Mariposa Redevelopment Master Plan and Healthy Living Initiative

When the Denver Housing Authority (DHA) first talked with residents about a new transit-oriented housing development in the La Alma/Lincoln Park neighborhood near downtown Denver, they recognized the need to design beyond buildings – to achieve a holistic sustainability that improved health and overall quality of life. Not only does the area face poverty levels that are triple Denver’s average, it has significant health concerns as well. More than 38% of residents report a chronic health condition that prevents them from working, such as asthma, diabetes or heart problems.

The transformative redevelopment proposed for the neighborhood was aptly named Mariposa (‘butterfly’ in Spanish), and the corresponding Mariposa Healthy Living Initiative framed physical, mental, and community health as a proxy for measuring success. A master planning design team led by Mithun conducted a health impact assessment, established baseline metrics, and tailored the Healthy Development Measurement Tool to help designers, developers, and other practitioners address community wellbeing in a comprehensive manner.

Community engagement was key to understanding local concerns related to pedestrian safety, social cohesion, and access to healthy foods. Stakeholder interviews, a pedestrian audit, youth visioning sessions, and outreach to targeted populations resulted in the identification of distinctive, community-driven design elements – including a central plaza, connective parks, and community gardens. “The power of the Mariposa Healthy Living Initiative is that it combines applied research and real experiences of residents. True community-based design transforms data to knowledge which results in profound insights, the ability to unlock the power of evidence-based design, and ultimately improved health outcomes,” says Erin Christensen Ishizaki, project lead and Associate Principal with Mithun.

The resulting Mariposa Redevelopment Master Plan guides an equitable, health-and transit-oriented redevelopment scheme for 270 existing public housing units. The redevelopment of this 17.5-acre site will add a mix of uses and nearly triple the existing density, with 900 new mixed-income homes (1/3 public, 1/3 workforce, 1/3 market rate). It also provides for significant investments in open space, infrastructure, and public realm improvements. The Phase 1, 100-unit Tapiz apartment building was completed in 2012, and two other sites are under construction. The project has attracted more than $40 million in federal funds, and is aligned with sustainability performance metrics including LEED-ND and the Sustainable Sites Initiative.

Active Design Highlights

  1. Improved mobility. The new Master Plan calls for neighborhood traffic calming, a new bike lane, access to the new onsite Denver B-cycle bike share system, and a free shuttle bus to Denver Health Medical Center.
  2. A safe, attractive public realm. The Plan incorporates new street tree plantings, building murals and other public art that celebrates the neighborhoods cultural diversity, public plazas, and a community garden.
  3. Programming to support health. A range of programs are available to residents. Mariposa has a Healthy Living Coordinator who organizes walking groups, health classes, and other services. An onsite Youth Culinary Academy and new Osage Café offers job training along with a healthy restaurant option.

Evaluation Highlights

A customized “Mariposa Healthy Living Tool” identifies key indicators of community health. Between 2009 and 2012 the neighborhood tracked a number of positive changes, including:

  • Percent of residents with access to open space and nature within ½ mile increased from 26% to 32%.
  • Number of healthy food outlets within ½ mile increased from 0 to 1.
  • Total crime rate per 1,000 people decreased from 248 to 157. Neighborhood crime rates strongly influence the willingness to let children walk, bike, or play outside.

A full report on the Mariposa Healthy Living Initiative can be found here.

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    The Mariposa Healthy Living Initiative is driven by six key factors that promote healthy communities; Image courtesy of Mithun.
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    Improving the public realm to support physical activity and well-being is a major strategy in creating "Healthy Places"; Image courtesy of Mithun.
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    As a result of the initiative, art has been integrated into the public infrastructure. The Tapiz Mural is shown here; Image courtesy of Mithun.