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Archive of posts filed under the Public Health category.

The Healthy Side of Denver’s Affordable Housing Progress

by Jenny Niemann

Denver will soon have its first-ever dedicated affordable housing fund. On September 19th, the Denver City Council authorized the Denver Fund for Affordable Housing, which will support the construction or preservation of around 6,000 affordable housing units, as well as emergency financial assistance to help families stay in their homes. Through a property taxes and developer fees, this fund will provide an estimated $150 million over 10 years and will add to Denver’s existing efforts to address Denver’s growing affordability challenges: home prices in Denver have increased over 50% in the past six years.

While 6,000 units makes a small dent in this problem, it is a significant step towards ensuring Denver remains a livable place for families of all ranges of incomes. A second initiative also just passed the City Council, allowing for density bonuses around the 38th and Blake rail station (in the form of taller buildings) if the development includes affordable housing. While many details still need to be finalized, this could prove an effective way to get many more affordable units constructed, as it has in many other cities.

This is an exciting move for our growing city, not only because this will help some of the estimated 87,000 families in Denver who are cost-burdened by housing. Affordable housing also provides dividends for the entire city over the long term by improving the health of its residents. People who are not cost-burdened by housing spend more on both nutritious food and essential health care services. Families who are in affordable housing also have lower stress levels, which helps them to avoid a number of negative health impacts including high blood pressure. On the other hand, housing stress has been associated with poor mental health, negative health behaviors like smoking, and poor overall health. Oakland found that their affordable housing crisis was leading to a public health crisis of its own, leading in increases in hypertension, asthma, depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia.

On a larger scale, it also means that families of all incomes can have access to some of Denver’s best neighborhoods, which promotes health through their walkable and accessible nature. The River North and Cole neighborhoods around the 38th and Blake station, where the density bonus will take effect, provide a wide variety of  transportation options including rail transit, are bikeable to downtown, and are walkable to services like the Eastside Family Health Center. A city that provides affordable options in its transit-oriented neighborhoods is ensuring that the many benefits of walkable, transportation-rich neighborhoods accrue to residents from many incomes.


Affordable housing’s benefits go far beyond the borders of its walls: cities who support housing are more regionally competitive and its businesses have greater employee retention. They also save money, too: a recent study of California’s affordable housing found that providing housing for homeless individuals saves general funds—taxpayer dollars!—as demand falls for other social services. Affordable housing can also lead to lower health care expenditures by Medicaid recipients. Children that move to affordable housing in low-poverty neighborhoods even have higher incomes as adults.

The Denver Housing Authority (DHA) recognizes these benefits: it integrated health into its plans for the award-winning Mariposa District housing development, a mixed-income community with a walkable transit-oriented design, a community garden, community health classes, a healthy food care and public art. Other DHA properties help seniors and disabled residents connect to health care. A new DHA program will focus on residents who are frequent users of Medicaid services, in an effort to reduce the use of health care while providing improved quality of care. This program could result in significant cost savings for the health care system.

Affordable housing is an important piece of the puzzle that will help Denver remain an inclusive city as it grows. Denver’s new affordable housing fund will help house more people. But it’s worth remembering that these 6,000 units will improve health and create benefits far beyond cost savings for low-income households. Denver has the potential to become a stronger city overall when it makes affording housing a bit easier for its residents to obtain.


Jenny Niemann is a graduate student in the University of Colorado Denver’s dual-degree in urban planning and public health. Her graduate work involves alternative transportation and healthy food systems and how the benefits of these sustainable city services can be accessed by households of all incomes. A native of the suburbs of Washington, DC, Jenny enjoys exploring Colorado’s growing cities and mountains by bicycle.

City Loop, Take II

After much public debate, an energetic group of local citizens recently came together to put the kibosh on a proposed park redevelopment in City Park called “City Loop.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with the project, it was (in the words of Denver Park’s and Recreation staff) “intended to be a new, multi-generational activity and play area that would replace the existing Dustin Redd playground, which is in need of significant repair or replacement after nearly 20 years of use. The goal behind the current City Loop concept is to create a new area that gives everyone using the park—from small children to older adults—an opportunity to remain active and enjoy a healthy lifestyle.” For more info on the project, you can follow this link to the city’s web page on City Loop.

