By Celeste Benzschawel
It’s not news that the Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods are some of the most polluted neighborhoods in Denver. The area is home to a few EPA Superfund sites, and Brownfield sites, designated as blighted soil by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, have played a part in earning this designation.
There is currently a separate health study underway conducted by Colorado State University to examine how the neighborhoods are affected by pollutants. Armando Payan, a G.E.S. resident since 1961 and community liaison of United Community Action Network (UCAN) Metro Denver, said the neighborhoods have felt neglected for the past 100 years.
To sum it all up, G.E.S. residents are, and have been, looking for actionable solutions to enhance their quality of life, Payan said. To facilitate a means of envisioning a healthier neighborhood, 13 residents, 10 community organizations, and more than 30 supporters and volunteers came together for the G.E.S. Neighborhoods Climate Action Summit in early December.
Host organizations of the event included UCAN, Accelerate Neighborhood Climate Action (ANCA), and JSI Research & Training Institute, Inc. (JSI). Brad Buchanan of The National Western Center supported the event by providing the facility and resources. The summit was a result of two prior community gatherings, the former of which were Environmental Fiestas that took place at Tepeyac Community Health Center and Argo Park in summer and fall 2022.
Alexia Eslan, director at JSI, a public health research and consulting organization, said that they’ve been working in the G.E.S. communities for years now and they’ve created a partnership with ANCA for their work on other neighborhood climate action plans. It was through that partnership that JSI met Payan.
“We love the focus on neighborhoods,” said Sunny Walker, acting executive director of ANCA. “There’s hardly anybody else doing that in terms of climate work. And resilience needs to be met or built or strengthened. I think neighborhoods like G.E.S. are perhaps more resilient than other more affluent neighborhoods because they’ve had to be.”
So far ANCA has done 23 climate action forums across neighborhoods in Denver and Boulder. JSI, who works nationwide, has seen that it’s cities and states that generally have climate action plans, not neighborhoods.
Participants identified 10 priority areas: access to essential needs (including health care and healthy foods), environmental advocacy around air quality, civic activism, resident retention, enhanced mobility, G.E.S. greenbelt, home ownership, public safety, youth empowerment, and capacity building for fundraising.
In all G.E.S. neighborhoods 50% of the residents are renters, and specifically in Elyria 70% rent their homes. The goal is to increase the resident population to then increase empowerment for home ownership, Payan said.
Next steps will come early this year, with two more phases of the G.E.S. Neighborhoods Climate Action Summit. In Phase 2, the participating residents, now taking on “community consultant” roles, will continue developing their plans of action with their self-appointed teams. Phase 3 will include another community gathering to share resources and ideas from their developed action plans, and then get paired up with other community-based organizations who are already working in G.E.S. to support their next steps. Funding from Denver’s Office of Climate Action, Sustainability, and Resiliency (CASR), as well as a microgrant from the Denver Community Active Living Coalition (CALC), made it possible to host this first phase of the summit.
“The things that we’re doing, it’s not just G.E.S. It’s also RiNo, it’s everybody, it’s the city and county of Denver, the state of Colorado, our efforts are not just limited here,” Payan said.
More resident participation is also paramount in continuing the work. Now that the action plans have been identified, JSI, UCAN, and ANCA are working on encouraging more people to engage in actually developing them, Walker and Eslan agreed.
People interested in participating can reach out to healthy.GES@gmail.com for more information.