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Gentrification in Denver

The concept of gentrification is relatively new in the urban planning lexicon only appearing in print in 1964 and generally defined as “the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.” Whether or not a racial component of displacement is integral to this definition is still up for debate. With Spike Lee’s recent rant on this very subject as Brooklyn continues to gentrify, I decided to look at some Denver examples of gentrification to see how we compare.

The Whittier neighborhood, located north of 23rd Avenue and east of Downing (east of Five Points), has been closely associated with Denver’s black community since at least 1930. This was solidified by the 1950s as the so-called “color line” located near High Street in Whittier was broken as new housing opportunities were sought due to explosive growth in Denver’s black population following World War II. The white majorities along Race, Vine and Gaylord streets quickly vanished. A neighborhood that had once been nearly 100% white in 1890 had become 75% black by 1990. The process of this mid-century demographic shift has nearly been lost to history as the general perception has been that Five Points and Whittier have always been the heart of black culture in Denver. Whittier School did in fact become Denver’s first majority black school by the early 1930s as the population was increasingly segregated in this part of Denver especially following the Ku KIux Klan’s political grip on Denver and Colorado during the 1920s. But prior to this time, Denver’s black population was never large enough to dominate a majority of slots in any Denver school.

The Civil Rights Movement and fair housing laws eventually created more opportunities for housing choice, especially after 1970, and evidence of this is very apparent in Whittier. Between 2000 and 2010, there was a 43% drop in the black population of Whittier and an 89% increase in the white population (Whittier is coterminous with census tract 23). The neighborhood’s demographic breakdown now consists of a 29% black/42% white percentage, also indicating that there is a sizable Hispanic population in the area that was not in place in 1990 or 2000. Meanwhile, the black population has spread out into other areas of east Denver and into Aurora, no longer being forced into a few census tracts.

Whittier is not alone in this demographic shift that also coincides with a great influx of new residential construction (scrapes), home remodels and other major home improvements in most old Denver neighborhoods featuring historic homes with brick construction. We can quickly compare Whittier to Highland. I am referring only to the census tract located around 29th and Zuni, that includes “LoHi,” the area near Little Man Ice Cream. In 1990, this census tract (4.02) contained 5,986 people and was 65% Hispanic. Today (2010 census), the population stands at 5,314 people and is 35% Hispanic. Since 2000, the white population of the census tract has increased 32% and the Hispanic population has decreased 57%.

So ultimately I wonder if gentrification is only perceived as “bad” if it displaces minority residents. I know that for black homeowners in Whittier, many have suddenly lived the American Dream by selling their $39,000 home in 1989 dollars for $339,000 in 2014 dollars. While the faces in the neighborhood have changed, Whittier continues to be one of Denver’s most diverse areas. The influx of energy and money ensures that Denver’s central neighborhoods remain viable places to live over the long-term and are a welcome alternative when considering the urban decay and blight that a place such as Detroit is currently suffering. When you take any racial changes out of the equation however, gentrification’s foes are more quiet if we look at anecdotal evidence. One only needs to read the Denver Post over the past month about the booming Highlands neighborhood (west of Federal) pricing out even more people in the real estate market who are now looking at places such as Edgewater and Wheat Ridge where one can buy the same housing types as found in the 32nd and Lowell or 44th and Tennyson area for $100,000+ cheaper. These areas are being “rediscovered” and, although they have been historically “white” in character, they are no less deserving of the new investment.

Ultimately, cities are changing and dynamic places, if they are lucky. Otherwise, they can stagnate and decline. While it is painful sometimes to see places you grew up knowing in one capacity, there is a whole new generation of folks moving to Denver from across the country who have no preconceived notions of what an area is or is not supposed to be. So whether it’s Harvey Park in southwest Denver that has greatly increased its share of the Hispanic population (while it was nearly 100% white in 1960) or Whittier and Highland who have greatly increased their share of white population, the Denver area continues to grow and change—just as it has always done since 1858.

