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Opinion: We worked with Hancock and Hickenlooper, here’s what we think of Johnston’s vision for Denver

Over many years, we have had the honor of working together on behalf of a community we cherish. We’ve seen Denver through good and bad times, but perhaps the most challenging time has been through COVID and the pandemic’s aftermath, including a dramatic rise in unsheltered homelessness, a migrant crisis, and public safety and health problems of historic proportion.

The first six months of Mayor Mike Johnston’s administration have been anything but easy. He started by laying out a bold and defined goal to move 1,000 people from homelessness to stable housing that includes access to treatment services. He met and exceeded that goal by the end of last year, transforming people’s lives, and creating a path for security and stability downtown and across the city.

It’s a great start to a big problem.

Recently, the Johnston administration moved 95 people out of a homeless encampment and into the first micro-community in the Overland neighborhood. A second micro-community for women, children, and trans individuals will open later this month in the Golden Triangle.

Of course, Denver’s post-COVID recovery depends on more than addressing homelessness. We were pleased to see the administration release a plan outlining the citywide mission, vision, values, and goals for 2024.  This plan helps all of us who care about Denver’s future recognize these shared goals along with a process for shaping them.

We’ve all worked for or with previous administrations in Denver, and we know how tough it is to get buy-in from the public and city employees on big-picture visions that take time and effort to create meaningful change. But we believe in this mission enough that we have come together to endorse this process and ask for everyone’s help.

The mayor’s goals are designed to address Denver’s biggest priorities impacting residents, including housing affordability, continuing the progress on homelessness, revitalizing downtown and neighborhoods, investing in public safety and prevention, and ensuring the best possible services to the residents of Denver.

These goals are ambitious, specific and measurable. The foundation for any kind of success is a strong sense of purpose and direction. Actionable, ambitious, and collaborative goals serve as a North Star to guide everyone involved in a mission toward a successful outcome.

Mayor Johnston’s 2024 goals require big vision, but also set the course for tangible results, like building 3,000 units of long-term affordable housing, dramatically reducing permitting durations, and improving constituent service by improving 311 response times.

In an organization as big as the City and County of Denver, it’s easy for work to get bogged down in functional silos. This is why, parallel to the goals Mayor Johnston laid out, he included a clearly defined process that will help all 13,000 city employees stay aligned.

Accomplishing these goals requires work from multiple city agencies. We commend the Mayor’s creation of “Tiger Teams,” assigning different groupings of agency leads or subject matter experts to laser-focus on achieving these goals.

Teams will meet regularly with the mayor to drive progress based on metrics and with public accountability.

By sharing these goals broadly, we see a unique opportunity to engage the administration and help Denver. Everyone should recognize their responsibility to be part of creating solutions and that means keeping abreast of the administration’s work.

A prime opportunity for that will be the Mayor’s goal of building a shared vision for a “Vibrant Denver” with plans for community meetings and discussions in every council district throughout the year. These meetings will be opportunities to share ideas and identify sources of funding that support vibrant neighborhoods and a dynamic downtown.

Holding the Mayor accountable must also mean holding ourselves accountable. And that means taking advantage of this opportunity to engage with an active role in creating the kind of community Denver residents want and need.

The Johnston administration’s 2024 goals are rightly ambitious.  They might not all be reached.  But setting big goals and inspiring an entire community with a shared mission is critical to restoring Denver to pre-COVID prosperity and more important, building an even better Denver.

Roxane White was chief of staff to Mayor John Hickenlooper and cochair of the 2017
Denver Bond Campaign. Jandel Allen-Davis is president and CEO of Craig Hospital and was co-chair of the 2017 Denver Bond Campaign. Alan Salazar was chief of staff to Mayor Michael Hancock, 2016-2023).

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