Mile High Connects Awarded $1 Million From National SPARCC Initiative

DENVER, February 15, 2017

Mile High Connects today announced that Denver was selected to join the Strong, Prosperous, And Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC). SPARCC is a three-year, $90 million initiative that will bolster local groups and leaders in their efforts to ensure that, as major new investments are made in community development, they improve equity, health, and environmental outcomes for all residents.

In 2004, the region’s voters approved FasTracks, a $7.8 billion transit expansion that adds 122 miles of new rail, 18 miles of bus rapid transit, and enhanced regional bus service to the regional transit district. At the same time, the region is experiencing unprecedented growth, creating development opportunities, as well as significant gentrification and displacement in the urban core. The award from SPARCC will enable the Denver region to harness this energy and ensure that development equally benefits low-income communities and communities of color.

Following a competitive process in 2016, Denver’s Mile High Connects was one of six places chosen to receive initial funding and expert technical assistance from the SPARCC initiative. Mile High Connects, a diverse group of organizations that includes local and national nonprofits, banks, and foundations, was awarded $1 million in direct grant and technical assistance funds over the next three years. Collectively, the SPARCC sites will have access to an estimated pool of $70 million in financing capital, as well as $14 million of additional programmatic support. The initial six SPARCC sites include: Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Memphis, and San Francisco Bay Area.

“This is an incredible opportunity that will help the Denver Metro region think creatively about equity, health, and climate under the leadership of Mile High Connects,” said Christine Márquez-Hudson, president and CEO of The Denver Foundation. “This investment comes at a critical time given the economic and development boom our region is experiencing. It will mean a great deal to low-income communities and communities of color.”

With the award, Mile High Connects will be better supported in its efforts to:

  • Build and strengthen resident engagement in redevelopment efforts.
  • Inform and advocate for policies related to land use, anti-displacement, community stability, and equitable access to green infrastructure and newly expanded transit systems.
  • Drive investments in projects in West Denver and Adams County that will serve as demonstration projects for other developments in the Denver Region.

These efforts will result in community-informed development that creates equitable, thriving, and climate-resilient communities.

“In the past, policy and programmatic decisions about how to invest in the places we live, work, and play have all too often led to deeper poverty and risk for people of color and low-income communities,” said Brian Prater, executive vice president of strategy, development, and public affairs at the Low Income Investment Fund, one of the national partners of SPARCC. “This is a critical moment when big infrastructure investments are coming, or are already underway, and people of all races and incomes should benefit. We are excited to support the SPARCC sites and look forward to seeing the results of these local efforts to positively shape our cities and regions for generations.”

The major public investment in the transit system has created challenges and opportunities for the Denver Region. It has increased displacement pressures for many low-income communities, and at the same time, created new ways for cross-sector partners to work together to ensure the build-out is done in a way that takes into consideration equity, health, and the built environment. Mile High Connects is working to create the systems and policies that will connect residents to opportunity throughout the Denver Region.

“As the construction of the FasTracks systems nears completion, we need to turn our attention to the growth happening around the stations to ensure that the investment is creating economically resilient and sustainable places for low-income communities,” said Emma Pinter, Westminster city council member.

In addition to funding support, each SPARCC site has access to an extensive learning network, and advisory services from a range of experts, to help advance local efforts.

SPARCC is an initiative of Enterprise Community Partners, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, the Low Income Investment Fund, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, with funding support from the Ford Foundation, The JPB Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and The California Endowment. Long term, SPARCC’s intention is for other cities, communities and regions to adopt similar approaches to achieving more just economic, health, and environmental outcomes, using the success of SPARCC sites as a model.


About Mile High Connects

Mile High Connects is a multi-sector collaborative working to ensure that the regional transit system fosters communities that offer all residents the opportunity for a high quality of life. The partnership formed in 2011 to ensure that FasTracks, the region’s $7.8 billion transit build-out, benefits low-income communities and communities of color by connecting them to affordable housing, healthy environments, quality education, and good-paying jobs.

Mile High Connects Partners are Colorado Housing and Finance Authority, The Colorado Health Foundation, The Colorado Trust, The Denver Foundation, Enterprise Community Partners, FirstBank, Ford Foundation, FRESC: Good Jobs Strong Communities, Gates Family Foundation, Kaiser Permanente, Natural Resources Defense Council, New Belgium Family Foundation, 9to5 Colorado, Gary Community Investments, Rose Community Foundation, Urban Land Conservancy, U.S. Bank, and Wells Fargo.

Mile High Connects is housed at The Denver Foundation, the largest and most experienced community foundation in the Rocky Mountain West. For more information, please visit denverfoundation.org.

About SPARCC

The Strong, Prosperous, And Resilient Communities Challenge – or SPARCC – is supporting local efforts to make sure that everyone benefits from major new investments in the places we live, work and play. By supporting locally driven initiatives, SPARCC aims to improve equity, health and environmental outcomes to positively shape our cities and regions for generations. SPARCC is an initiative of Enterprise Community Partners, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, the Low Income Investment Fund, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, with funding support from the Ford Foundation, The JPB Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and The California Endowment.

For more information on SPARCC and the selected jurisdictions, please visit sparcchub.org.

Community Highlight

Westwood is a neighborhood in southwest Denver, SW of the corner of Federal & Alameda. The auto-oriented streets have narrow sidewalks and are poorly lit. Westwood Unidos organizes community members to help them achieve their priorities for a safer and healthier community. Resident-led projects include improving sidewalks, slowing traffic, improving transit access, and improving lighting.

In  2014 – 2015, with support from Mile High Connects, Westwood Unidos and 9to5 Colorado successfully advocated for the Route 4 Bus Line to be re-opened on Morrison Road.  Since then, the route has been a big success; ridership numbers have justified the need for this route in the Westwood community.

On July 18th, the community celebrated a big victory with the successful passage in City Council of the Westwood neighborhood plan.  Community members testified in support of the plan, which recommends calming traffic, increasing transit access, improving greenways, allowing for accessory dwelling units, and building a recreation center.

In 2016, the Westwood Unidos Safety Action Team has been busy beautifying the neighborhood to make walking and biking safery. Their project creates a safe walkway along 8 alleys that connect Federal Boulevard and local schools. These 8 alleys are overgrown with brambles and weeds, covered with graffiti, and full of dumped furniture and trash, making it impossible to walk safely and comfortably.

In order to tackle these alleys, on Saturday, April 23 Extreme Community Makeover and Westwood Unidos organized over 300 volunteers from Westwood and surrounding communities to pick up trash and clean graffiti during “Go Westwood!   On June 28 and July 16, dozens of residents tackled the alleys again, continuing to clean graffiti and beginning to install art. The goal is to complete the alley on July 28th with the installation of art and mosaics and painted tires.

Finally, Westwood Unidos has partnered with various organizations to train youth leaders with a focus on economic opportunities and access to nature. In addition to testifying successfully in front of City Council, the youth leaders are semi-finalists in a grant to open a youth-run bike workshop.

Community members and partner organizations interested in getting involved in Westwood Unidos are welcome to the monthly Westwood Unidos Safety Action Team meeting, every 4th Monday of the month at 9 AM at Paloma Villa, 4200 Morrison Road.  

ohio alley4

Alley Project in Westwood

Grantee Highlight – Westwood Unidos

Westwood Unidos is a coalition of Westwood residents partnering with organizations to make Southwest Denver a healthier place. Westwood Unidos’ unique approach trains resident leaders to advocate for equitable resources, to organize their neighbors, and to increase civic engagement community-wide.  Currently, Westwood Unidos’ campaigns are to transform blighted streets and alleys into safe and active community places, to organize community to improve public transit options, to re-develop parks and build new parks, to build a Recreation Center in Westwood,  and to promote drinking water and good nutrition.  Westwood Unidos is pleased to announce the opening of “La Casita,” at 3790 Morrison Road, a community-run space that is open for residents to teach exercise, academic, and art classes and host support groups.
Thanks to funding support from Mile High Connects and strong partnership from 9to5 Colorado, Westwood Unidos has been able to provide dedicated efforts to increasing transit access in Westwood. Projects include cleaning bus benches, petitioning for new lights to be installed along walking routes, and staffing a successful campaign to reinstate an RTD bus route on Morrison Road. 9to5’s community organizing expertise and Mile High Connects funding support and strategic guidance were leveraged by Westwood Unidos’ Community Connector’s community knowledge, trust and relationships.  Community leaders participating in Westwood Unidos’ Built Environment Action Team kicked-off the campaign by conudcting hundreds of community surveys and learning that many residents had difficulty accessing jobs and food due to there not being any bus service in the middle of Westwood. Westwood Unidos’ Community Connector, Maricruz Herrera, along with Andrea Chiriboga Flor, from 9 to 5 Colorado, began a multi-month campaign to organize dozens of community residents who wanted increased bus access. These community members met with RTD decision-makers and went to RTD Board meetings to request that the bus on Morrison Road be reinstated. The community effort and persistence paid off. The new bus began service in May 2016, and it has been a success, with ridership above expectation. Due to the new bus route, community members living in the heart of Westwood now have a way to get to work, to the supermarket, and to the light rail station on Alameda using RTD.
Westwood Unidos is grateful to Mile High Connects for its commitment to transit equity in Denver, and to its support in the form of funding, research, technical assistance, advocacy and strategic thinking.
2015-04-26-bus cleanup