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35 Comments

  1. Erik says:

    The argument that gentrification benefits once blighted areas and increases value and investment is an easy one to make. But we should also consider how it effects other communities, the ones where the less affluent are forced to move to. Local demographic shifts can drastically change an neighborhood, from what businesses set up shop to quality of schools. Unlike neighborhoods surrounding downtown, there’s bound to be other changes that are to the detriment of investment and property values of other areas, a move in the opposite direction. Implying that we are lucky to have these dynamic changes speaks from a perspective that excludes many. Though it’s a marvel to see these changes unfold positively in certain parts of denver, any negative repercussions for other areas deserves as much mention.

  2. Mark B says:

    Erik makes a good point: for every Whittier or West Highland attracting large numbers of more highly-educated and affluent types, there are other areas absorbing the humans being displaced by the process. Whether gentrification is always good or always bad isn’t an answerable question, because it can be either good or bad, depending on the specific situation. Or, it’s neither: evolution happens, and we’re just along for the ride.

    Interestingly, Richard Florida has just posted an article on the Atlantic Cities website that talks about the segregation of poverty in major metros. Denver ranks high on the list for economic segregation: http://www.theatlanticcities.com/neighborhoods/2014/03/us-cities-where-poor-are-most-segregated/8655/

  3. mckillio says:

    How are people “driven out”? If they own their home then market prices should have no effect in regards to “forcing people to move”. If people are renting and their building is updating, allowing the investors to raise rent then that’s another thing entirely.

    • Dave Barnes says:

      Thank you.

    • Joe Burnham says:

      Except it effects the property tax on the home. When you’re on a fixed income and have been paying property tax for a home valued at $150,000, and suddenly it’s valued at $350,000, you are in fact, driven out because you can no longer afford to live there and being forced out.

    • Cheryl Bicknell says:

      As a 15 year Whittier resident, I have lost several African American neighbors to preditory lending practices that were rampant in the early 2000s. It was a sad set of circumstances that forced many elderly people from their long-time family homes and severed any potential inheritance for their children. Their homes may have been paid off but someone convinced them that a new mortgage on a home that had a much higher value was a good idea. So they were “driven from their homes” in many circumstances. And, rental rates have increased which has also forced changes in the neighborhood. We have new neighbors who we love as well. We just miss the history of the families who have come before us. It’s just a very complicated issue and it’s change which can be both positive and challenging.

  4. Kyle says:

    Great article! I think it sheds some light on a subject many people are confused about. Gentrification is not forcing anyone to move. This isn’t the Japanese internment camps. If you are lucky enough to be one of the people that has held land in a gentrified area, congratulations, you now live in an area that cares about its surroundings and is actively investing in it and you got in at a great price. Thank gentrification again when you DECIDE to sell and you get far above the original price or even the actual value of the home. Yes, property taxes will rise but that is incomparable to the profit that will be made when you sell and the benefits of living in an improved community.

    People who say gentrification is racial are in fact, being racist themselves. Gentrification is about improving and investing in an area. If you feel that you now have to move because your new neighbors don’t look them same, then that is your own prerogative. The “Great White Flight” of the 60′s and 70′s was racially motivated. White people didn’t like living next to people of a different race and decided to move. Most people see that as racist and can see the scar it left on Denver. I don’t see how this is different from what is happening now. The local existing communities don’t like seeing their demographic change and are fleeing as well, except this time it is white people moving in. How is this not racist. They are blaming gentrification as a way of hiding their racist views.

    The argument that gentrification destroys communities is also flawed. The community is defined by its members. If those members decide to leave and disband, then it is them who have destroyed it. Not the improvements and investments that people have made. If the character of the buildings and homes is destroyed, then blame the politicians, planning boards, and preservation communities for failing to identify important features and buildings and protecting them from misguided developers and architects.

    If i live in an area that is being gentrified, i don’t care if they are black, white, purple or green, i am happy to see my neighborhood improved and my house value skyrocket. Like Shawn points out, cities are dynamic and demographics change. It is impossible to argue that one neighborhood should BELONG to one demographic. As long as there are improvements being made, its a good thing. Gentrification is a good thing. Tagging a racial motivation to it is wrong.

