“¡Traiga su botella de agua! ¡Sígueme!” one of the leaders shouts. Our eclectic crowd – neighborhood advocates, city planners, and dozens of Spanish-speaking mothers and children – dutifully follows her to the start of the Via Verde. We are in Westwood, a low-income neighborhood in West Denver where 83% of residents speak Spanish, tree cover is sparse, and zumba music bounces down the street from the dance studio. The Via Verde doesn’t exist yet, but partnerships are forming to make this planned 5-mile urban trail a reality. Today, we are walking half of the undeveloped Via Verde route, and it is clear there is an extraordinary amount of work to do. Only one street crossing currently has a crosswalk. The sidewalk is extremely narrow in places, and the morning sun is relentless without any shade for respite. Trail easements, contracts with local artists, and tree plantings are all in the works but are not yet finished. Fortunately, the community is assisting with identifying improvements. We stop periodically so everyone can add colorful star stickers to a giant map of the route to suggest sites for trees, public art, and safety improvements.
When burritos arrive after the walk, our tiredness evaporates, and we all share lunch. There is an attitude of excitement and a perceivable momentum behind the Via Verde project that is particularly evident when Denver Parks officials offer another grant to The Trust for Public Land and Westwood Unidos, a partner organization, after the walk. Change is coming to Westwood.
Reading improves comprehension, but experience engenders deep, personal understanding. In Westwood, I experienced creative placemaking, which is broadly the incorporation of arts, culture, and community into park and revitalization projects. This experience led me to restructure my rural creative placemaking report for The Trust for Public Land, which was previously informed solely by readings. I now begin the report with an extensive discussion of creative placemaking as a practice, emphasizing the advantages of creative placemaking in both small and large cities, before turning to considerations in rural areas. What was evident in Westwood – and what I want to communicate in my report – is that a creative park or a trail can be more than a place to recreate. It can reinvigorate a community.
I have three weeks left in my internship, which leaves me time to work on new projects. One of the surprises through the first seven weeks is the variety of projects I have contributed to. I helped in a few ways with the Westwood Via Verde project. I am collaborating with The Trust for Public Land’s director of creative placemaking in New York on my rural creative placemaking report, and I have also worked with the GIS team in New Mexico. The GIS team recently finished a trail evaluator app, which I reviewed and made the user guide for. Testing the trail tool on the Via Verde allowed me to see the characteristics of the population that the trail will benefit.
As a prospective engineering student, spending the summer thinking about culture and community development and writing qualitative social science reports has been an excellent change of pace and is certainly challenging. I realized I am much more comfortable writing research reports than other forms of writing. To exercise my writing ability, I am thinking about applying for the notation in science communication at Stanford. Other aspects of this summer have also proved challenging but ultimately beneficial, especially running at high altitude, mastering mass transit, and learning defensive urban bike-riding. The new and exciting experiences continue: this weekend, I’m biking Vail Pass in the Colorado mountains and attending the Stanford frosh send-off. I have learned that the work The Trust for Public Land does – creating parks for people – is no walk in the park. But the result – enabling millions to experience beautiful walks in a park – is undoubtedly worth it.
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