New day dawning on Denver’s Sun Valley neighborhood
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