    • Frank says:

      Dude, they aren’t leaving because of white people. The people who are upset are leaving because it costs too much in rent or even pay property taxes if they own the property. The people who cashed out and moved somewhere cheaper probably aren’t complaining about gentrification. The problem is that a lot of urban renewal and road construction projects tended to go through minority neighborhoods (think Auraria campus)and displace people with little resources to move.

    • JC says:

      Kyle – “Gentrification is not forcing anyone to move. This isn’t the Japanese internment camps.” The forces that lead to gentrification don’t happen in a bubble; these forces that lead to gentrification are often the result of changes to or lack of changes to policies at the local, state and national level. These changes or lack of changes can amount to “forcing” people to move. Also, the not forcing anyone to move works for those who own property but it doesn’t apply to those who rent. Dramatic increases in rent or downright hostile behavior on behalf of landlords (delayed maintenance, etc.) does indeed force people to move. Those folks who lived in neighborhoods largely made up of lower-income people typically end up in more economically segregated neighborhoods than before leading to other negative impacts. Much of what you wrote only applies to those who own houses and according to the Colorado Division of Housing…”The homeownership rate in metro Denver during the third quarter of 2013 fell to the lowest level recorded in any quarter since the bureau began tracking quarterly homeownership rates in 2005.”

      You also write that those lucky enough to experience gentrification should be happy because: “you now live in an area that cares about its surroundings and is actively investing in it.” This assumes that those who lived there before didn’t care about their surroundings and didn’t actively invest in them, an assumption that would anger many long time residents. Some of the frustration that comes from those who experience gentrification is the fact that they argued for and sometimes pleaded for changes to no avail, maybe due to lack of social capital or lack of political will and maybe due to overt or institutional racism, and once the area begins to experience some level of gentrification the political will suddenly appears for community investment.

      What is good for the goose is good for the gander doesn’t always apply. Don’t get me wrong I don’t want stagnant communities and I don’t want to be branded as resistant to change, however, it is important for those in power and for those with means to think deeply about what healthy communities look like for all residents of a city. Change is hard, change is inevitable, cities need to be dynamic, but it can be managed, and it can be managed better.

      • Pine says:

        You may think gentrification is a good thing until you find clones of yourself and a sterile urban-generic environment all around you.

    • Tyler says:

      I could not agree more. Gentrification is definitely a good thing. I think more people than not would like their neighborhoods to gentrify in the way that the Highlands or Five Points have. It is beneficial to all who live there as well as those who are choosing to move there in the future.

      The idea that gentrification is spurred by or promotes racism is a fallacy. Racism is promoted by people. It is those people that leave a neighborhood because of an influx of new and perhaps different skin-colored people that not only promote racism but enforce it that give gentrification a racist image. If anything is racist, its the idea that historically and/or predominantly black, Hispanic, or white neighborhoods should stay historically and/or predominantly black, Hispanic, or white. Diversity is what makes this nation unique and diversity is something that can truly be spurred by gentrification.

      It was the lack of diversity in the predominantly white suburban neighborhood that I grew up in that influenced me to attend high school 40 minutes away at an inner city high school. The diversity I experienced there, in a gentrified neighborhood, was far superior in quality of life than that of the cookie-cutter suburbs. Trust me when I say this, and I’m sure most would agree: That neighborhood could use some gentrification.

      As echoed above, cities and neighborhoods are constantly changing demographically. It is those that choose not to accept and embrace change that keep the idea of racism alive. As for forcing out minorities, I must concur; no one is forcing a homeowner to sell. But forcing out lower income renters so as to update units in hopes of attracting a higher income tenant is a definite downside, though it is not without its solutions (i.e. Mixed-income housing, etc.).

      All it takes to solve problems like racism and “white-flight” (or the reverse as the case more often seems to be) in a community is a bit of innovation and vision toward a better future, which are exactly some of the qualities that gentrification can truly bring to a neighborhood.

