Denver is a composite of neighborhoods, small enclaves of citizens that are connected by boundary streets (Five Points) or notable geographic centers (Wash Park) or, at times, design (Stapleton and similar suburbs). They can carry the names of developers and developments from years past and boast both historic designation and import. They are the body parts of the living Mile High city…and, as with any physical form, time will take its toll.
Yes, Denver is changing, and not always in the ways that longtime residents would prefer. It’s not just about change, though that’s part of it. It’s also about gentrification. It’s also about loss. And in the end, it’s got to be about balance and understanding. Denver shows no signs of growth abatement, so the question becomes: How can we preserve the fabric of Denver culture, even as it reinvents itself…over and over again? Here are a few ways we can all keep what's working, respect the old and the new, and be happy right where we are.
Get Real About Gentrification
When it comes to the problem of gentrification in Denver — and it is a real problem for many families — there are really two ways to think about it. One is from the historical perspective: to understand that communities change in terms of cultural identification over time. Take the north side, for example: It was largely Italian before it was Hispanic. It was upper-middle class, then became working-class, and then became upper-middle class again. These identities shift, and so do populations. Nothing gold can stay. That’s the historic perspective. But then there’s the reality when you’re inside it, when you’re one of the families feeling edged out of a home and a street and a neighborhood in which you’ve lived and worked, perhaps for decades. This can look like physical displacement — like the Platte Valley public housing between Champa and Stout being torn down earlier this year to make way for both renovation and redevelopment — or emotional displacement, like seeing familiar businesses close, friends move away, and life and land use changing. Both of these approaches have merit, but because the historic view is coincidentally also advantageous for developers, it tends to have a louder voice. Denver may have no choice but to keep reinventing itself — but it has to do so while remembering there are real people, real families, real lives being affected.
The city is blessed to still have venerable and memorable structures — and some are already protected. But it’s in the city’s best interest to recognize them without such a battle. Sites like the Evans School and the Tilden School deserve not only preservation, but to be the centerpieces of their respective areas. Local history isn’t coin to be spent; it’s something to bank and preserve, not only for community legacy, but for the spirit of the city itself. These aren’t just buildings; they’re Denver’s past given physical form. And they should be honored for the architectural elders that they are.
Forget About the Acronyms
Back in 2017, we enumerated a whole bunch of potential new acronyms for Denver real estate — your LoDo, LoHi, SoBro and RiNo could have seen a whole bunch of new marketing-friendly monikers. But, really, let’s just stop. (We’re just glad NoBroNo never caught on.)
Clean Up and Crack Down on the Graffiti
Nothing depresses a resident like useless tagging on a fence or a garage or a brick wall in their neighborhood. Luckily, we have Denver Partners Against Graffiti, which has recently improved its turnaround time on response from ten days to no more than three. But we can all be a little more vigilant about prevention: Report graffiti as soon as you see it. Light your alleys; bad things rarely happen in the light. And while you’re at it? Don’t equate graffiti with street art. The latter is celebrated annually in the Crush Walls festival; the former is criminal mischief.
If you’re out shoveling your walk after a snow, keep going and shovel your neighbor's — especially if you know they’re elderly or infirm or out of town. Offer to pick up their mail or feed their cat if they leave for the weekend. Make some cookies and pass them around. Know the names of your neighbors and their dogs. Borrow an egg, lend someone some flour, share the number of that awesome tree-trimming service. Sure, you can do this sort of thing online, from the comfort of your couch, but there’s no substitute for actual human contact. Make some.
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Address Food Deserts
We take for granted that we can always go out to the supermarket and grab some groceries — but that’s not true for everyone. The residents of Globeville, Elyria-Swansea, Skyland, Sun Valley, Villa Park, northeast Park Hill, Montbello, even Baker all have low access to fresh-food sources. Small stores like the Downing Supermarket and Scott’s Market have closed, and low-cost options are increasingly being pushed out. What’s being built in Five Points? Higher-cost specialty stores, like Natural Grocers. These might be welcome additions to a neighborhood, but not as the sole option. The “UnSafeway” at 20th and Clarkson might be a lot more appealing than it used to be, but it can’t possibly serve the entire north side of Denver east of the river.
Support Local Businesses
Speaking of the Downing Supermarket, nothing sucks more than having a great local business close up shop. Curtis Park recently lost the Champa Store, a mom-and-pop bodega just south of where Platte Valley Homes once stood. It’s reasonable to surmise that the destruction of the public housing — and the displacement of all those families — likely played a part in, or at least hastened, the closure of the Champa Store. Up on Welton, the Rolling Pin Bakeshop closed its doors right after Halloween. While businesses will come and go, neighborhoods deserve the reminder: Support your local establishments. Because you’re going to miss those markets, restaurants, retail shops and watering holes once they’re gone — and your continued business can help keep their doors open.
Celebrate the Character of the City…Not Its Cash Value
Do you know what your Zillow Zestimate is worth? Exactly nothing. Whether it’s a buyer’s market or a seller’s, whether prices are appreciating or ebbing, whether your zip code is among the highest priced or best bargains, love the one you’re with, Denver.