OPINION: Highlands, LoHi, Slo-Hi — what it means to carve up Northside

For over a decade, those of us who’ve lived in Denver have heard the battle over “Highlands” versus “Northside.”

Pigeons atop the Historic Elitch Theatre, West Highland, June 3, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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Pigeons atop the Historic Elitch Theatre, West Highland, June 3, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) historic elitch theatre; west highland; kevinjbeaty; denver; theater; colorado; denverite;
Pigeons atop the Historic Elitch Theatre. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Editor’s note: This is part of a series on place names. We occasionally hear from readers who want us to use a different name for a neighborhood than we’ve used, and we asked some fellow Denverites to do some thinking out loud on names and what they mean. 

Read pieces about Stapleton and Five Points here. 

By Justine Sandoval

For over a decade, those of us who’ve lived in Denver have heard the battle over “Highlands” versus the “Northside.” Even if you are new to the city, you are probably familiar with this argument. Now, I feel it is only right that I fully disclose, I am a Northsider until I die. Most people who know me will tell you I am very proud of where I grew up. My parents moved to Northwest Denver as a young couple from Curtis Park, back when a young working class couple could buy a house in Denver at 23 years old. To them, moving from East Denver to North Denver was the closest they ever wanted to get to moving to the suburbs. My family has been in Denver for almost a century, so we get a little anxious at the thought of living outside of Denver city limits.

I grew up off 35th and Lowell going to BJ’s Supermarket, renting movies at Sun Video, and still remember when the Chipotle on 32nd was a furniture store. Although we knew our neighborhood had the historical name Highlands, everyone referred to it as the Northside. If you went to North as far back as the 1930s, you remember the reference, “Can’t hide that Northside pride.” So now, decades later, why all the controversy over a name?

In order to understand where this all came from, you need to go back to the beginning. Denver was first established on the banks of the South Platte River in 1858, despite warnings of flood risks from the Arapahoe tribe. A few months later, William Larimer laid out plans for a new town site, just up the hill from Denver and Auraria, to be called Highland. The idea was to build a bridge connecting the two communities. Originally, the Highlands was its own municipality and had its own township government apart from Denver.

In 1864, a massive flood hit Denver, prompting people to relocate to the Highlands area, and after the building of the 15th Street bridge — complete with a street car — up to the area, it began to grow. The railroad running along the South Platte River also brought new immigrants to the area, and it became a working class neighborhood filled with families. In that time, other neighborhoods were formed in the north Denver area including Berkeley, Sloan’s Lake, and Jefferson Park (which are not technically part of “Highland”). As the city and area grew, people started to simply reference the area as Northwest Denver to include all the neighborhoods in the area, and it had been that way for a long time, until the development boom hit in the early 2000s.

The name “Highlands” as a name for the neighborhood has historical context, but as the area became a collective, we united as the Northside. The problem we have with the name Highlands, LOHI, SLO-HI or whatever new name developers come up with is that it divides us up in order to market and sell the area as something new. Generations of people from all backgrounds helped to build that neighborhood, and separating the area divides us up by class. Instead of being one city, one Denver, one Northside, we start to become separated by the trendy new names of the neighborhoods we live in.

As one of my favorite emcees of all time, Lauryn Hill, once said, “seasons change, mad things rearrange.” There is not much we can do to stop the tide of change. This renaming or placemaking of neighborhoods is happening all over the nation. I would like to see more people who move here get to know the area’s history and realize there has always been a vibrant thriving community just up the hill from downtown Denver. It is my hope that we can preserve our history in Denver while still being able to adapt to the changes. Even I will admit to sometimes saying “Highlands,” just because it is easier than saying northwest Denver and having to go back and say Highlands anyway. What I really want to see is a Denver that is economically and socially diverse with a respect for our past as we move towards the future.


Justine Sandoval. (Courtesy Justine Sandoval)
Justine Sandoval (Courtesy Justine Sandoval)

Editor’s note: This is part of a series on place names. We occasionally hear from readers who want us to use a different name for a neighborhood than we’ve used, and we asked some fellow Denverites to do some thinking out loud on names and what they mean. 

Read pieces about Stapleton and Five Points here. 

A multi-generational Coloradoan, Justine Sandoval has long been an advocate in the Denver community working to ensure fair and equitable treatment for all citizens. Currently her work is focused on advocating for women’s reproductive health rights.