Auraria neighborhood "doomed," predicted 1975 campus impact study

Strange things happen when you poke around the "Ghosts of Auraria," as we did in this week's feature on whether certain promises, supposedly made to the community when the college campus was built, were ever kept. This week, one alert reader presented us with a rare copy of a study generated 38 years ago that deals with some of the same issues as our article.

About three years ago, while rooting through a pile of junk destined for the trash at a local thrift store, app developer Bryan Brodie came across a briefcase stuffed with papers that had evidently been salvaged from an abandoned storage locker. Brodie paid a buck for the case and its contents, which included some architectural photos and drawings from Denver in the 1970s -- and a battered three-ring binder containing a lengthy study, "The Environmental Impact of the Auraria Higher Education Center on the Near West Side of Denver, Colorado."

The study has four authors, was done under the auspices of Dan Schler and John Prosser -- two University of Colorado at Denver professors of the time -- and may have been a graduate thesis project of some kind. It's not what we would call today an environmental impact study, but it does present detailed statistical analyses and projections of how the Auraria campus, still under construction at the time, was expected to impact the Lincoln Park neighborhood south of Colfax -- and explores options of what could be done to soften the blow.

"The history of the Auraria area is fascinating, and really provides a window into a long-lost part of Denver's history and society," says Brodie, who wants to see the document turned over to a library special collection or archive. "The people there had little political power and the urban renewal bulldozer ran roughshod over their little community."

Indeed. The study is very much an artifact of its time, fretting over the political tensions and community divisions that had been exacerbated by the decision to obliterate a largely Hispanic neighborhood north of Colfax to build a new home for Metropolitan State College, the Community College of Denver and UCD. Many of the displaced residents moved into Lincoln Park -- which had its own worries about how the campus would affect parking, rents and the stability of the area.

The study's authors begin by pointing out that, six years after the redevelopment process got underway, there was still no Lincoln Park representative on the Auraria Higher Education Center board: "If this lack of concern is an indication of how AHEC will relate to the community, it represents a pure fraud on the taxpayers."

Continue for more about the Auraria neighborhood circa 1975, including a study excerpt. Failing to work with the community could lead to "severe problems of sabotage and vandalism," the study suggests. It goes on to discuss the general poverty of Lincoln Park residents (median incomes in the area were half those of Denver residents as a whole), the lack of thriving retail in the Santa Fe corridor -- in an area now teeming with brewpubs and art galleries, Joe's Buffet was then the largest restaurant -- and the blue-collar Democrat politics of the community, with "a minority group of young people that can be described from activist to militant to revolutionary to terrorist. There are many recorded incidents of bombings and shootings in connection with political decisions."

That may seem a mite overstated even for the polarized racial politics of 1975, but the study goes on to present some sobering stats and trends to support its assertion that, unless intensive planning is done to integrate the new higher ed center with the neighborhood, "It appears that the community and its sociological components are doomed."

Ironically, one of the measures advocated by the authors -- allowing local residents substantial access to Auraria's athletic fields -- is one of the selling points for the latest development surge on campus, which is prompting Metropolitan State University to build new ball fields south of Colfax on contaminated industrial land. Over time, even institutional planners can learn something from the lessons of the past.

For more of the 1975 view of what Auraria might become, see the excerpt below. But first, a couple of other bits of fallout from my feature. I've been chided by the University of Colorado Denver (no longer "at" Denver) branding police for referring to their institution as UCD. After spending big bucks on new branding campaigns, they tell me that's so...1975. But until they come up with a better acronym, "CU Denver" sounds so...dumb. Other vigilant readers have taken me to task for referring to "Buffalo pride" when everyone who's up on their branding (me excluded, obviously) knows that UCD (oops) recently declared that its mascot is Milo the lynx. They may not have an obscenely bloated athletic budget like "CU Boulder," but they have their own mascot, and that's a start.

Now, here's some more from that study.

Auraria Study 1975

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Auraria campus expansion: See plans for new athletic fields and more."

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast