Most students cram a textbook or study guide into their backpacks as they race to class. But Anna Rose Cunningham, a first-year Master of Urban and Regional Planning student, instead reached for a clipboard and comfortable pair of shoes apt for hitting the streets of Arvada.
Cunningham was one of nearly 200 students who worked alongside University of Colorado Denver faculty and City of Arvada staff on public welfare projects through the Hometown Colorado Initiative, which celebrated the culmination of a two-year partnership on May 9 at Arvada City Hall.
“This partnership was truly a collaboration taking support from the chancellor down to the students and the mayor down to the residents of Arvada,” said Lori Catalano, assistant professor of landscape architecture and interim manager of Hometown Colorado. “Everyone entered into this agreement recognizing that we need to work together.”
Projects span the city
The partnership yielded over 70,000 hours of student work and 17 city projects addressing all facets of the city, including community development, public works, parks and recreation, economic development, housing, water conservation and more. As part of her Urban Development course, Cunningham logged countless hours on a travel-demand initiative analyzing case studies and generating a parking inventory by counting parking spaces across the city.
“Being there, out in Arvada, helps you really understand the issue,” said Cunningham, who, prior to this project, visited shops and restaurants in Arvada’s Olde Town and witnessed the problems with parking accessibility. Now, with the parking study completed, she’s become part of the solution.
“This was a win-win-win situation—our students, the city staff, and the citizens of Arvada all benefited,” said CU Denver Chancellor Dorothy Horrell, who attended the celebration where posters and proposals were displayed throughout the lobby of Arvada City Hall. “When I look at these projects, I see the intellect and ingenuity of our students at work. This is truly learning in action.”
Agriculture Master Plan
One such stroke of genius resulted in a long-awaited Agriculture Master Plan to utilize existing parks and open space for collaborative food production, distribution and consumption. Through an inventive approach to agriculture, the plan envisioned every Arvada resident living within a mile of an agriculture site or activity such as a neighborhood farm, a greenhouse or even an edible trail system (a trail offering edible plants along its route).
“We had people here really thinking outside of the box,” said Arvada Mayor Marc Williams, noting this plan would be the first of its kind in the country. For years, the city had plans for such a system but lacked resources and time to bring its vision to fruition.
“This initiative started many years ago but was elevated and accelerated through Hometown Colorado,” said Sarah Washburn, Arvada’s manager of parks and urban design.
According to Rita McConnell, director of community development for the city, the interdisciplinary and collaborative nature of Hometown Colorado was the key to the success of projects like the Agriculture Master Plan, which will soon be presented to the community.
“You have all those minds coming up with all those ideas,” said McConnell. “Hometown Colorado offers new perspectives that serve practical projects. I know so many cities that could benefit from this kind of work.”
As Hometown Colorado wrapped up its projects with Arvada, the initiative repositioned itself to a more multidisciplinary approach. While previously operated within the College of Architecture and Planning, it plans to merge with CU Denver’s new CityCenter, set to launch this summer in the CU Denver Building. CityCenter will serve as the university’s front door and match faculty expertise and student ingenuity with civic and business leaders.
“The intent of Hometown Colorado is to work across the university and bring together faculty and students from a variety of backgrounds – design, business, arts, policy,” said Catalano. “By going to CityCenter, we’re certain Hometown Colorado can broaden its reach.”
Nolbert Chavez, CityCenter executive director, also saw the potential of such a partnership.
“Hometown Colorado collaborates with vibrant cities to turn knowledge into action,” said Chavez. “CityCenter will build off this momentum and tap into the many talents of the campus so, together, we can strengthen the great communities of our state.”