    • TakeFive says:

      Kyle says:

      All due respect but that sounds very much like what I here on “Talk Radio.” The conventional definition of racism means the irrational disgust for those simply from color by birth. “Politically” flipping that to include those who would speak on behalf of racial minorities in situations such as gentrification is silly. Now, whether I’d agree with the reasoning of those standing up for racial minorities is a different question. But I certainly wouldn’t call them racist.

      My own views are expressed well via the comments of both JC and Tyler.

  5. JerryG says:

    Gentrification is part of what it means to be a growing and evolving city. Therefore, it is not possible to eliminate it, not that I think that anyone is actually proposing that. Improving underutilized, poorly utilized, and non-utilized areas through new construction or the replacement of decrepit buildings or homes, brings increased density, which is, or should be, the desire of most cities and the people who live there. The negative associations of gentrification come about when people are ‘forced’ to move because they are being priced out: they may no longer be able to afford to stay due to increased property taxes, etc. Although one could argue that people who voluntarily sell their homes are not really being forced. In any event, there is still a loss of continuity and history in that neighborhood. What I would like to see more of is something that I heard happened once, in New York I think. The current residences were given the opportunity to move into the new building that would replace the one they currently were living. In effect, they were given the opportunity to ‘trade up’. I could see this happening in those parts of Denver where there are outdated, but non-historic, homes. Replace and upgrade aging stock, increasing density, while still allowing for people to stay in the neighborhood. Sort of a gentrification+absorption process.

  6. Alison says:

    Commonly, gentrification is a result of an increased price-tag on lifestyle. Certainly, as one reader pointed out, an increase in property value is a benefit. However, what happens when local services and community groups that lower-income residents rely on relocate because increased rents. Cafes and yoga studios (for example) market to a higher paying clientle, displacing the local lower price-tag ‘taqueria’ (for example).

    The concern with gentrification is that diversity is an important part of the vitality of communities. In displacing lower income groups, whether they chose to leave on their own or follow the basic needs and services, we displace much of what is ’community’ is…a group of people with different thoughts and backgrounds that makes our shared experience richer. A nice restaurant, for example, needs higher-income patrons, middle income management and lower income servers in within it’s community. Similarly, on a larger scale, all levels of income are in demand to have a fully-functioning neighborhood. Neighborhoods need people of all ages, colors, and income-levels, in balance. When the scales tip, and one population begins to dominate, either low-income or high-income, this is when we start to see less robust communities.

    Part of the draw to the areas mentioned; West Highlands, 5-Points, Tennyson is the active street life and sense of community. People and activity at all times of day. If a place becomes weighted in one direction or the other- too rich or too poor, we start to see the layers of activity decline as the diversity of interests and lifestyle choices decline. I would argue that places like Wash Park have seen this tip-towards the higher income, and while very nice to look at, have become mush less vibrant neighborhoods than they used to be.

    Gentrification is about the balance, and I think understanding the ebs and flows of the process, and to identify the tipping point- will help us to be more thoughtful in how we approach the design and planning of great urban neighborhoods.

    • James says:

      I think you illustrate exactly why pro growth communities have diversity and those which disdain growth such as ‘Denver’ don’t… When people want to move somewhere and ‘growth’ is not allowed, it becomes expensive…

  7. Ed says:

    I hope all of us can empathize at least a bit with people who have lived in a community for multiple generations seeing that community change drastically. Unlike most Denverites (including myself) who have the educational, social, and economic means to have lived in many cities in a lifetime, many residents of Whittier and their extended families may have lived in that community since the 1930s as pointed out in the article. There may be three or even four generations who have known that community as “home”. Where I live does not mean nearly as much to me as it does to these families who have such deep roots in a particular place.

    Certainly, those who could only rent a home have largely already been displaced as their former slum lords who often did little maintenance are now renovating their former homes and jacking up the rent. Those who own their own homes are indeed better off and will at least see some economic gains. Yet, this does not necessarily compensate for seeing all of your friends and neighbors leave over a period of a few years or seeing your brothers, sisters, cousins, and grandchildren being scattered across the metro area after having lived within blocks of each other.

