Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Project Features
This project advances diversity, equity and inclusion in a comprehensive way. Significantly, the project was initiated by the community as a response to disinvestment and disengagement by the City. A group of diverse small business owners and residents from a historically Black neighborhood invited the firm to engage with the community-led effort. The firm brought together a team of seven paid interns identifying as Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) to work in partnership with the community to gain real-world experience in working with diverse communities on equity-centered projects. The lived experiences of the intern team and their diverse perspectives led to a robust and authentic process which they were empowered to lead with the community stakeholders. The firm provided the interns’ time over ten weeks at no cost to the community, and the firm’s professional staff continues to support the project engagement and visioning pro-bono–a recognition of the value of authentic relationship and trust building and freeing up critical resources for the community to support ongoing capacity and implementation.
Over a ten-week period during summer 2022, seven interns from diverse backgrounds collaborated on a team project—with a real client and site—and delivered a green infrastructure roadmap to support a community-led, equity-focused urban greening effort in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood.
A historically Black neighborhood with a rich cultural history, Five Points faces built environment challenges resulting from discriminatory redlining, years of disinvestment, and climate change. A grassroots coalition of community members seeking to launch resident-led “greening” of the neighborhood requested support to advance their community engagement efforts and worked closely with the interns.
The interns created a roadmap that empowers community leaders to communicate and advocate for the value of green infrastructure, validates residents’ stories of lived experience with data and analysis and identifies priority improvements to maximize the coalition’s limited resources.
In summer 2022, seven BIPOC landscape architecture and planning students participated in a ten-week, full-time summer internship. Fully immersed in the firm’s studio environment and based in offices across the country, the intern team successfully collaborated on a project with real-world implications for equity, health and environmental justice.
The intern team was asked by the client to create a green infrastructure roadmap to support future community engagement and visioning for Denver’s Five Points neighborhood, one of the oldest and most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the city. The team worked directly with the client, a coalition of community members and local organizations working to increase access to ‘nearby nature’ for Five Points residents who have historically faced barriers to healthy outdoor spaces. The roadmap developed by the interns will support the clients’ goals of: creating a green community vision that supports implementation of climate-resilient, water-smart and pollinator-friendly greenery reflecting the values of the neighborhood; bolster efforts by local business owners to transform their own spaces; foster a green workforce development program for sustainability; and serve as a model for other communities to drive their own green infrastructure improvements in Denver and beyond.
The project kicked off with a site visit to Five Points, where the interns met with the client group and learned more about the history and context of the neighborhood. The neighborhood was the first predominantly Black community in Denver, and the area has been shaped by redlining and disinvestment. Serving as a cultural hub in Denver for generations, the neighborhood has experienced a transformation from an industrial zone to dense residential within the last 20 years while holding true to its legacy of art and culture.
The intern team mapped and analyzed environmental and social factors such as tree cover, transit, landmarks, parks, impervious surfaces, localized temperatures, income, age and race, as well as health data—asthma rates and other vulnerabilities. This mapping generated a data-backed story of inequities, highlighting the stark differences between Five Points and surrounding neighborhoods with higher household income averages and a less diverse demographic. The team determined that Five Points has only 1.8 acres of parks and open space per 1,000 residents, well below the Denver average of 8.9 acres per 1,000 residents and falling far short of the national average of 13.1 acres per 1,000 residents for urban areas. Additionally, nearly 60% of Five Points is comprised of impervious surfaces, one of the highest percentages in all of Denver. Exacerbating the heat island effect created by the lack of pervious surfacing is the indication that Five Points has, on average, only four trees per acre of land. By comparison, more well-resourced neighborhoods in Denver have twice the number of trees at eight per acre.
Having learned that the neighborhood has significant heat vulnerability, a measure determined by factors such as high physical exposure (lack of shade trees, prevalence of impervious surfacing) and low social adaptation (prevalence of air conditioning) the team focused on identifying priority zones for improvements that would increase climate resiliency and reduce vulnerability. The interns evaluated land use, landmarks, housing, and pedestrian/bicycle infrastructure to identify high-impact opportunity areas to that needed to be addressed.
Based on the identified priority areas, the team selected specific major and minor roads and created prototype typologies for streetscapes, parking lots, and commercial frontages that identify improvements to the tree canopy and infrastructure. These proposed changes help reduce the heat island effect, add green spaces, promote pedestrian and bicycle safety, and enhance community connectedness.
Importantly, the interns were empowered to lead an independent and autonomous process, and they coordinated meetings and led engagement with community members, BIPOC-owned small businesses, local nonprofit leaders, as well as the neighborhood’s City Council representative to understand the community’s history and future needs more fully.
One of the most vocalized needs from the client group and other stakeholders was the desire for a neighborhood park which could serve as a community gathering space. A long-neglected park space on the west side of the neighborhood, currently 17,000 square feet of concrete with no vegetation or shade, was identified as a space that could contribute to the neighborhood greening strategy and could be re-envisioned to better serve the community. The intern team visited the site with the client group, documented and evaluated existing conditions, best summarized as uncomfortable and unusable. Contributing to the constraints of the site is a long-running refusal by the managing city agencies to contribute to park enhancements. However, the park’s location provides an opportunity to serve as a green gateway to the neighborhood and serve as a catalyst site to spark interest in green infrastructure replication across the neighborhood. Additionally, the park captures significant stormwater flow from the greater neighborhood and provides an opportunity to filter contaminants before the water is discharged into the South Platte River.
The team developed several design alternatives and conducted multiple rounds of feedback with the client and engaged with community members during volunteer activation days to informally present options for priorities and design of Boxyard Park. From this feedback, they designed a preferred alternative that captures the potential for the space. The team also proposed strategically connecting the park to key locations across Five Points through a series of “green ribbons”, the concept for which is illustrated in the roadmap of typologies that link transit stops, local businesses, and other community infrastructure.
Significantly, as a direct result of the interns’ efforts to illustrate an exciting vision for Boxyard Park, the coalition has been granted permission to pursue the desired changes. Coalition leadership is in talks with city officials and local organizations to craft fundraising, implementation and sustainability plans for the park. Several philanthropic organizations have invited conversations to discuss funding the capital improvements to the park, and a local nonprofit is planning to develop a workforce development program to engage local youth in green career pathways as stewards of Boxyard Park and connected green infrastructure.
With these proposed improvements to the identified priority areas, the team estimates the ability to double the number of trees per acre, decrease Five Points’ heat vulnerability score by 50%, and increase the number of parks available to residents by 90%.
“This helps to take this project to the next level,” a coalition member shared. “This team filled a critical gap in this project, and we now have materials…to engage and inspire the community around this project. This gets me super excited about where we can go as we do more greening projects in Five Points and the greater Denver area.”
The coalition has already begun to engage the community using the roadmap. A full-time Community Partnerships Coordinator based in Five Points is advancing the visioning process and working with residents to prioritize pilot projects and build support for the Boxyard Park development. By presenting typologies of potential improvements throughout the neighborhood and preliminary concepts for a new local park, the intern team bolstered community engagement efforts and accelerated interest from funders and policy makers interested in supporting the community’s vision for a more equitable, green and resilient Five Points. Several demonstration projects are already installed or are under construction.
The intern who took on the project manager role for this project was most excited about the opportunity to collaborate closely with a community and bring the interns’ diverse backgrounds and knowledge to the table. “The work our team did provides the client and community motivation to keep this project moving forward,” he shared. “We made an accessible roadmap for the community for creating healthy outdoor spaces.”
Documents and Media
Planning Docs (if applicable):