UCAR > Communications > Staff Notes > August 1995 Search

UCAR's Push toward a
Better Boulder County:
The Healthy Communities Initiative

"Walt, if he were here, would be right in the middle of the sustainability movement."

According to Cindy Schmidt, that conclusion about Walt Roberts is one reason why UCAR is now managing a major effort at community building: the Boulder County Healthy Communities Initiative (BCHCI). Cindy, UCAR's development director, is shepherding the process. The two-year program is housed in the Walter Orr Roberts Institute (see sidebar on the institute's status). It is funded with a $62,500 grant from the Colorado Trust, which is sponsoring 27 similar efforts across the state. Another $30,000 has come in a challenge grant from the Gates Foundation, matched by donations from the Boulder Daily Camera and the county's three major hospitals. The heart of the initiative is a series of town meetings where hundreds of citizens are sitting down and mapping out the county's future, from quality-of-life issues to youth involvement, in bold strokes.

The movers behind BCHCI administration: (left to right) Cindy Schmidt, Susan Foster, and Margie Miller. (Photo by Bob Bumpas.)

Cindy recalls how it all started on the Saturday morning in July 1993 when the Roberts Institute was dedicated. "Former U.S. senator Tim Wirth got up and said 'I found myself thinking that a first challenge for the institute would be to look at how this city might become a truly environmentally sustainable community.' At the time, we had no idea what role UCAR could play in that."

The Colorado Trust had just begun its Colorado HCI program and was seeking out grant applicants. Their program was one of the state's first manifestations of a new model for grass-roots community building. Similar programs have succeeded in more than 1,500 communities and more than 50 countries since 1986.

The model for all these efforts includes a broad definition of health--going beyond the absence of disease to address many factors in quality of life--and it calls for broad-based community involvement by citizens, nonprofit and government sectors, and businesses. Ideas may come from anyone. For instance, one schoolchild in Chattanooga, Tennessee, proposed a freshwater aquarium to serve the region. The notion, dismissed by many at first, soon became reality through the HCI process and is now a major drawing card for the Chattanooga area.

Over the following year, Cindy and administrative assistant Margie Miller pulled together a proposal for the BCHCI. It went to the Colorado Trust last September and was approved in November. The next step was to tap a diverse group of 38 county residents who had supported the proposal to serve as the initiating committee. That group, according to Margie, "determined the mission statement, developed the process to get the whole thing going, and brought names of possible stakeholders to the table."

The stakeholders who accepted have committed themselves to involvement throughout the process--including in-kind contributions of resources--and to careful consideration of the results: a set of suggested indicators that will help determine an action plan to carry the initiative forward.

According to organizers, which include the Denver-based National Civic League, it is the broad range of participants and their dedication to an open process that helps the initiative transcend traditional politics. One key to this, says Cindy, has been to focus on the county as a whole. "To address issues of sustainability," she notes in the initiative proposal, "we realize that we must work together as a region. It is not possible for any one city or town in Boulder County to address, in isolation, the impacts that growth is creating."

Neal Peirce and Curtis Johnson, renowned experts on urban affairs, echoed that theme in the Boulder County Peirce Report. Peirce and Johnson spent weeks interviewing county residents and officials and piecing together a thoughtful outsiders' take on local concerns. Their report was published in Boulder's Sunday Camera and Longmont's Times-Call on 25 June, the first time the two papers have shared editorial content to such an extent.

True to its own philosophy, the initiative is scattering its monthly public meetings across Boulder County. The first one took place on 25 May in Louisville, with 120 citizens hearing an address from John Bullard, director of NOAA's sustainable development office. The second meeting, on 29 June in Longmont, saw Peirce and Johnson present their findings for discussion before a crowd of more than 300. Among the pair's suggestions:

Neal Peirce and Curtis Johnson address the 29 June meeting. (Photo by Bob Bumpas.)

"I think it's going well," says Cindy of the process thus far. "We're pleased with the broad citizen participation. We're also pleased with the partnership with the newspapers. The Peirce Report has raised a good deal of interest as well as controversy. There's been a lot of positive feedback on the idea of a youth conservation corps. I also think we've [UCAR] gotten some good kudos out of this--and we are a good base for this project."

Susan Foster, former director of the Thorne Ecological Institute, joined UCAR in mid-May for a one-year, half-time stint as coordinator of the initative. Along with Susan, Cindy, and Margie, others from the Roberts Institute and other parts of UCAR and NCAR have been pitching in. "There have been some very supportive and helpful people," says Cindy, noting the contributions of Ken Davis (MMM), John Firor (Advanced Study Program), Dale Kellogg (NCAR Director's Office), and Lara Ziady (Roberts Institute).

Though the initiative doesn't directly involve atmospheric science, Cindy notes that it made sense as a project for the Roberts Institute, given the emphases of both the initiative and institute on sustainability issues. Also, she adds, UCAR's relatively impartial stance in local politics has proven useful in gaining credibility for the project. "We are a national and international organization that happens to be based in Boulder. We have no ax to grind."

The next public meeting will take place from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. on Thursday, 31 August, at the East Boulder Recreation Center. Any interested county residents are welcome to attend. Based on work to date, attendees will begin to identify priority areas and assemble working teams. Cindy encourages those who want to make a difference in the county's future to attend and participate in the discussion and planning throughout the next few months. --BH

To participate in the BCHCI process or to obtain more information, contact Susan Foster, ext. 2108.

Update on the Roberts Institute

On 9 June, UCAR director Rick Anthes and Roberts Institute director John McCarthy announced the decision to dismantle the infrastructure of the institute. It had struggled for over two years to establish a solid base of private and public support that proved to be too large a goal. Various functions of the institute, including the offices of development and government affairs and A Consortium for Application of Climate Impact Assessments (ACACIA), will shift to other UCAR and NCAR homes. Private monies contributed to the institute will continue to support special projects created in the spirit of Walt; details are still in flux.

Who's Who in the BCHCI

Carolyn Buchholz, Lafayette
Bob Dacey, Longmont
Denis Nock, Boulder

Funding Sources
Boulder Community Hospital
Boulder County Board of Commissioners
Colorado Trust
Daily Camera
Gates Foundation
Longmont United Hospital
PorterCare Hospital--Avista
Cities of Boulder, Broomfield, Lafayette, Longmont, and Superior

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Edited by Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu
Last revised: Wed Mar 29 17:33:36 MST 2000