Investing in Discovery: NSF Civic Innovation Challenge Planning Grant

How can communities undo redlining and reimagine mobility investments to equitably build community health and wealth?

DU Grand Challenges Urban Sustainability Cohort members have teamed up with a diverse group of Denver regional partners to answer this question.

Together, the group hopes to co-design and pilot an accessible, resilient, multi-modal mobility system to support community-rooted development and connection in Denver’s Valverde neighborhood. 

The group’s work is being supported by a competitive planning grant from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) Civic Innovation Challenge. This national research and action competition emphasizes community-identified priorities and teams made up of both researchers and civic partners.

Civic partners include the Valverde Neighborhood Association, The Center for Community Wealth Building, Denver City Council Office District 7, Denver’s Department of Community Planning and Development, and the Denver Department of Transportation and Infrastructure’s (DOTI) Office of Community and Business Engagement (OCBE).

The planning grant’s lead institution, CU Denver’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning and College of Engineering, will head up the mobility and technology team on the project with additional civic partners including the Regional Transportation District and Denver Regional Council of Governments.

Drs. Cara DiEnno and Elizabeth Walsh from DU’s CCESL will lead the community engagement team to develop an online, interactive story map of the Valverde Neighborhood. Story maps powerfully integrate community stories with spatial data, community photographs, and archival documents providing a rich introduction to the story of a place and people. For an example, check out the Federal Boulevard Story Map, developed by DiEnno, Walsh, and other members of the DU Sustainability Cohort.

A dynamic, living story map for the Valverde Neighborhood promises to support neighbors, policy makers, and planners to better understand the complex history and current strengths of this culturally rich neighborhood so that they can more powerfully plan together for an equitable, sustainable, and flourishing future. 

Teams have just four months to engage in a structured process through Communities of Practice, designed and lead by MetroLab Network, to develop ideas and prepare for implementation. CCESL is ready to do this time-sensitive work, building on a track record of investment in community-engaged approaches to key sustainability questions and leadership development.

For example, DiEnno has collaborated with several City & County of Denver offices and local nonprofits over the past few years on a variety of projects aimed at enhancing community voices in public policy and planning. This work has been furthered by the DU Grand Challenges Urban Sustainability Cohort and has grown into the Campus-City Partnerships Team which includes Walsh. Walsh brought connections to colleagues at the University of Colorado-Denver as well as deep community ties in West Denver.

At the conclusion of the planning grant, the story map will form the foundation of an intersectional, integrated design process for a research-based pilot project. This project will support diverse stakeholders to “Undesign the Redline & Reimagine Mobility Investments” to equitably link jobs, housing, and other vital elements of community wealth and health building. The project builds on Denver’s “UnDesign the Redline” exhibit in partnership with Designing the We and Enterprise Community Partners.   

Read the Project Abstract here: https://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=2043330&HistoricalAwards=false

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