How Communities Can Make Local Sustainability More Inclusive

Communities on the front line of climate impacts are leading the movement to address this challenge and prepare for the future. More than 80% of Americans now live in urban communities, including cities, towns, and populous counties. These communities, where Americans live, learn, work, worship, and vote, are incubators of policy innovation and public engagement.

The challenge for community leaders is to ensure that advancements in local sustainability are not reserved for the well-heeled. In Denver, a planned eco-district aims to provide direct benefits to Sun Valley, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city, and is engaging the residents there as the planning gets underway to gain their vision for what sustainability means.

Local sustainability is built from the ground up, from blocks and neighborhoods, to districts and entire cities. It’s built by people, for people. A fundamental tenant of sustainability is that every citizen deserves to live in a vibrant, secure, and healthy neighborhood.

In Denver, local leaders have engaged the planning help of EcoDistricts, a non-profit organization that employs a holistic approach to designing and implementing ecodistrict plans. In addition to the typical elements of renewable energy and energy efficiency, the Sun Valley project will incorporate parks and open space, walkability, better grocery options, and other amenities that local residents can engage in and appreciate.

In addition to real improvements in local livability, these amenities will send clear messages to the residents of Sun Valley that their vitality and well-being is important. Words like “sustainability,” and “eco-district” may draw quizzical looks, or even scorn, from the people who live in Sun Valley, but green space, affordable and efficient housing, locally grown and locally available food, and safe streets form a vocabulary that tells an unmistakable story – what is good for the city is good for every resident, regardless of their neighborhood or personal circumstances.

Or as one resident of Sun Valley put it, when asked her feelings about living in an eco-district, “I don’t know that that means,” she said. “But I like parks and fresh air. And, like, if I could have my own garden, I would.”

Denver’s Low-Income Sun Valley Targeted for “Eco-District” Overhaul 

Bruce Finley | The Denver Post | September 14, 2014

Denver’s lowest-income neighborhood, Sun Valley, is being targeted by outside planners for a green transformation into a model, sustainable “eco-district” — hailed as the next major advance of a booming metropolis.

The residents are waiting to learn details.

But if environment-friendly redevelopment leads to real benefits — better parks and open space, walkable grocery, modern energy-efficient housing to replace the dilapidated projects — many residents are favorably inclined.

They’re part of a broadening urban constituency that the American environmental movement is trying to embrace.

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