For the purposes of this blog post, I don’t want to get into the controversy behind the City Loop proposal at City Park but, rather, to urge the city to give this concept another try in an area of the city where it’s wanted and desperately needed. In the wake of the demise of the initial proposal, Councilwoman Susan Shepherd and Councilman Paul Lopez have been working with local neighborhood groups to ask the Parks department to reinvent the concept in Paco Sanchez Park. Never heard of Paco Sanchez Park? That’s precisely one of the reasons for this proposal. Unlike City Park, this park is relatively unknown and underutilized. It is also situated in a neighborhood where there are a great deal of low-income families with children who could easily access the park by foot, by bike and by rail. The following is a Google Earth aerial photo of Paco Sanchez Park.

2014-5-14_Paco Sanchez Park Aerial

Paco Sanchez Park, named for a local Hispanic activist and radio broadcaster, is located in Lakewood Gulch between Federal Boulevard and Knox Court on Denver’s west side. The brand new West Line cuts right through the middle of the park; in fact, it would completely sever the park in two if not for a new pedestrian bridge that was built as part of the light rail construction. The park is part of an extensive bicycle corridor that connects west-side residents to the Platte River and is book-ended by two light rail stations. Bus lines run down Federal and Knox Court making this park accessible to virtually every mode of transportation this city has to offer (except B-Cycle, but that could come later).

With the exception of the light rail bridge, some bike path and storm drainage upgrades needed for the light rail project, and a highly successful Frisbee golf course, the park has not seen substantial investment in decades and could seriously use an update. The park is utilized, but not to the extent that it could be, because there is not much in the way of programming and because some of the facilities that do exist are deteriorating. While there hasn’t been much investment in the park in recent history, there is beginning to be a great deal of reinvestment in the neighborhoods surrounding the park; plans are in the works to revitalize the Sun Valley neighborhood and its DHA housing project to the east, and a new mixed-use development with a new public library is being built a block to the north (link). While City Park could certainly use additional maintenance and investment, I personally think bringing the City Loop concept to a less beloved park, which is in greater need of investment and activation and is in a neighborhood that is transitioning into a denser transit-oriented neighborhood, makes a great deal of sense. Let’s see what this might look like.

2014-05-14_CityLoop_PLAN   2014-5-14_Paco Sanchez Park - concept 3

The photo on the left is the proposed City Loop concept for City Park taken from the city’s website. In the image on the right, I’ve taken this concept, overlaid it (relatively to scale) on top of Paco Sanchez Park and made some slight modifications to make it work in this park (I’ve also taken the liberty of giving it a bit of a filter, so it looks more conceptual). While there would need to be significant modification to the plans due to topography (it is in a gulch after all), the concept of a looping trail with multiple interactive playground nodes could work very well here. The concept would greatly help to tie the two halves of the park together allowing for more interaction from one side of the gulch to the other, and since the “loop” is centered on the light-rail line (crossing over it twice), the park could really celebrate transit as part of the experience.

There are a few other reasons I think this is a great idea and should be implemented (and I do hope Lauri Dannemiller of Denver Parks and Recreation is reading this). First, there are a very large number of ethnically and racially diverse, low-income families with children in the Sun Valley, West Colfax, Villa Park and Barnum neighborhoods who would have direct access to this park via, foot, bike, bus and train. These kids can’t necessarily afford to go to Elitch’s and don’t have the luxury of being driven to nicer suburban parks with new modern playgrounds, spray pads and the like. This could be a great place for them to be kids, to explore and be active. It could be their amusement park. What’s more, many of these kids are at risk for obesity, and the health risks associated with it. This new concept with a walking loop and multiple play areas would help keep these kids more active and healthy (and it could help their parents too).

Second, I think the park could become a real jewel in what is already a nice green necklace of parks that cuts through the west side of Denver. Finally, there has been much concern among long-time locals about the strain that new development around Sloans Lake Park may put on that park. I firmly believe that creating another destination park within the general vicinity would ease some of the pressure off that already well-used and beloved park. I do hope that the city parks department shares the opinions of Councilwoman Shepherd and Councilman Lopez and seriously considers this proposal. I think it could really be a win-win for the neighborhoods surrounding Paco Sanchez Park and for the City of Denver as a whole.

Colorado Bike to Work Day 2013!

A reminder to everyone that Bike to Work Day is tomorrow Wednesday June 26th! In fact this whole week, the fourth week of June every year, is Colorado Bike Month!

Be sure to register for the event so you can find group rides, breakfast and event stations, win prizes and to get involved in a great day for Colorado. Registering also helps organizers accurately determine how many commuters are participating, how many cars where removed from Wednesday’s commute and which routes and areas have the most bicycle commuter potential; all of which is vital for continuing this event and improving our state’s two wheel infrastructure. As of Tuesday morning almost 20,000 cyclist-commuters have already registered!

For help finding your bicycling route, and event stations, check out Bike to Work Day’s route finder or use Google Maps improved transit/cycling/pedestrian direction function. If you have a longer or shorter commute working transit or walking into the trip is also accepted.

Ready to go? Let us know your favorite part of your bike commute or which breakfast station or group ride you are looking forward to? What would make your commute more bike friendly?

Community Coordinating District and Eddie Maestas Park

By Jorgen Jensen

The Community Coordinating District (CCD No.1) is a unique metropolitan district (metro district) established to facilitate public improvement and development initiatives throughout the Denver metro area. They’ve recently engaged “virtual town hall” technology through Mind Mixer and are making a push through the attached Mini-Contest to raise awareness of their own website.

CCD No.1 was created to address a familiar hurdle in community development projects. The challenge, as with most collaborative efforts, is aligning multiple stakeholders to work together toward a common goal. This requires a clear and actionable strategy, the right funding resources, and positive action from everyone involved

With many of these issues especially prevalent in Northeast Downtown neighborhoods, CCD No. 1 was established with cooperation from Councilwoman Judy Montero, the Ballpark Neighborhood Association, and Urban Market Partners to help with placemaking efforts and other goals of the Northeast Downtown Neighborhoods – specifically in and around the Triangle Parks area. We’ve all seen the Triangle Parks along Broadway near shelters at Lawrence and know there’s work to be done.


It’s important to highlight that this metro or “Special District” is the first of its kind in that it has no Service Area Plan Boundaries. In fact, the District has no geographical boundaries and provides an “Opt-in” structure so that other groups or community development efforts can someday use this as a vehicle to more efficiently partner with their respective City.

For their pilot project, CCD No. 1 has chosen Eddie Maestas Park at Park Avenue and Lawrence Street, across from the Denver Rescue Mission. The conversation has since expanded and is now addressing issues and opportunities at Sonny Lawson Park and along the entire 24th Street corridor. It’s clear that the issues surrounding the Triangle Parks are just as much about the social infrastructure as they are the physical design or infrastructure. Further, what happens at Eddie Maestas affects Curtis Park and Sonny Lawson Park, so a more global, holistic approach to the programming of the neighborhood wide public realm is needed.

You can learn more about CCD No. 1 by visiting their website or find them on Facebook.

This coming Monday (21st) at 5:30PM, CCD No. 1 will be hosting its Monthly Public Work Session Meeting at Redline at 24th and Arapahoe.  This meeting is especially important because ALL temporary design plans for Triangle Parks will be presented. The goal is to collect all public and stakeholder feedback and select a concept to advance. The CCD No. 1 Creative Working Group meets every Monday at 10AM at 450 E. 17th Ave #400. This group exists to focus on the temporary and long term vision surrounding Eddie Maestas. The Long Term Vision Group meets every Monday at 11AM at Redline. This group focuses on the entire Northeast Downtown neighborhood area and the many possibilities for revitalization. Any and all are welcome and encouraged to attend both the monthly work session next Monday and the Creative Working Group meetings!

People Are Pedestrians By Design

By Gosia Kung

There is something absolutely amazing that happens when a child takes her first steps. As she starts exploring the world in the vertical position her perception changes. And this new spatial awareness transforms her from an infant into a person. It’s almost as the ability to walk defines a child as a human being.

Through evolution humans became pedestrians. The scientists study the connection between “feet and head” and how the development of people as walkers and runners effected the development of our brains. We all know this feeling, when we pace around the room in search for a solution to a problem or go for a walk to ‘clear our head’. The connection between the brain and the feet is clear.

