Westwood Residents Make Big Push to Improve Recreation Opportunities

On December 8th of last year, the city of Denver held the last of a series of public meetings to help determine the city’s priorities for its upcoming bond proposal. At roughly 5 degrees out, it was an exceptionally cold evening. The Denverites who braved the frigid conditions are clearly excited and they’ve come with ideas and solutions for their neighborhoods. But there’s one group of residents stirring up extra excitement, and they’ve made their voices heard at all six of the city’s public meetings on the city’s bond package.

Westwood is one of the youngest neighborhoods in Denver, with nearly one-third of its residents under the age of 18. Sadly, it also has the highest rate of childhood obesity and the least space for kids to play in Denver. The neighborhood has only one major park, and has only 15 percent of the park space recommended by city authorities. Residents and community organizers want to change that.

Last fall, LiveWell visited Westwood’s only major park to find out how kids felt about the opportunities – or lack thereof – to play and be active in their neighborhood. Watch the short video below to find out what they said.

Norma Brambila, a resident of Westwood and community organizer for Westwood Unidos, told us, “There’s only one park in Westwood, and many people don’t know about it. There’s no place to exercise but in the street.” Brambila and Westwood Unidos have organized a community coalition to build a recreation center in the neighborhood.

When interviewed, 80 percent of parents in Westwood said they and their children don’t get enough physical activity because there is no safe place to exercise. “There are rec centers in nearby neighborhoods, but many residents here don’t have cars,” notes Brambila. A nearby recreation center in Barnum is more than a half an hour away by bus, for instance.

In Westwood, discussions on creating safe places for kids to exercise are not new. “We wanted to actually get the recreation center built,” says Brambila of her motivations for the project. That’s why Westwood Unidos reached out to LiveWell Colorado late in 2015 and applied to take part in the Policy Assistance and Strategic Support Project or PASS.

Through the PASS Project, LiveWell connected Westwood Unidos with the advocacy firm CRL Associates and began forming a strategy. With CRL’s help, Westwood began pitching the plan to Denver City Council and Mayor Hancock. The coalition wanted the Westwood neighborhood plan to include stronger language around the importance of a recreation center in Westwood, which was successfully added to the last draft of the plan. In June, the plan was submitted to Denver city council, and the neighborhood organized very strong turnout and testimony for the hearing. The plan passed unanimously and nearly every council member spoke up during comments in support of bond dollars for a rec center in the neighborhood.

(Photo Credit: Jon Murray, The Denver Post)

Throughout this process, Westwood Unidos organized community members to testify at hearings and speak at public meetings. This process culminated in a chilly December meeting where the Westwood neighborhood was entirely obscured on a map of Denver, covered in sea of dots. Each dot, indicated a community member expressing interest in building a rec center at that location.

The coalition is now turning its attention to the next step of the process, ensuring that the community has a voice on the committee that will make recommendations about what proposals make it onto the city’s bond package in the fall. “We are also touring rec centers in nearby neighborhoods so people can what’s possible,” added Brambila, “We want the community to have a voice in designing the center.”

If successfully included in the bond package referred by city council, the recreation center will face one final challenge in November when Denver voters will have the final say on the city’s bond package.