Building a City Rich with Inclusive Communities

On a cool, winter evening in late February, a few dozen  young, urban professionals gathered at the newest location of Lime, an upscale Mexican restaurant at the downtown Denver Pavilions’ plaza located on the 16th Street Mall in the center of Denver.  They gathered to focus on building a rich, vibrant, inclusive community in the heart of the city. The mood was festive and light.

This group of energetic individuals, known as CityBuild Denver, is intent on generating creative activities and on making their “big ideas” realities.  They believe that inclusion, collaboration, and the participation of all interested citizens is the key to shaping the Downtown Denver community they want to create. 

Anne Patton, a friend and fellow special needs parent, attended with her son, Chris, who, like Mikelle, is a small- business owner and lives in his own home, can be seen out navigating the our community.   Anne and I have visited on numerous occasions, at local coffee shops sharing ideas over lattes, exploring new avenues where both our children may find more individuals who share their passion for community engagement.

When Anne came across the invitation to the CityBuild meeting, she mentioned it to me, and we decided this could be a positive experience and another step in building community involvement. We approached the meeting cautiously, concerned that  our ideals and eagerness might blind us to the group’s version of community inclusion, if it was not the same as ours. 

Brianna Borin, from the popular breakfast eatery “Snooze,” and Jenny Starkey from the Downtown Denver Partnership opened the meeting. During their dynamic PowerPoint presentation, they alternately posed several questions to the group:

“Who would you like to hear speak?”

“Can you tell us your ideas on fun, creative ways we can create gatherings around town?”

“What are some issues you would like to know more about?”

And, finally, they posed the question we had been waiting for:

“What does the term “inclusive community” mean to you?”

CityBuild has made it their mission to engage passionate people interested in community-building in areas such as the arts, entrepreneurship, planning, architecture, business, technology, and economic development.  All areas in which both Chris and Mikelle have an interest!

Their methodology to accomplish this is simply to gather people at social events, provide unique and interesting speakers, conduct behind-the-scenes tours, and promote the engagement, rather than having a “membership organization.”

It took only a few minutes of interaction for some of the concerns I normally hear in meetings concerning people with developmental disabilities and other disabilities to surface.   At the forefront of the list were issues related to affordable housing, transportation, jobs and small business support.

We took in the discussion, and then asked our question:

“Does your version of inclusive community include people like Mikelle and Chris?”

The question hung in the air for a minute; but quickly, Brianna and Jenny thought for a nano-second, looked at each other, and declared, “Absolutely!”

I exhaled as the tension I had been holding for the last hour slid down my back, trickled down the bar stool I had been sitting on and disappeared on to the bar room floor.

After the meeting ended, Jenny and Brianna walked over to the four of us, and asked us to tell them what we needed to make this work.

A few weeks later, Anne and I sat over latte’s with Jenny and Brianna as we exchanged ideas, stories, and shared our desire to make great things happen.  I think we will.