    Just because you do not have an deep affinity for any particular neighborhood you have lived in does not invalidate the sense of loss that many feel when their communities change drastically.

    • Eric V says:

      Well said! It is much easier to say that gentrification is a good thing for a neighborhood when the person speaking is the gentrify-er. But that person oftentimes has a vested interest in the gentrification (they want to live in such a neighborhood), or at very least has different values and a different perspective about what constitutes a healthy community than the current residents.

      I find gentrification to be an often tragic phenomenon for how it turns truly healthy and diverse communities into playgrounds for affluent elites that lack any grounding in or understanding of the local context.

      I find this quote from the article especially telling:

      “While it is painful sometimes to see places you grew up knowing in one capacity, there is a whole new generation of folks moving to Denver from across the country who have no preconceived notions of what an area is or is not supposed to be”

      Shawn makes that comment so easily, and implies that it is a good thing, but is it really? Do we really believe that people from other cities with ‘no preconceived notions about what an area is or is not supposed to be’ have the right to move into that area and tell the current residents how it’s going to be? I hope not.

  8. Dave Barnes says:

    I live in Berkeley on Vrain St (which is one of the 4 streets where duplexes are allowed).
    Gentrification is changing the mix from Hispanic to Anglo. Rapidly.
    But, no one is forced to leave.
    Many leave via a gurney.
    My neighbor left because his knees were/are shot. No second story for him.

    But, here is what the taxpayers of the City and County Denver gain:
    one (1) 900 sqft, 100 year old house, paying $1100/yr
    is replaced by
    two (2) duplex units, 1900-3200 sqft, new build paying $6600/yr (for both)

  9. Joe Burnham says:

    I live in a neighborhood that is gentrifying (Cole). Technically, I’m a gentrifier and my wife is not (she was brought home to her grandparents house in the neighborhood, and her grandmother still lives a few blocks away).

    There are positive aspects to gentrification. It increases tax revenue in an area, which effects schools and other services. It also brings more attention from municipalities.

    At the same time, there are negatives, largely revolving around those people groups who get pushed a couple miles further down the road.

    So what’s the answer? Celebrate when people with means move into a more impoverished neighborhood, and given them an opportunity to be a part of the answer for their impoverished neighbors rather than a continuation of the problem. Here’s a great article along those lines that recently circulated on neighborhood Facebook pages in Cole and Clayton: http://www.alternet.org/culture/20-ways-not-be-gentrifier

  10. KC says:

    It is worth pointing out that people of color share most of the same values as readers of DenverUrbanism. Walkable, charming, accessible, beautiful cities are universally desired. They are not the exclusive purview of middle-aged white men. The NAACP recently called walkable city environments a “premier civil rights issue.”

    These arguments in favor of gentrification are very cynical. The longtime residents of a poor community are granted no agency, besides profiting on the rate of return of their gentrified property. If we assume that poor people of color want the same things as everyone else, perhaps we should think of gentrification as more than an economic inevitability. Surely there is a political element at work, no? Some folks dictate the forces that shape our city, while others have no power.

    By the way, Denver is already a fairly segregated city.
    http://www.theatlanticcities.com/neighborhoods/2014/03/us-cities-where-poor-are-most-segregated/8655/

    • Kyle says:

      I do not follow how residents of a poor community are granted no agency. I would agree that people of color do hold the same values, which is why I think seeing the improvements of gentrification would be welcome. I think gentrification is an economic force and not a racial one. I imagine that a poor person of color and a middle income white person would probably like to buy a place in the Highlands, but neither of them can now because they can’t afford it. Would it be fair to go into a poor neighborhood and pick out a white person, a person of color, and a Hispanic person and say we need to protect the person of color and the Hispanic from gentrification because they are minorities but not the white person? No, because that is racist. We should look at ways to include all three of them in gentrification because all three are poor.

