DUGC Urban Sustainability Cohort

At DU we believe that “sustainability” means working together to create a world where ecosystems and societies can thrive. DU Grand Challenges (DUGC) recognizes that communities thrive when each of has what we need to fully live, work, and participate in the social fabric that holds us all together. DUGC brings  faculty, staff, students and regional community leaders together to advance this vision through community-university conversations and partnerships for the public good.

The DUGC Urban Sustainability Cohort is one of DUGC’s four collective impact cohorts in which faculty, staff and students partner with community leaders from the public, private, and civic sectors to improve daily life, now and in the future.  Each cohort aims to increase the number of faculty, staff, and students engaged in community-based scholarship, increase the number of community partners actively engaged with DU, and increase the strength of existing community-university partnerships.

The Urban Sustainability Cohort builds on DU’s long history of building community partnerships to advance the public good with a focus on five key prototype initiatives, each intended to contribute to one unifying result:

The Denver region supports just, inclusive and thriving communities where people and nature flourish.

Metro Denver Nature Alliance (Metro DNA):

Collective Impact for Healthy People & Place

Metro DNA (metrodna.org) is a growing coalition of non-profit, government, research, and private sector partners seeking to align nature-based efforts to ensure more equitable access to nature and to promote healthy people, communities, and natural places. Long before Metro DNA’s official launch in 2018, DU Professor Susan Daggett and other faculty, staff and students have played a crucial role in the alliance's development.

  • Key Community Partners

    Metro DNA includes over 50 official partnering organizations.

  • Key Action Areas

    DU faculty, staff, and students are advancing urban social-ecological research in Metro Denver through Center for Community Engagement to advance Scholarship and Learning (CCESL) fellowships and class projects involving students and faculty from diverse departments - Geography, Law, Communications, Social Work, Biology, Computer Science, and more.

    If you are a community organization or member of the DU Community interested in partnering on urban social-ecological research in Metro Denver, please visit the DU ScholarShop.

  • Key DU Cohort Members

    Professor Susan Daggett, Sturm College of Law

    Dr. Cara DiEnnno, Center for Community Engagement to advance Scholarship and Learning

    Dr. Chad King, The Center for Sustainability


Amplifying Community Voices in Public Policy

Achieving a just and sustainable future requires meaningful, inclusive participation in decision-making. The Center for Community Engagement to advance Scholarship and Learning (CCESL) has developed and facilitated three photovoice workshop series to amplify community voices in public policy formation. Photovoice is a process by which project participants document their lived experiences through photography revolving around a project topic or theme. By exhibiting their photographs at events attended by public officials and other community leaders, participants help decision-makers understand community issues through the eyes of the people who live there.

Measuring Human & Ecological Wellbeing (HEW)

The overwhelming dominance of GDP-based measurements as a proxy for economic success in public consciousness, media, and policy-making has perpetuated economic development focused on profit, too often at the expense of people and planet. As US Presidential Candidate Bobby Kennedy suggested in 1968, GDP “'measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile.” Urban Sustainability Cohort leaders are working with partners in the Denver region (and more broadly in Colorado) to develop a consensus set of measurable indicators of human and ecological wellbeing that can be used to support an economy in service of life and wellbeing for all.

  • Key Community Partners

    Ethics & Ecological Economic Forum (eeeforum.org)

    Shift Research Lab, Piton Foundation (shiftresearchlab.org)

    Metro DNA (metrodna.org)

  • Key Action Areas

    The HEW team has been forwarding a conversation among diverse community leaders through its well-received concept paper, engagement with Metro DNA partners, and monthly convenings of the EEE Forum featuring leaders such as the Colorado Trust, Colorado Health Institute, and Natural Capital Solutions, and Denver Regional Air Quality Council.

  • Key DU Cohort Members

    Dr. Sarah Bexell, Social Work

    Dr. David Carlson, EEE Forum

    Dr. Andrew Mueller, Daniels College of Business -Real Estate

    Dr. Paul Sutton, Geography

Interdisciplinary Sustainability Clinic

Promoting sustainability in our community often requires collective action and collaboration from many disciplines.  Currently, the law school operates the Environmental Law Clinic and Community Economic Development Clinic, which meets some of the legal needs of community members and organizations working to advance environmental justice and sustainability.  However, faculty in these programs have identified needs from their community partners for expertise from many disciplines to help empower communities to improve their own sustainability and to advocate for their interests at the state and local level.

  • Key Community Partners

    Community partners will be identified once interested faculty, staff, and students at the University of Denver have organized and identified areas to focus on, and through DU’s Scholar Shop, which connects community organizations and DU faculty, staff and students according to their shared interests and priorities.

  • Key Action Areas

    Cohort leaders are in the exploratory phase, convening conversations among interested faculty, staff, and students and community members to gauge interest and generate possibilities for a pilot project.A pilot project will explore the role and outcomes that could be provided through a new community clinic. Following the pilot,  the team will review and reflect on the work and identify whether a more permanent sustainability clinic would be feasible and worthwhile.

  • Key DU Cohort Members

    Professor Kevin Lynch, Sturm College of Law

    Dr. Chad King, The Center for Sustainability

Institutional Hub for Just & Sustainable Futures

All of the pilot projects are designed to contribute to a just and sustainable future for the Denver region - but what are the institutional structures that can offer long-term support for reciprocal community-university partnerships that promote just, inclusive and thriving communities where people and nature flourish? Urban Sustainability Cohort leaders are working to expand the institutional infrastructure to support a knowledge hub for Interdisciplinary, collaborative, place-based,  research and curricula. The hub will support faculty and students while building long term relationships with community partners. As the backbone to these projects, this hub will provide an operating framework to develop and enhance interdisciplinary research and curricula for a just and sustainable future.

This work builds on the curricular and research strengths of the Colleges and Schools of DU, and is focused on addressing the unique sustainability challenges facing the Denver metro area and the Front Range.

  • Key Community Partners

    Through the Urban Sustainability Cohort’s partnership with Metro DNA, DU Sustainability now has a physical presence in downtown Denver at The Alliance Center. DU’s Scholar Shop helps create introductions with change-makers outside and within DU committed to just and sustainable futures.

  • Key Action Areas

    Cohort leaders developed a Knowledge Bridges proposal for a DU Institute for a Just & Sustainable Future to bring DU Schools and Colleges, interdisciplinary programs, and community partners together to advance solutions at the intersection of economic vitality, environmental quality, and social justice.

  • Key DU Cohort Members

    Dr. Susan Daggett, Sturm College of Law

    Dr. Cara DiEnno, CCESL

    Dr. Chad King, The Center for Sustainability

    Dr. Rebecca Powell, Geography