Mile High Connects
Executive Director Dace West pushed for transit equity in a piece published by Stanford Social Innovation Review
In 2004, Denver voters approved FasTracks, a $7.8 billion transit expansion, adding 122 miles of new light rail, 18 miles of bus rapid transit, and enhanced regional bus service to the region. Construction is currently under way on the multi-decade project, with four new rail and bus rapid transit lines opening in 2016 alone. Bolstered by early support from the Ford Foundation, local nonprofits and funders came together to take advantage of a historic opportunity and formed MHC in 2011. MHC is a cross-sector collaborative of nonprofits, foundations, businesses, and government leaders in the Denver region that makes an explicit connection between public transit and health equity.
MHC's goal is to ensure that Denver's transit build-out benefits low-income communities and communities of color by connecting them to affordable housing, healthy environments, high-quality education, and well-paying jobs. MHC serves as a backbone organization, influencing local and regional policies, leveraging and deploying resources, and helping residents of low-income communities and communities of color engage directly in decision making that affects their lives.
MHC's first public act was to create the Denver Regional Equity Atlas. The document starkly contrasted the relationship between new transit lines and issues of importance to the region's low-income communities, including the location of affordable housing, job centers, health-care institutions, and high- and low-performing schools, and how they were connected (or not) to the new tax-funded transit lines. Now an online interactive tool used by both community residents and decision makers, the Equity Atlas demonstrates that areas with lower incomes and higher concentrations of people of color have less access to healthy food, walkable blocks, and health centers, as well as significantly higher numbers of households that are burdened with relatively high housing and transportation costs. Over time, the tool has become important not only to document current disparities, but also to show population-level outcomes across the region.
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