Sun Valley Healthy Living Initiative and “SOL” Health Action Plan Receive APA Award for Excellence in Sustainability

Date Posted: 06.21.2023

Mithun has been awarded an American Planning Association Award for Excellence in Sustainability for the Sun Valley Healthy Living Initiative and “SOL” Phase 3 Health Action Plan. The Excellence in Sustainability Awards recognize projects, policies, plans and people who show exemplary leadership and inspiration in sustainability planning and implementation, and the Quality of Life Award recognizes work that specifically improves the health and well-being of a community.

Together with the Denver Housing Authority, Mithun collaborated with residents and stakeholders in a co-design process on an action plan for inclusive growth in one of Colorado’s poorest census tracts. In Sun Valley, where the average life expectancy is nearly 10 years less than other neighborhoods in Denver, the Healthy Living Initiative (HLI) was launched with resident leaders to create a district-wide strategy for advancing community wellbeing. The HLI is a unique place- and people-based planning strategy, developed by Mithun, that drives decisions across the real estate, people/resident services, and property management departments for coordinated investment in direct community benefits.

During the APA 2023 National Conference, held in Philadelphia, Jennifer Koch of APA Sustainable Communities Division (SCD) highlighted the importance of the Sun Valley plan, noting that it “centers the health, wellbeing and resilience of communities to overcome decades of disinvestment common to many underserved historic American immigrant neighborhoods.”

Using resident experience and health research as a foundation, the Healthy Living Action Plan for Sun Valley centers on access to jobs, training, education, and sustainable infrastructure that benefits the culturally diverse resident population, creating an opportunity for the Sun Valley community to grow into a next-generation neighborhood and model of leadership. In addition to the district-wide plan, Mithun served as a health equity consultant for Phase 3 “SOL” apartments, providing project-specific guidance and criteria to reduce toxics and cancer, and support mental health.

Opportunities for job training, entrepreneurial growth and economic mobility are integrated in the district plan to overcome decades of barriers like long-term disinvestment, industrial pollution, flooding and physical isolation. The plan significantly expands housing choices, adds progressive district infrastructure and supports entrepreneurship and microbusinesses in a new Maker District. The plan was shaped around environmental justice to address wildfire smoke and other air quality events, reduce heat island effect and prepare spaces for future stressors.

The community prioritized social cohesion, safety, health care access, mental health, active lifestyle, education and jobs. Campaigns for Action bundled evidence-based strategies into community projects and programs that improve multiple health equity determinants, such as multi-purpose shaded areas in new open spaces. Decatur Fresh, a new fresh foods market, was implemented as part of redevelopment in 2021 with a focus on affordable, culturally relevant foods. It is run through a social enterprise of DHA that offers job training, and is stocked with produce from The Grow Garden, an urban farm also developed by DHA and operated with Denver Botanic Gardens.

The innovative HLI approach—including staff training, sustainability certification coordination, evaluation guidance and the creation of new social enterprise organizations—has structured a pathway for DHA and other organizations to operationalize a truly holistic strategy for community wellbeing. During Phase 3 of Sun Valley redevelopment, an interim evaluation found a 20% increase in physical activity, 13% more adults having routine check-ups, and a slight increase in social connections and safety of residents.

We are honored to be recognized for this work completed with the Denver Housing Authority, residents and many stakeholders in Sun Valley.