For thousands of years of evolution walking was the only form of transportation available to most. Our brains are “hard wired” to the experience of walking as our eyes are conditioned to register the objects at 3 miles/ hour. At this speed human brain is able to acknowledge a face of the passerby, a flower, a bird or a sign in a storefront.

Walking is also an integral part of our social life. People like to be surrounded by other human beings and walking allows for opportunity to “bump into” an old friend, a conversation, an observation, and a participation in activity.

People’s bodies and minds are designed to participate in a pedestrian lifestyle. As technological advancements allowed us to “engineer walking out of our lifestyle” we are faced with multitude of problems from depression to diabetes and from anxiety to cardiovascular disease.

While entire health industry is alarmed by increasing rates of obesity and every day we hear recommendations for adding physical activity to our lifestyle it is important to note that simple walking twice a day for 15 minutes at a time is often enough to maintain a healthy weight. But most urban and suburban areas developed in last 50-60 years are not designed for pedestrians. Intense traffic, lack of sidewalks and ped infrastructure make it unsafe to walk.

In order to allow people to be pedestrians again we need to design streets and public spaces to the “human scale”. Creating places that are safe and fun to walk will soon result with people incorporating walking into their daily routine. Walking to school, running errands on foot and using transit for longer trips will become a part of healthier and more sustainable lifestyle.

Because “people are pedestrians by design”.

For more information please visit WalkDenver at


Gosia Kung, Architect, LEED AP BD+C – was born in Krakow, Poland where has received a degree in Architecture and Urban Design from University of Technology in 1996. Her passion for urban design and sustainable city planning is well grounded in historic context of European towns and enriched with her experience as a practicing architect in the US in last 15 years. As a principal/owner of KUNG architecture her mission is to promote ‘sustainable solutions for the urban lifestyle’. Her focus is on design, education, and consulting in areas of mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods supported by public transit. Gosia is the founder of WalkDenver. She can be reached by email at: gkung *at* kungarch *dot* com.

Nuclear power, the US, and Japan

Question: How might the disaster in Japan kill thousands of Americans? Answer: If anti-nuclear knee-jerk reactionaries are successful in using the Japanese tsunami as political leverage to scare Americans from investing in more nuclear power.

How so? Because every year 30,000 Americans die from causes related to coal power production. Thirty thousand. That’s more dead Americans every year than in the entire Revolutionary War. It’s five times as many dead Americans as the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars combined. It’s almost twice the 18,000 estimated Japanese dead from the tsunami disaster.

The longer we use coal instead of nuclear for the majority of our power generation in this country, the more Americans will die.

While we’re on the subject, let’s also talk about how dangerous the nuclear situation in Japan actually is. The chart below is a snippet from a much larger one comparing radiation doses received for a variety of events. Note that the additional radiation doses received by Japanese citizens in villages near the breaking-down nuclear plant average less than a normal day’s dose (which is to say, they’re getting less than twice the normal daily dose that you get simply by living on the surface of the Earth). They’re less than you get from a dental x-ray, and much less than you get by flying on a jet from New York to Los Angeles.

It’s true that a relatively small number of workers at the plant are getting much higher doses, but the danger to the mass population is quite low. Meanwhile, thousands of people around the world continue to die every day as a result of coal power production. Far more than will ever die as a result of nuclear radiation from any of these Japanese plants. The 30,000 American deaths per year attributed to coal average to more than 80 per day, which is nothing compared to the average of almost 1,400 per day from China’s half-million annual coal deaths.

I don’t mean to imply that we should treat nuclear power lightly. Of course the only reason it’s so safe is that tremendous safety measures are involved. We should absolutely learn from the disaster in Japan to improve safety however possible. But one thing we cannot afford to do is allow knee-jerk reactionaries to stop America from expanding our nuclear production capacity. The human toll of such narrow thinking would simply be too great.

click to enlarge
Radiation doses from a variety of sources.
Image from

Prairie Dogs

Let’s talk prairie dogs. The cute, annoying, burrowing animals (which my dogs love to chase) that are very prevelant all along the Front Range. RTD’s East Corridor project will be impacting colonies of prairie dogs on its trek from Denver Union Station to DIA.

