New day dawn­ing on Denver’s Sun Val­ley neigh­bor­hood

The Denver Post - - NEWS -

Sun Val­ley is a neigh­bor­hood of poverty — by de­sign. Now, af­ter decades of liv­ing out of sight and out of mind, the com­mu­nity is com­ing to the fore­front.

Trapped in an iso­lated seg­ment of the city, nearly all of the neigh­bor­hood’s res­i­dents live in gov­ern­ment hous­ing that was put there strate­gi­cally start­ing in the 1940s.

The an­nounce­ment last week that the city had won a $30 mil­lion fed­eral grant to re­de­velop the neigh­bor­hood is a win for all of Denver.

No longer will the 80 acres lo­cated just south of Mile High Sta­dium be a pocket of poverty.

About 1,500 peo­ple live in the neigh­bor­hood now and most of them are in the Sun Val­ley Homes hous­ing project owned by the city of Denver.

Un­der the plan, the city will re­place those hous­ing units with 750 units of city-owned af­ford­able and mixed-in­come hous­ing.

The money is com­ing from Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s Choice Neigh­bor­hoods Ini­tia­tive, a grant pro­gram through the De­part­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment meant to re­de­velop dis­tressed hous­ing. The first grants were awarded in 2011.

Denver didn’t win the grant by ac­ci­dent this year. It’s taken years of con­certed work to prime the pump for change.

For ex­am­ple, RTD light rail runs right through the neigh­bor­hood and the small en­clave has its own stop. It would have been easy for the new west­bound light rail to skip over Sun Val­ley and con­tinue a his­tory of iso­la­tion.

The vi­sion is that some­day fans headed to Mile High Sta­dium will use that stop and then walk through a vi­brant neigh­bor­hood, where an en­ter­tain­ment district will serve res­i­dents both rich and poor.

The en­ter­tain­ment district is just a vi­sion for now, but Denver’s new mixed-use hous­ing project will with any luck be a cat­a­lyst for pri­vate de­vel­op­ment.

The city plans to re­con­fig­ure streets to re­con­nect the com­mu­nity to down­town.

Plans in­clude river­front parks along the South Platte, an ed­uca- tion hub near the el­e­men­tary school and a healthy-food gro­cery store geared to meet the needs of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity al­ready liv­ing there.

As with any re­de­vel­op­ment ef­fort, the fear is that poorer res­i­dents will sim­ply be pushed out once gen­tri­fi­ca­tion begins. It would be a trav­esty to re­vi­tal­ize the area only to force out those who cur­rently call Sun Val­ley home, many of whom have lived their whole lives fight­ing for a bet­ter com­mu­nity.

We hope the city has taken the right steps to en­sure that won’t hap­pen.

To plan­ners’ credit, the Denver Hous­ing Author­ity walked away from a draft plan in 2009 that wasn’t com­pre­hen­sive enough. In 2011, of­fi­cials got the grant to be­gin the plan­ning process for Obama’s Choice Neigh­bor­hoods.

Now the city seems on the verge of right­ing past wrongs — years of pol­icy that clus­tered the poor to­gether and cre­ated an in­escapable cy­cle of poverty for gen­er­a­tions of fam­i­lies.

If all goes well, the chil­dren in Sun Val­ley will be the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of this grant and the city’s painstak­ing ef­forts.

The Denver Post ran a three­part se­ries on Sun Val­ley in 2010, ex­plor­ing the his­tory of the com­mu­nity and the some­times sad and of­ten hope­ful sto­ries of its res­i­dents.

One res­i­dent dream­ily told the Post re­porters: “Ten to 15 years from now, Sun Val­ley is re­made. It is as if down­town jumped the river.”

We share that vi­sion of hope.

A ren­der­ing of Sun Val­ley Phase 1 Hous­ing. Cour­tesy Denver

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