2021 All-America City Finalist – Wheat Ridge, CO

Wheat Ridge was incorporated in 1969 by families who wanted to preserve its rural feel despite the pressure of neighboring Denver’s metropolitan sprawl. For its first 35 years, Wheat Ridge was a quiet city where residents commuted to other cities to work and shop. However, as time went on, it became important to find a way for the city to evolve, while still honoring its rural roots.

Wheat Ridge residents, business owners and civic leaders are committed to honoring the legacy of a quirky small town while striving to increase the quality of life for everyone in a way that is sustainable for years to come.

Wheaties Academy

Wheaties Academy is a grassroots leadership program developed to expand and diversify the civic voice. Wheaties Academy was created to build the bench of community leaders and to ensure that the diversity of engaged civic voices reflected the actual diversity of the city.

Each cohort included people of differing ages, residency tenures, family status, housing type, gender identity, and religious background. The program fee was less than $400 with financial assistance provided to ensure money was not a barrier to participation.

Wheaties Academy was structured with the following goals to ensure graduates gained both skills and civic experience:

  1. Remove barriers to involvement.
  2. Elevate diverse voices in community storytelling.
  3. Establish a network of actionable relationships.

Over the course of seven months, participants learned how to work together to address challenges creatively and authentically with support of mentors, civic leaders, and other community members.

At the end of the curriculum, participant teams designed a grassroots project to address a community issue. Projects were required to involve at least 20 residents, three businesses, and two city officials.

Project examples:

  • #WheatiesLove. This project created a brand to celebrate ways to express love for the community. #WheatiesLove changed the tone and topics of civic dialogue on local social media and generated constructive conversations between neighbors.
  • Greetings From Wheat Ridge. This project resulted in the first ever collaborative community mural on a city building.
  • Connect 2 Creek. This project involved community members designing a panel for a 28-panel pop-up art piece celebrating a local waterway.

Of the 45 program graduates, 70% have gone on to serve the community in some capacity.

Sustainable Wheat Ridge

After environmental stewardship was prioritized in the 2035 Vision Statement in Wheat Ridge City Council’s Strategic Plan, a resident-led advisory committee was assembled.

The new committee, Sustainable Wheat Ridge, was made up of 11 resident volunteers who got to work assembling an action plan. In total, the resident committee dedicated over 550 hours of volunteer time to complete the action plan. The plan was approved and a budget of $25,500 was awarded.

Engaging with Xcel’s Partners in Energy program was the city’s first major initiative. The committee worked closely with professionals from the utility company to fund home energy audits which would allow Wheat Ridge residents to improve the energy efficiency of their homes and save money on their utility bills. In 2020, the partnership with Xcel Energy was expanded to a multifamily outreach plan and direct mailers to the business community to advertise free commercial building audits.

Next, the committee partnered with the Regional Air Quality Council to provide $150 rebates, subsidized by Sustainable Wheat Ridge, for the first 30 residents that recycled gas powered lawn mowers and purchased an electric mower. The committee also provided more than 165 rain barrel diverter kits to residents that wished to capture rainwater.

Other efforts include:

  • Sustainable Neighborhood Network- allows neighborhoods to implement sustainability programming based on residents’ needs and interests.
  • Scraps Mile High- gives residents opportunities for low-priced composting options.
  • Fresh Food Connect- provides extra produce from local food growers to those experiencing homelessness.

With the help of city and external grant funds, the action plan from 2018 is 51% complete.

Wheat Ridge Together

Wheat Ridge Together is the culmination of Wheat Ridge’s collaborative efforts to respond to the dual challenges of the pandemic and racial justice reckoning. 

Together Through the Pandemic

Wheat Ridge was well positioned to face the challenges of the pandemic due to two new virtual public engagement tools that were launched prior to the pandemic; What’s Up Wheat Ridge to enhance online community engagement; and Wheat Ridge Speaks to provide official public comment on city council and planning commission items. Wheat Ridge Speaks hosted 54 meetings on the platform in 2020, and 166 comments were submitted with 5,528 website visits.

Businesses were supported through an online application that resulted in the distribution of more than $750,000 in grants to assist businesses with daily operations, the expansion of outdoor operations, and the purchase of PPE. The city also created signage in Spanish and English and distributed these along with free masks to local businesses to assist with the implementation of the mask mandate.

Together Through Inclusion and Equity Initiatives

The death of George Floyd sparked a meaningful conversation in Wheat Ridge focused on systemic racism. Wheat Ridge community members created an organization called Wheat Ridge for Equity and began demonstrating six days a week to support Black Lives Matter.

Wheat Ridge for Equity members asked the city to take the following actions:

  1. Start continuous equity training for all city staff and elected officials.
  2. Create an equity task force to review all city departments and policies for racism and bigotry.
  3. Ensure the task force is composed of underrepresented community members.

On September 21, 2020, because of community input, city council provided direction to staff to implement the suggested actions.

City management scheduled Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training for all city staff and city council. In addition, the city hosted two virtual, public conversations in the summer and fall.

City council also approved the formation of the Race and Equity Task Force and 20 members were appointed on February 8, 2021. The task force begins meeting with a facilitator bimonthly in March 2021.

In addition to the important work of Wheat Ridge for Equity, on June 22, 2020, city council passed a resolution condemning racism and hate.

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