A Tour of Mariposa: Equitable Transit-Oriented Development

DHA Executive Director Ismael Guerrero at the Mariposa development in Denver, Colo.

More than 10 years ago, the city of Denver, Colo., began its FasTracks endeavor to expand and improve its rapid transit system — an expansion that continues today. A combination of bus rapid transit and light rail, the growing transit system presented the city’s government, non-profit organizations and for-profit businesses with the opportunity to improve and revitalize housing and communities along the system’s newest corridors, with an eye toward benefitting all Denver residents.

Mile High Connects is a three-year-old collaboration between non-profit, public and private sector partners to ensure that the transit expansion allows for all residents to gain access to affordable housing, good jobs, choice education and quality health care. Together, the partners work to leverage the city’s extensive transportation investments to improve outcomes in a number of other areas for all of Denver’s communities.

By encouraging transit-oriented development (TOD) of affordable housing, Mile High Connects has improved access to resources in the following six core areas: health, housing, jobs, transportation, organization, and education.

Connecting the Community

The Denver Housing Authority (DHA) has also leveraged the FasTracks expansion to improve the quality of life for many of its public and workforce housing residents.

The original public housing located on the Mariposa site

One example of the opportunities that the FasTracks light rail system has afforded Denver’s low-income residents is the Mariposa development near downtown. Originally, the area consisted of a discrete development of 250 two-level public housing row homes that was cut off from the resources and residents of the surrounding communities. The area was also designated as a food desert.

When complete, Mariposa will include eight phases of mixed-income, mixed-use housing that includes equal parts subsidized housing, public housing, market-rate housing and retail space for community-based organizations. The DHA is using a HOPE VI grant to replace 250 units of public housing in the new development using a checkerboard approach, so that no residents are displaced before new homes are built for them. So far, roughly 40 percent of the residents have opted to stay in the community.

Diversified Community

10th Street promenade

The new mixed-income community has revitalized the area surrounding the 10th and Osage light rail station, breaking down physical barriers between the public housing units and the rest of the community and infusing the area with community-informed retail and services. In addition, DHA has transformed 10th Street into a promenade that connects the rail station to the nearby Art District on Santa Fe — drawing visitors from across the city to an area that was once looked over.

Healthy Living Initiative

DHA has designed Mariposa using a set of key design principles developed under the Healthy Living Initiative. Bike stations and walking paths promote physical activity among residents, while proximity to the light rail station reduces auto dependence and encourages residents to walk.

In addition, Denver Urban Gardens (DUG) has helped to create urban farms to address the former food desert on the Mariposa site. DUG teaches residents how to farm, manages food production for on-site farmers markets and brings in surplus fruits and vegetables from other urban farms. Eventually, Mariposa’s urban farms will supply a portion of ingredients used in the local café’s menu.

Active stairwell art installation

Health is at the center of many design decisions in the buildings, as well. Active stairwells located near the building entrances encourage all residents to take the stairs over the elevators. One example includes a sculpture and a story installation that extend all the way to the top of the stairs. The interactive story installation features noises and buttons to attract children.

Retail Space for Community Partners

In an innovative twist on mixed-use development, DHA has offered up all of the Mariposa retail space to community partners at very low costs. In exchange for minimal rent and covering their own outfitting and operating costs, these community partners bring much-needed health and educational services and programming to the development’s low-income residents.

Resident art that promotes healthy living

For example, Youth on Record will design and build a recording studio in one retail space in order to teach local children music and the career skills needed in the recording industry. A culinary academy, complete with a commercial kitchen, teaches residents to cook healthy foods and provides the breakfast and lunch fare for the adjoining Osage Café.

Arts Street uses ground-floor space at Mariposa to provide residents with job training in the creative arts and technology, including 3D mapping and architecture. Much of the program’s art is also used around the community to promote healthy behaviors and physical activity.