A vacant city block near downtown Denver, once home to a rundown public housing project, happens to be collecting a remarkable set of innovations that can serve as sustainable tools for the world’s poor.
The Denver Sustainability Park, opened this last April, is evolving into a demonstration for what can happen when renewable energy proponents, champions of urban agriculture, affordable housing, and sustainability sit at a table with a land owner who wants to demonstrate something good.
The rundown public housing project that used to dot this land has since been razed and its residents moved to better digs courtesy of its owner, the Denver Housing Authority (DHA), the largest landowner in the city. Colorado Renewable Energy Society (CRES) manages the project.
The first look at this demonstration park under development is enough to amaze. It brings to mind Kevin Costner’s memorable line when he dug up his cornfield to create a baseball diamond: “If you build it, they’ll come.”
In this case, they have come, indeed. What many believed was blighted land is being transformed into a number of luminous examples for how a sustainable solution might really look. The park already showcases a number of impressive models for renewable energy, practical housing for impoverished or displaced people, urban gardens and aquaponics systems capable of providing low-cost fresh produce and fish.
DHA junior project manager Chris Spelke, reflects on the implications of what he sees being built: “Sustainability Park is meant to serve as a demonstration and education center for programs, technologies, and design elements that advance the vision for healthy, vibrant communities and sustainable development.”
Add a hands-on educational component to spread the word and the picture gets even better. Plus a complete bicycle station where a bike can be rented for an affordable price tag. “Transportation is critical to this idea,” adds Spelke.
The Denver Sustainability Park has attracted a coterie of humanitarian architects, designers, engineers, students and social entrepreneurs interested in demonstrating cost-effective ways to increase access to food and water, energy, education, healthcare, revenue-generating activities, and affordable transportation for those who most need them.
It’s fitting somehow that a block away Denver’s Redline Gallery has shown an exhibition, “Design for the Other 90%.” Scheduled to close this month, this national exhibit was developed by New York’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. Concerning the rationale for this show, Cooper-Hewitt writes: “Of the world’s total population of 6.5 billion, 5.8 billion people, or 90%, have little or no access to most of the products and services many of us take for granted; in fact, nearly half do not have regular access to food, clean water, or shelter. Design for the Other 90% explores a growing movement among designers to design low-cost solutions for this “other 90%.”
Spelke says there is nothing quite like this demonstration site anywhere else in the United States. It’s a demonstration worth exploring. In upcoming articles on the Denver Sustainability Park, I will visit with some of the people who are building and teaching here.
Photos: DHA and Meyers