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It’s Official: We Are In

By Air And By Land, With Energy, Water And People

By Tracey MacDermott, GPHC, Inc. Board Chair

Great news, for Greater Park Hill. We have been accepted into Denver’s Sustainable Neighborhood Program, joining 11 other neighborhoods that are already part of the program. We look forward to meeting with those neighborhoods in order to learn from them and build a citywide movement toward sustainability.

The program is intended to encourage all of us to work toward lowering our neighborhood’s ecological footprint. This was our third attempt to qualify, and we are thrilled to be accepted into this competitive program. The program has five goal categories: air, land, energy, water, and people. We will be implementing programs and workshops throughout the year; we also want to hear your ideas to enhance our efforts. One of the best resources we have is the passion and ideas that come from citizens.

Here’s how the program works, as stipulated by the City and County of Denver’s Department of Environmental Health: Participating Sustainable Neighborhoods earn credits for achieving sustainability goals by completing projects such as offering xeriscaping workshops, holding workdays at a local community garden, installing artwork in neighborhood alleys, and encouraging neighbors to commit to making their homes more energy efficient. Depending on the number of credits earned in a given year, neighborhoods can be designated as a “Participating Sustainable Neighborhood” or an “Outstanding Sustainable Neighborhood.” Credits are earned from the city based on participation and project accomplishments.

For example, the effort to detect radon and perchloroethylene in the homes of Northeast Park Hill has led to further studies in homes throughout Park Hill. One of our objectives will be to expand education to residents on this issue. Knowledge, after all, is a key driver of change.

Moving the needle

Coordinator Taylor Moeller said that the program is funded through the Enterprise Fund, which is in turn funded through landfill operations (at the Denver Arapahoe Disposal Site). We leverage many existing programs within the city when working with residents, including the Denver Energy Challenge, Denver Recycles and Certifiably Green Denver, to name a few. We also partner with many nonprofit groups to offer information and resources to neighborhood projects. Our neighbors have gotten pretty savvy at soliciting donations of space, expertise, food, and materials too.

“We always knew it would take more resident-led action and behavior change to move the needle on sustainability,” Moeller said. “The projects that neighborhoods in this program have led support all of Denver’s 2020 Sustainability Goals, from increasing the city’s recycling rates to reducing the number of single occupancy vehicle trips.”

“The beauty is that this program doesn’t tell residents what to do to become more sustainable, the ideas come from the residents and our job is to help them turn those ideas into reality,” she continued. “There is so much knowledge and excitement around sustainability right now. The program gives people a platform to share that with their neighbors, in a way that a couple city employees could never hope to replicate. We are using our best asset – all of you – to help Denver take meaningful steps towards sustainability.”

Five-pronged approach

Park Hill is already an outstanding neighborhood so we will be working towards the “Outstanding Sustainable Neighborhood” status. I believe our neighborhood will be a leader on this initiative with the city and can be a driver for change to enhance our neighborhood and protect this planet. We will be working on all five categories in the program.

In order to improve air quality, both indoor and outdoor, we will continue to work to improve the walkability and bikability within our boundaries, as well as testing for radon and working with a community forester to help residents with planting shade trees. Increasing our urban tree canopy will help reduce pollution, mitigate the urban heat effect, reduce criminal activity and create a sense of wellbeing.

To meet the requirements for the land component we will continue to strive for zero waste at our highly attended September Home Tour & Street Fair, as well as in our office. We will work with neighbors to educate and encourage this practice. We currently help reduce the amount of fresh food ending up in a landfill by continuing our free farm stand on Mondays throughout the growing season. The recycling rates vary within our boundaries. We will work with neighbors to help them sign up for free recycling and educate neighbors about the importance of both recycling and composting, eventually decreasing the amount that ends up in landfills. Several educational sessions will include a Community Garden Network and an Unlikely Planters workshop.

To address the energy component we will promote the Denver Energy Challenge, which will help guide homeowners about energy efficiency improvements. We will continue green practices within our offices, which currently include a garden, composting, recycling, redistributing expired food to Project THRIVE (an animal rescue operation) and many more programs.

In September we will hold a “Demystifying Solar” program that will bring neighbors interested in solar, provide education, and link residents to solar energy providers. This program arose from suggestions provided by neighbors who participated in our online petition for the support of this Sustainable Neighborhood program.

The water goal will focus on educating neighbors and businesses on low and no-cost stormwater mitigation and water conservation strategies. We will be holding stormwater workshops which will help both business and residents improve both their landscape to capture water and our downstream effect. We are collaborating with the University of Colorado at Boulder to develop and build raingarden demonstration projects.

These projects will be educational sites for our citizens and spark ideas. In addition, we are asking citizens to adopt blocks, alleys and drains to keep trash and debris from going downstream and out of our water system. Now that rain water capturing is an allowable practice we will be conducting a “Build Your Own Rain Barrel” class, which will encourage the use of items you already have.

Think globally, act locally

The fifth part of the program surrounds people. That is where you come in. All of the activities above rely on engaging people as educators, mentors and partners in our work. Sustainability can be easy and fun, but it takes support and care from educators and mentors, including our community forester, beekeepers, and others who will help in reducing our ecological footprint.

I would like to thank the volunteers and GPHC’s executive directors (both past and current) who have worked on the committee to get this done. Without their wide scope of talent and skills this would not have been possible.

The best way to combat climate change will arise from our individual choices and communities that support the ability for a more thoughtful approach to the future. Let’s get to work!

You can review the program details at

Tracey MacDermott is chair of the board of Greater Park Hill Community, Inc. Active in the Registered Neighborhood Organization for many years, MacDermott was the 2012 recipient of the Dr. J. Carlton Babbs Award for Community Service. She was trained as a Climate Reality Leader in 2017.

Illustration by Blair Taylor

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