RTD can’t simply build right over the little buggers, so they have implemented a Prairie Dog Mitigation Guidance policy (in full compliance with Federal and state standards, of course). There are four steps included in this policy:

  1. Attempt to avoid colonies greater than two acres in size.
  2. If that isn’t possible, move towards a live relocation (rounding them up and moving them somewhere else). Prairie dogs are so popular that any relocation across county lines requires approval by the Board of Commissioners from the receiving county – this is required by state law.
  3. In the event that a live relocation isn’t feasible, the prairie dogs are humanely euthanized and donated to programs and organizations for injured raptors or black-footed ferrets (endangered).
  4. In the event no recovery program will take the prairie dogs, they are humanely euthanized on-site.

In RTD’s case along the East Corridor, a live relocation was not possible. A willing relocation site was not found in time – therefore, the third option was used. RTD, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), and local jurisdictions tried finding willing recipients for the prairie dogs beginning in 2007. That effort proved fruitless, however. Denver Transit Partners (DTP, RTD’s concessionaire on the Eagle Project) contacted a dozen local jurisdictions and potential relocation programs, but no willing recipients stepped forward.

RTD and DTP have a commitement from a local injured-raptor recovery program to use the prairie dogs euthanized along the East Corridor as a food source for its program. Some of the raptors benefiting from this arrangement are either threatened or endangered species. If the raptor program cannot use the upwards of 400 prairie dogs expected, RTD and DTP have an agreement from a black-footed ferret recovery program as well. RTD and DTP will continue to puruse live relocation along the corridor if relocaton areas can be identified and feasible.

Utility relocations are currently underway (which we will cover soon) and major construction activities will start later this year and in early 2012. This is another sign of progress along the East Corridor – less than 5 years until we can take a train from downtown to DIA!

The Growing Links Between Health and Communities

By Jessica Osborne

I am hopelessly in love with cities and the stories they tell.  In my senior year at Colorado College, I spent the fall semester with a team of students and facilitators in Chicago, focused on Urban Studies. Together, we explored its public systems: schools, parks and recreation, safety, housing, and my favorite of them all, transportation.  For the purposes of historical context, my family has called Colorado home for several generations, and after my excursion “abroad”, I was eager to return.  I love it here, but those countless moments of lucidity in my Hyde Park apartment no longer allowed me to regard my high desert existence through the same lens.  Even now, I yearn for that undeniably distinct sense of place, and to feel as deeply connected to it as Chicagoans do.  That being said, I have no plans to relocate to the Windy City.  Way too cold for my Colorado sensibilities, and not enough sky.

Later that winter as I was writing my thesis, I moved through my brief experience there.   Scampering up the stairs to the El platform, late to class and barely getting through the closing train doors, walking down neighborhood streets thick with fallen leaves, coffee shops and karaoke bars next to neat rows of brick homes. The people around me who helped negotiate foreign circumstances, and connected me to experiences that moved me at times to tears, and later to action.  I learned Chicago best through its inhabitants and their daily rituals that for a moment were also mine.

And the undeniably raw beauty of the city is ubiquitous.  The wisdom of communities who protected their children, elders, and their vulnerable, those who celebrated their stories, and loved their streets, and those who didn’t.  The startling dichotomy of pride and disinvestment could vary by any given block I happened to walk through.

I subsequently earned dual Masters Degrees in Urban and Regional Planning and Urban Design and a certificate in Historic Preservation.  I studied in Rome, and continue to travel, always fascinated by how people define place. After years of working in local government as a strategic planner, and a brief sojourn into consulting for a planning and design firm, my career is in public health, refining the connections that link the built environment to population-based health and well-being.  The linkages between the two concepts converge in elegant ways as my perspective and understanding grows. My awareness of how our country and state is impacted by obesity and chronic disease demands action, and I am determined to fix the broken system that inadequately supports the health and well-being of people.  I want people to access great places that inspire and also improve their health.

I believe how we choose to define our wellness is inextricably linked to where and how we live.  Place making can begin as an intricate system of bureaucratic checks and balances, decisions made on paper, soberly judged by a standard we collectively agree upon.  Or it could be organic and spontaneous, authentic, and original. My colleague in public health often poses this question: What we design and build will inevitably have an impact on our health.  The question is what kind of an impact would you like to have?


Jessica Osborne is an urban planner and designer working for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, linking the built environment to health for communities across the state