      Sure, there are political pressures that are involved as with most things. But consider that many of the district representatives that represent areas where gentrification is happening are minorities, ie. Albus Brooks, Judy Montero, Chris Herndon, District At Large Deborah Ortega and Mayor Hancock. This makes me believe that it is not race which is the driving force but rather an economic one.

      It is true that a large amount of poor urban areas are composed of minorities but I feel that is a result of many other factors, not because of new people moving in investing communities. Denver is a fairly segregated city. A huge part of that is the white flight out of the city and previous racist policies. However, I see gentrification as an opportunity to help de-segregate people by bringing in a new mix of demographics.

  11. Kyle says:

    I agree with most of these responses. My issue is when people apply race to something that should inherently not be about race. Gentrification is about economic forces and should not be considered a racial force. Like Shawn said, “So ultimately I wonder if gentrification is ONLY perceived as “bad” IF it displaces minority residents.” I think this is a perception that many people have but I don’t think race should have anything to do with it. Therefore, gentrification is not bad.

    I understand, and agree, that renters will be pushed out. One way to help with this is to include a certain amount of affordable units. However, where is the line drawn? i don’t have the answer but investments and improvements don’t happen without a cost unless you are relying on charity and good will. This is also a fundamental drawback of renting vs. owning in that rents can always increase based on a capitalism economy.

    I did not intend to imply that all those who lived there before didn’t care about their surroundings and didn’t actively invest in them. I believe that there certainly are people that cared and invested in them. But taken as a whole, the local community failed to continually invest in it which has made the property values sink below the average market rate, making it prime for outside investment.

    I absolutely agree that diversity is good and important. Gentrified areas should work on a way to try to include diversity from the beginning. But there needs to be an understanding of how far are we going to try to preserve the existing even if it means curtailing future improvement. I think it can be done but needs to be fair to everyone.

    Gentrification can be a good thing to the local residents in other ways besides increased profits when selling their property. It usually brings grocery stores that will provide healthier food and more high paying jobs, some of which the local residents will benefit from.

    All in all, I believe gentrification is a economic phenomenon that overall has a bigger upside than downside for both the new generation and the older one. It doesn’t matter which race it is coming from, it is bringing inevitable change and in a good way.

  12. Bryan says:

    what a great write-up: thank you for presenting this piece in an intelligent, unemotional way.

    in reading through the comments above there is a disturbing trend of assumptions that minorities / poor a) need to / have to stay close to home for generations b) cannot muster the means or will to improve their area or lobby for city improvements c) remain on a fixed income and cannot keep up with property taxes or rental increases.

    free-will and good / bad decisions are much more powerful variables on life than gov’t or rich/white intervention.

    this is not a perfect system, but cities evolve – Russian areas become latino (is that gentrification? who is protecting the poor Russians?). I live in lohi and speak frequently to multi-generational homeowners (white and latino) that are regularly selling and they are THRILLED with the cash, but still complain about the change…go figure, but that’s just populism at it’s worst.

    affordability frequently becomes the issue, with rentals especially – this is something where the blame rests squarely on Denver’s zoning code. It simply does not support market-driven affordability. Higher densities, lower parking, mother in law units, carriage homes, garden units and detached accessory structures all need to be encouraged through good zoning – rather than what we have now. Accessing lower rents – especially in a good neighborhood – means you need to give up some luxury, views, parking or space.

  13. Kim Allen says:

    A native to Denver, Harvey Park in S.W. Denver from 1955-1975. Many of my peers moved farther
    S.W. outside of Denver for larger more inexpensive homes to start a family, some for the
    thought of a better school system. The S.W. part of Denver largely lower/middle class has changed demographics of more Hispanic and Asian. A large area, it will maintain that dynamic possibly “forever”.

    My wife and I live in San Rafael, next to the Whittier neighborhood, been here for 22 years. Our home is 2 blocks from the actual Five Points intersection. Mayor Webb did what he could, aided
    the light rail on Welton Street and Caldwell D.P.L. The Welton Street corridor has remained largely vacant for all our 22 years here – and 15 yrs previous, it is an embarrassment.

