that car!”
“Bus stop closed.”
“There isn’t a sidewalk here.”
“Just how am I going to get my stroller over that median?”
During the July 15th Advisory Council meeting members jumped over a busy street with match box cars flying back and forth, awkwardly climbed over a cardboard box median, balanced on a curb without a sidewalk, crawled under a pretend bridge with a train set, and endured artificial weather conditions to access the sign-in table. Even though it was a fun simulation of the barriers to accessing transit, they illuminated the very real obstacles that many low-income communities face when getting to the bus or rail.
The meeting featured energetic discussions about the first/last mile report (look for the full report in September 2015!) and groups grappled with a variety of questions about FLMC ranging from funding/sustaining infrastructure, to funding for FLMC and figuring out how municipalities define these important issues. Seleta Reynolds, General Manager of the LA Department of Transportation, rounded out the meeting with an inspiring presentation about the amazing work and projects she has accomplished. Click here for her presentation.
Thanks to all that came! See you at our next meeting on November 12th, 9-12:00 pm at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.