By Rebecca A. Hunt
In 2016, Denver Community Planning and Development (CPD) started a process to help each neighborhood envision, get feedback on and develop solid plans that would help each become an even better place to live.
By 2021, Far Northeast and East Denver neighborhoods had completed their plans and others were in the works. In March 2023, the West area plan received approval from the City Council.
In 2021, CPD appointed a steering committee of residents and business leaders from what it calls the Near Northwest area – the neighborhoods of Chaffee Park, Sunnyside, Highland and Jefferson Park – to begin work on their own plan.
The process involved meeting monthly, and sometimes more often, brainstorming ideas for neighborhood improvements that could carry forward to 2040. It was an ambitious project.
The city had committed members of its planning staff to shepherd the committee, and also engaged consultants to help implement the group recommendations. Key to the process was a considerable amount of community comment. Because the four neighborhoods are diverse, including many Spanish speakers, the project included using promotoras, trained interviewers who reached out into the Latino community to ensure equitable input.
Project leaders held listening sessions at community festivals, community centers and dedicated meetings, and they sent out online surveys, held focus groups and basically went anywhere people would come to say what they wanted their neighborhoods to be into the future.
While these four sections of Northwest Denver have similarities, they also have significant differences. Jefferson Park is on the south and has had the largest percentage of its older housing replaced with large, rental residences. Highland is the oldest neighborhood with a blend of old and new housing and many small restaurants and other businesses. Sunnyside to the north is the most like Highland but has a large industrial area on its northeast side and the Quigg Newton public housing complex. Chaffee Park mostly dates from the 1940s and has the largest concentration of Latino homeowners.
For two years the community advisors, city planners and citizens built up a list of things they felt were necessary for quality of life. At the top were livability, affordability, maintaining a diverse population and giving people a diverse set of housing options.
Sung Han, the lead planner on the project, laid out the goals this way, saying the plan will “help residents build wealth and stay in their neighborhoods long-term; support local businesses and ensure neighborhood commercial areas that residents have come to depend on and identify with continue to thrive; ensure access to a variety of housing options; balance the preservation with new construction that’s compatible with existing architecture, including both residential areas and small-scale storefronts on historic ‘street car’ corridors; connect the area through an inter-neighborhood trail network and mobility improvements that prioritize pedestrians and alternative modes of transportation.”
A key piece of the process has been posting drafts of the plan for committee and public input. Three areas came to the fore in the comment sessions. They included reducing displacement; recognizing the importance of the neighborhood histories, including those of an area’s ethnic groups; and the need for keeping walkability by building safer intersections, broader sidewalks, ground floor businesses in new buildings and adding tree canopies and other greenscapes. Sustainability was another element brought up by those commenting on the draft plans.
The two-year project is winding down to a close. City staff are making final refinements to the plan after one last round of community input. The plan goes before Denver City Council in January 2024.
Rebecca Hunt is a columnist for The Denver North Star and serves on the steering committee for the Near Northwest Area Plan.