    The black community in Denver has a small percentage of over all population and has become
    more fragmented as time has passed with some moves to Park Hill, Green Valley and Montbello.
    With each year/5 year/10 year/20 years the heritage and actual participation of current and
    relevant issues has dissipated considerably. The only way to reverse this social phenomena
    is for the black community to move back into Five Points … period.

    The term “That’s life in the big city” may sound harsh, it is true. We all make our choices, good or bad, life goes on …

    • Tyler says:

      I completely and respectfully disagree with you, Kim. If, as you say, “the black community in Denver has a small percentage of over all population,” how would having them relocate back to Five Points make any noticeable difference in “heritage” or “actual participation of current and relevant issues”? (Though I must admit, I have no idea what exactly you mean by this). I don’t even see how a “small percentage of over all population” would even reverse the retail vacancies on Welton Street.

      To me, this idea is more racist than the racist perception of gentrification. Frankly, the whole idea of a “black community” (“white community,” “Hispanic community,” etc.) is flawed since the word community, by definition, comes from the Latin word for common. What makes a community is not what separates us (i.e. the color of our skin) but what brings us together (i.e. our neighborhood). So by that ideology, it is the community as a whole that can fix the problems you mention in Five Points; and allowing the continued gentrification of the area can definitely help.

      It is like Kyle has said repeatedly above, gentrification has nothing to do with race, it is completely motivated by the capitalist economy we live in.

      • Erik says:

        Though I see your point about how viewing this strictly in terms of race could be racist, wouldn’t outright denying any sort of racial component or it’s significance on the impact on people be considered racist? Afterall, acknowledging race and it’s impact on our populace is not racist. However, pretending to be colorblind is.

        • Tyler says:

          I am not denying race or being “colorblind”. I am simply calling for diversity as opposed to continued segregation, be it of race, income, etc., that seem to plague our neighborhoods.

  14. Ken Schroeppel says:

    Shawn, fantastic post!

    Also, thank you to everyone for the civil discussion. Carry on…

  15. Ben says:

    I have a question, but before I ask it please know that it’s not asked rhetorically or sarcastically. I’m truly trying to understand here.

    Some here say gentrification is bad, some say it’s good, others – a mix of the two. My question is, what are the other options?

    We all agree (I think) that the cities of America are coming back to life and that that’s a good thing. For years, cities have been secondary to the suburbs. Now, people with a little money are coming back to the cities. Businesses are being built, the economy is improving, things are looking up, but how does this continue if we don’t allow (not that it’s up to us) the people with money to live in the city?

    I, for one, am a middle-class, white chump that’s looking for a house in Denver. I work downtown, so I need a house nearby. I’m not rich by any means, so I can’t afford the pricey neighborhoods like Wash Park, Capitol Hill, Highlands, etc. So that means I’m looking at neighborhoods like Whittier, Cole, and Clayton. Does that make me a gentrifier? It very well might, but again, I don’t know what my (or Denver’s) other options are.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on it if you can keep it civil. Again, this is an honest question.

    • Andy says:

      I’m with you in seeking an answer to that question, Ben. The topic of gentrification seems to focus largely on its results, while spending significantly less time on the actions that produce them: middle- and upper-middle-class people looking for places to live. Denver’s population is growing, in large part because the metro area’s drawing college-educated types from around the country, and these people have to live somewhere. It’s just not clear to me where the people decrying gentrification think these new residents should go. To Douglas County, where they’ll reinforce the economic exclusivity? Seems to me the gentrifying demographic (DINKs et al)will want nice restaurants, coffee shops, and yoga studios wherever it lands. Are opponents to gentrification saying these people should choose to live in already economically segregated areas so as to minimize the impact of their earning power and preferences on current residents? Maybe I’m just building a straw man, but if not, that strikes me as a pretty poor alternative. What else is there?

      I should note, though, that Ed (above) makes a great observation. And if the opposition to gentrification can be better characterized as a lamentation for the uprooting of a people and the lost culture of a place, then I’m more inclined to sympathize. That deserves a eulogy, though, not an admonishment to avenge the death of a neighborhood.

