Like a lot of people in Denver, we read with interest The Guardian’s take on the city’s rapid gentrification. That piece described Mayor Michael Hancock as “cunning” in pushing forward on so many projects at once, such that community activists and residents have a hard time keeping track of everything that’s going on and making their voices heard.
Erika Reyes Martinez, who oversees communications and outreach for the North Denver Cornerstone Collaborative (that’s the umbrella organization overseeing all these projects, the “Hydra” in the Guardian piece), reached out to us because the city wanted a chance to respond. Fair enough.
There are a few points the city wants to make:
- Globeville, Elyria and Swansea haven’t seen any major public investment in infrastructure in 30 years. The city is doing things it should have done a long time ago, and it only makes sense to coordinate that infrastructure investment with other major projects like the National Western and the I-70 expansion.
- Residents have been and remain involved in the planning process for all the city’s initiatives. There were numerous community meetings in a variety of formats and locations about the I-70 expansion, about the National Western, about the neighborhood plans. There are quarterly town halls on the NDCC projects as well as many smaller meetings to get feedback on specific aspects of the plans, like the best design for a pedestrian bridge over the train tracks at 47th and York streets. The city provides translation and interpretation, as well as child care, for these meetings.
- Mayor Michael Hancock is committed to “development without displacement.” That was the major theme of his state of the city address and Martinez reiterated the mayor’s promise that residents will get to enjoy the investments in their communities for years to come.
“The intent is to ensure that all Denver residents live in a neighborhood that they are proud of and that supports them through development that is necessary and conducive to their lifestyles and cultures,” Martinez wrote in an email. “The NDCC is helping connect the dots and is finding ways to not only implement long term infrastructure, but we are also addressing immediate needs.”
A few thoughts on this:
It is entirely true that the city has held many public meetings on these projects.
NDCC has a booth at the Orthodox Food Festival and Old Globeville Days this weekend, and there’s a meeting Wednesday at the Valdez-Perry Library about bike lanes on 47th Street.
You can sign up for email updates from the NDCC, and the city also advertises meetings with flyers. (When I emailed Martinez with a follow-up question, she wrote back, “Hang tight. I’m out flyering in the community.”)
I have heard from some people that there are too many meetings. It’s exhausting. People have lives to live and can’t be at meetings multiple nights of the week, nearly every week. A few months ago, I was at a meeting to get feedback on transportation projects in the neighborhood. It was sparsely attended, and I learned later there were meetings on housing and food access at other locations that same night.
That’s a real problem. It’s also one to which I haven’t heard a great solution.
It is hard to keep track of everything that’s going on.
We go through the six major initiatives in the NDCC here.
The city’s own guide is here. A group out of the University of Colorado Denver calling itself North/East Denver Change has a “non-partisan alternative to the city’s pro-growth rhetoric” here in English and Spanish.
It hasn’t escaped the notice of community activists that the city went to voters for a major funding package to redevelop the National Western, but there hasn’t been a corresponding request for hundreds of millions to fund neighborhood improvements.
I asked Hancock about that discrepancy after his state of the city address and here’s how he responded:
“Public-private partnerships are an avenue we are pursuing very diligently in the city of Denver,” he said. “We are looking at how we make these very efficient and cost-effective measures as well and keep as much as we can local. More importantly, we got to be creative and step outside the box from traditional public funding and add to the diversity of our funding strategies.”
On the traditional public funding front: The city has applied to the RTD for grants for bus stops and to the federal government for a grant for the pedestrian crossing at 47th and York. We’ll know if we qualified later this summer or early in the fall.
The mayor also said in his state of the city address that he would be asking neighborhoods about their priorities as the city prepares a 2017 general obligation bond package.
“We have growing needs in this city we love, and these bonds will help us maintain infrastructure, create local jobs and strengthen neighborhoods,” he said.
Martinez said the city is in the very early stages of preparing that package. There should be more information about what the public process will look like later this summer.
There’s also the city’s affordable housing initiative, a local hiring program for the I-70 project and a proposal for opportunity zones with incentives for businesses that locate in the neighborhoods and pay good wages.
The big question is: Will this be enough — and will it happen fast enough — to have development without displacement?