Voice of Denver: Civic Duty is at the Core of the Inclusive City

Heather B. Baker of Otten Johnson says Denver's inclusivity is key to the city's success. It's essential to get as many residents as possible to participate.
"[This] city is what it is because our citizens are what they are." -- Plato
The term inclusiveness is popping up more and more in conversations about diversity. Whereas the diversity of a group or city means that there are representatives of a variety of ­­­­­_____ (fill in the blank with ethnicities, races, sexual orientations, age groups, economic statuses, industry representatives, etc.), the inclusiveness of the group is gauged by how many of these are allowed to voice their opinions and actually participate. Dialogue and respect are cornerstones of what it means to be truly inclusive.
In order to have that respectful dialogue, the players have to be willing to come to the table and, I would argue, understand that at the city level this is really a civic duty. Denver, like every major city, has its challenges around being truly inclusive, but there are some recent signs that its citizens are working hard to drive a respectful dialogue.

The Confluence Denver Talent & Housing panel discussion on April 16 was attended by over 100 Denverites representing nonprofits, businesses, city and state government – as well as themselves. Some of the main themes that emerged were the need for more collaboration between the various sectors: not just public-private partnerships, but also resource sharing and mutually beneficial agreements and planning for the inclusion of multiple perspectives on big projects. The Mariposa development in Denver was highlighted as an example of collaboration: listening to the residents they were working to help -- asking what they wanted.

The conversation continued at the Downtown Denver Partnership's annual Rocky Mountain CitySummit on April 23 at a breakout session entitled "The Inclusive City." The session opened with a poetry slam presentation by Minor Disturbance (pictured above) and a call to remember the city's past and value the unique attributes of every neighborhood and contributions people of all races and creeds.

The issues raised by the session's panel must all be addressed as we move toward a more inclusive Denver: a lack of affordable housing; gentrification; a sometimes "overzealous" police force; and the widening gap between the rich and the poor. The panel presented a variety of perspectives on these emotionally charged topics. The truly hopeful aspect of this session, however, is that it was part of a business community event: both in response to and because of the for-profit community's need to be part of the conversation. It is the civic duty of people -- both inside and outside of community-shaping organizations – to acknowledge and exchange ideas with each other at this level.

While there is still progress to be made, residents bravely continue the ongoing and difficult conversation about what needs to change. If we can keep this dialogue alive and invite even more participants, we will grow into the city that is truly reflective of the sum of its citizens. This is our civic duty.

Heather B. Baker is director of marketing and business development for Otten Johnson Robinson Neff + Ragonetti PC.

Voice of Denver is a featured post from Denver's entrepreneurs, experts and raconteurs. Contact us if you'd like to stand on our soapbox.
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