    • JC says:

      Ben, good questions. I can’t promise the right answers but I’ll give it a shot. In my opinion the goal should be for the city to continue to revitalize and absorb future growth without further marginalizing/segregating low-income residents. So, one thing that means, and it was mentioned above, is that the city must grow and become more dense.

      As our city/region grows and changes leaders should work to ensure that low-income people from gentrifying city neighborhoods live in areas where opportunity exists ie. decent schools, access to transportation, workforce development programs etc, otherwise the cycle of poverty will continue and we will be left with pockets of lower income neighborhoods (and the associated economic and social costs) as we were after white flight and before (predominantly) white infill. Organizations like DHA and the Urban Land Conservancy are working to try to achieve this but they don’t have all the necessary resources (who does?).

      Where you buy a house is ultimately a personal and financial decision and you should choose the neighborhood that is right for you. You’ll probably fall into the gentrifier category but that is ok. Change always has positives and negatives associated with it. We just need to work to maximize the positives and minimize the negatives. I/you can do that by encouraging the city to think about how rising housing+transportation costs impact residents and encourage policies that lead to more affordability as well as being neighborly respectful white chumps. Lower parking minimums? Changes to zoning? Changes to price schemes on light rail?

  16. Julio says:

    I think the economic and fairness issues need to be examined further. For example, I am starting to see gentrification in my neighborhood of Villa Park due to the new light rail line. What if find unfortunate is that a lot of poorer residents are being forced out (both because of increased rents and property taxes) despite the fact that they are paying for the new light rail line in the form of sales taxes. So they are paying for transit but not able to use it.

    I think there is increasingly becoming a disconnect between wages and housing. We still have a lot of low-wage jobs in the city core and yet increasingly those low-wage workers are being pushed out of the closest residential areas into further suburbs. At the same time, we’re building light rail systems that become more expensive the further one travels on it. So many low-wage workers cannot afford (or have to put more of their income) the transit that there taxes have helped pay for and they have to live further from where they work…that doesn’t seem fair to me.

    I think we need to look at solutions that a) increase affordable housing in the city core and/or make sure that low-income people segregates into poorer suburbs are able to have access to low-cost transit so they can get to work.

  17. Dan says:

    I lived in Whittier, at 28th and Gaylord, for two years before moving to New York City. I live now on the southern border of Harlem, in an neighborhood that used to be called Manhattanville but which is now virtually indistinguishable from the tony Upper West Side. At the time I lived there, my block in Whittier was just about an even mix of relatively new, relatively young well-to-do white professionals and black or hispanic residents whose families had been there for decades. Some of the latter expressed their resentment and lamented that the neighborhood had lost its unique character and sense of unity, but for the most part everyone got along just fine. In New York there’s a much more palpable sense of anger and resentment as rent skyrockets and long-time residents get pushed further and further from the city center.

    I’m certainly no expert, but it seems to me that one of the lessons that a large, extremely diverse, and hyper-wealthy city like New York has for a city like Denver is that thoughtfulness and planning are key. It’s too easy to say that gentrification is, broadly, a negative development that always leads to homogeneity and exponentially inflating property values, and it’s also too easy to say that anti-gentrifiers are clinging to a disappearing past, that change is inevitable in urban environments and that everything will even out in the end. While there is no single answer to these problems, community engagement, open discussion between new/old residents, and legislative support for mixed-income development and rent protection are a good place to start. Diversity and ongoing evolution are key to the continuation of vibrant, healthy urban centers and I hope Denver’s citizens and government can work together to tackle these issues in a constructive and rational manner.

  18. Brent says:

    I think one good way to not be a part of the gentrification problem is to not be the person who buys that single family house in a near-in neighborhood (because you can afford it), and then six weeks later opposes the next 5-story condo/apartment building because it doesn’t fit the “character of the neighborhood.” We shouldn’t only be adding density in the neighborhoods that are too poor to fight City Hall.