Shorter Community AME Church was nearly packed to the brim on Saturday, January 13, when several hundred Denverites congregated there for a six-hour summit to discuss Denver’s response to gentrification. Sparked by the Ink! Coffee controversy, the summit represented more than a month’s worth of planning by a new coalition of community groups and activists called Denver Community Action Network, or Denver CAN.
Reverend Timothy Tyler kicked off the summit with a rousing speech. “Gentrification is a social-justice issue,” he said. “Whenever you have an organized plan to destroy a historical community and drive out ordinary people in the name of progress, that’s a social-justice issue.”
Following Tyler’s remarks, attendees heard from a variety of local organizers — including Lisa Calderón, Candi CdeBaca and Kayvan Khalatbari — and then had the option of participating in various breakout sessions on topics that included affordable housing, cultural conservation and encouraging socially conscious businesses.
The elephant in the room, though, was Mayor Michael Hancock, who was not at the summit and came under frequent fire — sometimes directly, sometimes implied — for giving an advantage developers and business interests over community.
“If you think the urban-camping ban is part of the solution to the affordable-housing crisis, you are not a progressive,” said Calderón in a speech. “If you take credit for the tiny home village that was built not because of you, but in spite of you, you are not a progressive.”
The same signs that mocked Hancock and Councilman Albus Brooks during November’s Ink! Coffee protests — like one that declared: “Mayor Hancock! Happily gentrifying the neighborhood since 2011" — were outside the summit.
It can’t be said that the mayor’s office is not making efforts to address concerns by residents who say they’re being priced out of Denver. Two days before the summit, Hancock's office hosted a Facebook Live video to address gentrification, which turned into an hour-long discussion with five panelists.
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Yet even that move drew scorn from organizers of Saturday’s summit. On Facebook, Calderón wrote that Hancock was “trying to get ahead of our gentrification summit.”
CdeBaca, who is challenging Albus Brooks for his council seat in Denver's upcoming municipal election, followed up with this post:
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The mayor’s office counters that it considers gentrification a critical issue, and that it did send staffers to the summit to take stock of what the community had to say. At least five members of Denver’s City Council also attended.
While occasional snark and sniping may have turned heads on Saturday, the majority of the summit had a cordial and business-like tone. The breakout sessions in particular were well organized and, by splitting people up into groups of around twelve to fifteen, allowed participants to give feedback and ask questions of speakers who presented on topics ranging from artist DIY spaces to co-op housing.
“This is just the beginning,” Justine Sandoval, an organizer, said in closing remarks at the summit. “DenverCAN is all of you.”
The next DenverCAN event to continue organizing efforts and discussions around gentrification will take place on April 4, and is hosted by City Spark.