Time for Sweeping Change

Last week, the city of Denver swept away problem of chronic homelessness by removing hundreds of homeless people from makeshift encampments throughout the city.  The City claims that their decision was made because of the public safety issues these encampments create for the homeless residents themselves and the public at large.  They are absolutely correct.  What the City is not prepared to address in any meaningful way is exactly where it is they would like these people to go.  The shelter directors have stated that there is not enough affordable housing or enough emergency shelter to meet the growing demand.  As a consequence, these people default to living on the streets as a last resort.  I have for the past month spent a few weeks living on the street, trust me when I say that nobody is living outside because they want to.

Rather than develop thoughtful and compassionate measures to address this crisis, the City answered with an arsenal of garbage trucks and police officers.  Denver, we can and must do better.  The City claims they are storing people’s belongings and they can access them.  That is an outright fabrication.  Try finding your personal belongings in a sea of garbage bins.  Hundreds of people have lost all of their personal belongings (including photos of their children).  The problem has temporarily disappeared from public sight but the fact remains, people have to exist somewhere.  It is our responsibility as a city to find adequate places for people to be other than the streets.

If we can build a world class light rail and airport hotel for visitors, shouldn’t we be able to provide adequate and compassionate shelter for our most disenfranchised residents.  We are urging city Denver residents, city officials, nonprofit leaders, foundation leaders, advocates and homeless residents themselves to come together to recognize that this crisis must be addressed right now in a more constructive and compassionate manner.

We hope we can join in a  concerted effort to develop the resources, plan and collaborative spirit necessary to protect the basic safety and dignity of every Denver citizen.  Everyone in our city deserves to be somewhere safe to sleep tonight.

PJ D’Amico, Executive Director

The Buck Foundation

MHC Community Member Highlight

Oscar Torres, Community Member

The chicken and the egg dilemma is very vivid for me. Two months after signing my lease in Aurora, I was hired at a nonprofit organization all the way in Lakewood. Ever since, my hour and a half (each way) commute started. Waking up at about 4:30 AM every day, I have my routine and breakfast, then walk 10 minutes to the bus stop. Typically by 6:26 AM, I hop on the first bus and then is off to Downtown where I transfer to another bus that takes me to Lakewood. Public transit in Denver is amazingly reliable and punctual, and compared to where I moved from, is 100% better. Having said that, spending 3 hours daily on my commute is taxing and takes time away from more productive activities.

Working for mpowered, a nonprofit that offers personal finance coaching among other services, I realized how transportation plays a big role in people’s budgets. Car ownership is onerous and many take the bus or light rail, but for some even that is too expensive. Housing is too. In a city with tremendous growth, rents have shot through the roof and while I consider myself appropriately paid for my work, there is no pay increase that can keep up with the rent prices. Currently, I am looking for apartments near my job that can reduce significantly my commute time, but nothing is within my price range. It has come to the point where I need to consider if I spend 50% of my income in renting or continue with my long commute. Nonetheless, I am happy serving our fellow citizens and am willing to keep going the distance, but as many other also feel, it should not be this hard.

Oscar Torres is 31 years old, lives in Aurora, Colorado and is a bilingual receptionist at mpowered in Lakewood. He moved to Colorado from Puerto Rico a year and a half ago and has a background in modern languages, communications, customer service and nonprofits.

image1 (1)                      Oscar Torres

 

MHC Grantee Highlight

Montbello Organizing Committee

The Montbello Organizing Committee (MOC) is a grassroots organization composed of residents working to positively affect the quality of life for all who live, work, or volunteer within the neighborhood. A fairly new organization, the have delved into addressing issues in three major areas. Their goal of alleviating the food desert status is catalyzed by the work to develop healthy accessible food for all residents. They are also engaging neighbors in reshaping the narrative of Montbello―often unfairly and negatively characterized―through community enhancement efforts, which include a 50th Anniversary Celebration of Montbello, later in 2016. MOC’s work addressing public transportation accessibility in Montbello led to a victory in late 2015 when RTD altered a bus route that would have made accessing the community’s only grocery store very difficult. The group recently learned that RTD is planning to close the Montbello Park and Ride on Peoria and Albrook, a highly trafficked area for pedestrians, riders, and drivers. With the closure, an increase in traffic along Peoria is anticipated (especially since Havana is closed for construction and the increase in traffic to and from DIA). An increase safety concerns is also predicted, since sidewalks are in need of maintenance and are not capable of supporting the high quantity of riders waiting for the buses. MOC, with the help of Mile High Connects, is gathering stakeholders such as riders, RTD, City Council, and Public Works to find solutions to this new challenge. ​

MOC

MHC Partner Highlight

New Belgium Family Foundation

Recently, MHC talked with Lucy Cantwell at the New Belgium Family Foundation, funding partner of MHC.


 

Describe the NBFF’s role in MHC. What do you see as your biggest contribution to MHC and its work?
I would describe our role as primarily one of learning – there are many people and groups with deep experience in the room and it helps our work to be able to listen and learn from them.
Why does NBFF think MHC is important?
Public transportation is absolutely a necessity in our increasingly resource- and space-constrained world, but infrastructure development needs to be coupled with a real effort to make that useable by all residents – especially given the increasing economic inequity facing the US (and the world.) We think MHC is important because it is not only working to make public transportation accessible, but it also recognizes that public transportation is essentially a means to an end: a way of getting to work, to school, to healthcare, or healthy food. By working at the intersection of those needs and transportation, MHC helps advance a vision of the modern city that is accessible and supportive of all residents.

What’s the biggest thing that the NBFF has learned or way your organization’s own work has grown as a result of being involved with MHC?
The clear-headed emphasis on equity that MHC has championed has been a role model for the NBFF as we continue to refine our vision for the foundation.

Healthy Places: Making Connections that Matter

Healthy Places: Designing an Active Colorado, an initiative of the Colorado Health Foundation, was engineered to increase physical activity in three communities including the southeast portion of Arvada, the city of Lamar and the Westwood neighborhood in southwest Denver. Characterized as low-income and experiencing greater than average health disparities, these three communities face significant barriers to physical activity due to the built environment. It is important to note that the average low-income household spends 25.3 percent of their monthly income on transportation costs, compared to 17.1 percent for the entire population. Healthy Places seeks to improve the built environment in these communities through improving safety and infrastructure.

Community engagement is and will continue to be a key element of Healthy Places. It has helped inform tailored recommendations from an expert panel of Urban Land Institute (ULI) members and played a crucial role in the prioritization and selection process. Community members will continue their involvement as the work moves into the implementation phase. In developing recommendations, ULI was given the guidelines to prioritize walking and biking as safe, viable, and enjoyable modes of transportation and recreation through the community. Additionally, ULI was tasked with developing solutions to fill the gaps in pedestrian and bicycle networks needed to create a continuous interconnected system.

All three communities are hard at work to create healthy places including the creation of new parks or renovation of old ones. Some projects include building the 7-mile Lamar loop, designing a Skateboard and BMX Park and many others. Here’s a few examples of transit-related efforts currently underway:

Healthy Places: Designing an Active Arvada

• Sidewalks are being installed on W. 60th Ave. (at Sheridan and 60th Ave.) between Lamar and Sheridan as a key pedestrian connection to the Gold Strike Station.
• Pedestrian level wayfinding signage is being installed throughout southeast Arvada to connect residents from the neighborhoods, to parks, community gardens, transit centers and grocery stores.
Weekly bike rides take place every weekend from April through October and include tours of the three transit stations in Arvada to help residents navigate to them safely.
• A bike corral and on-street parking facility, that can accommodate many more bikes than a typical sidewalk rack, is being piloted in Olde Town Arvada during the summer of 2015. It will be installed permanently in 2016 prior to the opening of the Olde Town transit hub.

Healthy Places: Designing an Active Westwood

• Westwood residents, 9to5 Colorado and Westwood Unidos, rallied together to petition the Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD) to reinstate Route 4 public bus service on Morrison Rd. Westwood residents and community organizations turned out in mass at RTD route service change meetings. Residents shared their personal stories about relying on public transportation for various needs such as commuting to work, sending children to school and visiting the doctor. In February 2015 the RTD board voted ‘Yes’ to Route 4 on Morrison Rd.
• Community members and organizations participated in the Callejón de la Amistad, or Friendship Alleyway, to transform what was once a dumping ground and graffiti-ridden alleyway into a safe and colorful place to play and walk to school. The design is based on the ideas and creativity of Westwood residents. On Aug. 24, the Westwood neighborhood celebrated the Friendship Alleyway Inauguration, which is located on S. Lowell St. between W. Virginia Ave. and W. Custer Pl.

Research shows that transit-dependent riders struggle to find an option for safe, affordable and reliable travel between their homes, transit stations, work and other destinations. The Foundation, a proud partner of Mile High Connects, is working through initiatives like Healthy Places to create more active communities near transit stops with the goal of increasing access to places where Coloradans live, work and play.

Report: First & Last Mile – Funding Needs And Priorities For Connecting People to Transit

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.

* Report
* 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.

July 2015 Advisory Council – First/Last Mile Connections

“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.

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