Innovative Design Offers Roots + Community for Denver’s Most Vulnerable

The Mariposa and Sun Valley neighborhoods of Denver, Colorado are a before-and-after study of the potential that place-based sustainable design can have on the lives of a city’s most vulnerable. On September 15, EcoDistricts Summit attendees on our affordable housing mobile tour will dive into the partnerships, innovation and vision that helped the City of Denver and Denver Housing Authority achieve one of their highest resident retention rates in history.

Join us for the EcoDistricts Summit

September 13-15, 2016 • Denver CO


More than any other single factor, the zip code a child is born into determines their quality of life. It’s been widely acknowledged in city after city that quality, affordable housing built in neighborhoods linked to accessible transit, open spaces and public services produces lower crime rates, healthier children, better workforce development and happier residents.

In Denver, the City, the Denver Housing Authority (DHA) and other key partners are leading the development of successful, equitable, mixed-use and mixed-income neighborhoods, effectively transforming brick and mortar to vibrant neighborhoods for the city’s most vulnerable.

Mariposa, located just outside of downtown along the Platte River, was the former site of 278 aging, disconnected public housing units called South Lincoln Homes. It has since been transformed into a dense, transit-oriented development with 900 units of affordable housing, new retail space, workforce development programs, direct access to public transit, bike share, a community center and elementary school.

A phased relocation process was a key factor in Mariposa’s development strategy. In this model, residents who choose to remain in the neighborhood are provided adequate temporary housing in the neighborhood while their building is redeveloped. Once units are ready to be occupied, residents are placed in their new homes. Any unoccupied units of the new development are then temporarily occupied by residents who will receive units in the next phase. Most DHA projects, such as Mariposa and Sun Valley, include 8 or 9 phases of redevelopment over 5-10 years.

More than 45% of residents chose to stay in the community, compared with a national average of just 10%.

Across a major highway from Mariposa is the Sun Valley neighborhood, Denver’s most economically depressed area. Nearly 70% of Sun Valley’s 1500 residents live in poverty, the majority in the Sun Valley Homes housing project. Sun Valley is host to Denver’s largest concentration of recent immigrants and refugees. The district is a largely industrial area with the Platte River, the home of the Denver Bronco’s Football team and stadium, and large swaths of surface parking lots.

An EcoDistricts Target City, Sun Valley is in the beginning stages of redevelopment. The neighborhood’s Master Planning process is embracing a holistic approach to redevelopment that includes mixed-used retail and affordable housing, transportation and open green space. This approach ensures equitable health, livability, connectivity and prosperity outcomes for the area’s vulnerable residents.

Both Mariposa and Sun Valley are also attracting organizations and entrepreneurs to the neighborhoods. In Mariposa, Osage Cafe provides both affordable, healthy food options for low-income residents and a culinary training program for neighborhood youth. And Sun Valley will be the future site of The Big Wonderful, a mobile festival of art, music, fashion and food that aims to play a major catalytic role in the neighborhood’s transformation.



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