Is Denver's Gentrification a Problem That Needs a Solution?

Denver home sales reached a record high in June, according to the Denver Metro Association of Realtors. "Despite the slight cooling in the market, June still set records in home prices and closed dollar volume, as the lack of inventory available in the Denver-area over the last eighteen months is continuing to drive prices upward," the group reported.

And one of the hottest neighborhoods is Whittier, where prices rose 14.1 percent last year — pushing many of the long-term renters out of the rapidly gentrifying area. That development inspired a teacher at Manual High School to start the Gentrification Project, so that students could study what was happening around them. Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, herself a longtime resident of Whittier, reports on that project and other developments in the area in the current Westword cover story, "The New 'Hood."

In Denver, the topic of gentrification is as hot as the real estate market.“'Gentrification' is a word on everyone’s lips in Denver these days, from wild-eyed developers scraping and building as fast as they can, to artists losing their studios to the marijuana grow houses of the green rush, to new residents flocking here, starry-eyed about Colorado’s legendary sunshine and blissfully unaware of the lack of affordable housing — until they get here," Murphy writes. And her piece inspired a long response from another Whittier resident who requested anonymity:
I've never sent in a comment to Westword before (although I'm a longtime reader and I love the paper), but I just had to comment on the recent cover article, "The New 'Hood."  

I've been a Five Points resident since 2009. Obviously, not as long as those who have spent their whole lives in the community, but pre-brewery explosion, pre-restaurant explosion — when Zona's Tamales still existed. And I get that the article is about Whittier, but it's really about Five Points too.

My problem with the article is that the clear implication is that gentrification (i.e. the movement of white people into the neighborhood) is a disease that needs a cure — that I'm part of a problem that needs a solution. I'm not rich, or afraid of diversity. In fact, as a transplant from a much more diverse culture than Denver, I moved to the neighborhood because it had both racial and economic diversity.

Some questions and issues I have with your article include: Why is it okay to complain that Fuller Park has now turned into "a dog park primarily used by new white residents"? There's no sign on the park that would prevent anyone at all from taking their dog there — and most people in the neighborhood have dogs! My husband and I were at Fuller Dog Park last week, and there was a drunk gentleman in the park area screaming at the white folks in the dog park, "Get out of our neighborhood, Whitey!" and "This park ain't for you!" And just the week before, we were literally chased out of Curtis Park by two Latin men screaming at us to "Get the f—k out of our park!" and "This is our neighborhood, stupid, spoiled Whitey — get out!" In the past two months, I've been called "stupid Whitey," "cracker," "birdsh*t" (i'm guessing because birdsh*t is usually white in color — that was a new one on me) and worse. I've never seen this happen in the six years I've lived in the area, but it's happening with startling frequency these days. That's really not a way to make the neighborhood feel inclusive. And instead of there being meetings to address the issue, or anything done about it, the conversation is all about how gentrification is ruining the area.

I have no control over property values. I don't like how high Denver has assessed my house, either — my taxes are going up too, making it harder for me and my husband to stay where we are. But what I can control is how I treat my neighbors and my community, and I try to do that with respect and pride. My husband and I have spent the past several years contributing to the neighborhood — planting trees and gardening, getting to know our neighbors, going to neighborhood meetings, cleaning up trash thrown down by walkers-by all along the streets, painting over graffiti, and more. Why are our contributions a threat? Why do people who claim to love the neighborhood and want to keep it for their own trash the street, graffiti over the public art and people's homes, yell at strangers in the parks to keep out, and basically fail to show any respect for the neighborhood at all? Isn't that counter-productive? I feel that this component was notably lacking from your article. I am not a disease. My presence in the neighborhood is not a problem. And I don't think it was fair of this article to be so one-sided about the issue.

Thank you.
What do you think of the development in Whittier? Across Denver? You can share your thoughts here, or post a comment on "The New 'Hood," the story that inspired this response, right here.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun