Skip to content
Archive of posts filed under the Revitalization category.

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.


Welcome Back to Denver Union Station, Amtrak!

As mentioned earlier, Amtrak has now moved its operations back to Denver Union Station, and are using their new platforms under the new train hall canopy. I was able to make it tonight to take some pictures!

First off, let’s start out by walking around the new platforms under the canopy. This structure, especially at night, is absolutely incredible. Some of the station was still under-construction but we were able to access a good portion of it including the 18th Street pedestrian bridge.

 

 

 

 

 

My perch to watch the train come in was on top of the 18th Street pedestrian bridge. In the second picture, the California Zephyr Amtrak train is pulling into the station!

 

Photos are always great but I have something very special to share with you: A time-lapse of the California Zephyr train pulling into the station. The time-lapse is not very long but is still neat given this is the first train to pull into the new station! It’ll be great to see all of the action going on around this station once the commuter rail lines are done!

Welcome back to Denver Union Station, Amtrak! We are glad to see you back!


Union Station train canopy opens for Amtrak passengers today

At 7:10 this evening, the California Zephyr Amtrak train bound for Chicago will quietly become the first train to use Denver Union Station’s new platforms, under the landmark white canopy. Following it, all Amtrak trains through Denver from now on will use Union Station instead of the temporary depot at 20th & Wewatta.

Although most of Union Station is still under construction, and not yet open to passengers, this marks the first major milestone in the opening of the station. For now Amtrak passengers will still use temporary facilities to wait, buy tickets, and retrieve luggage.

The underground bus terminal is expected to open in May, followed by the interior of the historic depot building in July. The first RTD trains aren’t scheduled to use the new platforms until 2016, when commuter rail begins service to the airport and other points north.


Downtown Reinvestment: Denver City Center Final Update

It’s time to take a final look at the Denver City Center plaza as it is now complete! This plaza, situated on 17th and California, has gone through a major renovation and has given new life to this intersection. Here are all the previous updates for this project.

Downtown Reinvestment: Denver City Center 

Downtown Reinvestment: Denver City Center Update #2 

Today I have a huge photo tour covering all the new elements of this renovation. Let’s start off with the 18th Street side. 707 17th Street is a mixed use building with two entrances. Before this project, each entrance looked very different and nothing was uniform along the street. Now, both entrances are clearly marked and the same materials are used on both sides of the building: a steel and glass awning, wooden ledges, and uniform stairs.

 

The 17th Street side is a little bit different because there are no entrances to the buildings along this street. Instead, there are glass awnings and signs attached to the Johns Manville Plaza building clearly marking the entrances to the retail.

The Stout Street side is more or less the same as 17th Street minus a new entrance to Johns Manville Plaza. There is also an inward facing triangular set of benches interestingly placed along Stout as well.

 

Heading towards 18th along Stout you will also find the new bus shelters. The rounded edge steel and translucent glass is a reoccurring theme throughout this whole block and it looks pretty sharp!

 

Here is a closer look at the outer facing ground floor retail pads. Once again, there is a translucent glass awning with ‘Denver City Center’ signage on the outside.

 

There are two entrances to the Denver City Center plaza, one off of California and the other off of Stout. Each entrance will be very well lit thanks to the new sleek street lights that were installed.

 

The entrances off of 17th street are also very inviting. Here you will find the same signage, bike racks, and resting areas.

 

Let’s take a look at the plaza itself. Even though the idea of a plaza in front of office buildings is a thing of the past, this is a great example of what the modernization of an existing plaza should look like. There is ample seating, great tree coverage, tables and chair scattered throughout, and color patterned concrete clearly marking the plaza.

 

The tables and chairs are bright yellow and green adding a nice splash of color.

 

Wooden benches also line the landscaping bulbs for additional seating.

 

The landscaping is very well done with both plants and trees in each bulb. Also included on each side of the plaza is the Denver City Center Signage.

 

This plaza renovation is exactly what this part of Downtown Denver needed and we would all hope that it would help activate this area. Unfortunately, there is a major flaw with this plaza. Did you notice there was not one single person on the plaza even with a very busy hotel right on top of it? This is because we, as pedestrians and passersby, cannot use this plaza; it is not for public use. There is a sign, which can be missed, stating ‘Private Property, No Trespassing’. I was approached, as I was wrapping up my photo set, by a guard from Johns Manville Plaza saying it was in their ‘policy’ that I cannot take photos of the plaza. At this time, I had not seen the sign saying this was private property. Complying with his demands to move along, I put my camera away and decided to take a seat on a bench to enjoy the new look of the plaza. A few minutes later, I was approached by another guard, this time from 707 17th Street, saying I cannot be on the plaza unless I am a tenant of either two buildings. From then on, he watched me from the center of the plaza as I was taking pictures from the sidewalk to make sure I would not enter again. We have this wonderful plaza that is actually deactivating this block during non-business hours. What a shame, there is so much lost potential.


Denver Union Station Renovation

Time for a DenverUrbanism exclusive look inside the historic Denver Union Station’s transformation from a sleepy train station into a luxury hotel. RTD has partnered with Union Station Alliance to transform one of Denver’s most historic structures into a 112-room hotel. Union Station Alliance is a partnership of Urban Neighborhoods (of Dana Crawford fame), Sage Hospitality (Oxford Hotel), and Milender White Construction, among many others. Thanks to RTD and JG Johnson Architects, we have an exclusive look.

If you’ve been down near Union Station anytime within the last few months, it’s hard to miss the scaffolding. There is a TON of work going on at 17th and Wynkoop Streets, but with the notable exception of the massive scaffolding collection, a lot of the work remains hidden inside. 

  

The canopy that surrounds much of the LoDo-front of Union Station will be maintained and restored, as evidenced in the pictures below. There will be patio space surrounding the building – nearly 20 feet worth. The canopy will have glass installed to allow some light through, but protect us from the elements. The nice part about the building being reinvented as a hotel is that crews will always be hand to make sure the canopy is clean and looking it’s best.

 

The main train hall room, formerly adorned with long wooden benches and steam heat, is completely filled with scaffolding. Crews are working to restore and refinish the walls to their former glory and will also be installing new light fixtures (replacing the absolutely abhorrent fluorescent lights that were there before) while maintaining the historic elements that graced the hall. The main hall will be a public space serving as a mixing bowl between hotel guests and outside visitors alike. Hotel check in will be on the second floor.

 

  

The hall was notoriously echo-filled and acoustically displeasing.  Crews are working to place noise dampeners along the ceiling to help reduce the echos that used to flow throughout the space. As you can see in the pictures below, the pink is a primer applied to the walls prior to the sound dampening panels, which are a grayish-tan color.

 

Just off the main train hall in what used to be the ticket office, crews are working to transform the space into what could be known as “The Terminal Room,” serving as a bar for hotel and downtown visitors alike. The Terminal Room was the name of a bar that was at Union Station during the railroad’s hay days – the name is a perfect shout-out to the building’s storied past.  The space is fairly skinny but runs the length of the train hall. It should make for a very cool bar and fit right in down in LoDo.

 

For the historic preservation advocates reading this, take comfort in the fact that it seems that Union Station Alliance and RTD have taken every effort to protect the historic elements within the building. From columns and staircase railings to arch detail and crown moldings, historic elements present before the renovation will still adorn the historic structure after completion.

 

  

 

A casualty of modern building and safety codes are staircases such as those inside Denver Union Station that lead to the upper floors. Don’t fret – they’re not being removed or modified in any significant way, but there are other staircases being constructed that meet fire safety standards. To construct a stairwell in an existing structure is difficult, as you could probably imagine. There’s a lot of demolition and reconstruction as they are constructed. 

  

Denver Union Station has very ornate historic staircases leading to the upper floors. Luckily, these staircases aren’t going anywhere. They have been identified as historic elements so they are being preserved. As you can see in the pictures, crews are making every effort to ensure they make it through the renovation with no accidental damage.

 

 

As I mentioned before, the hotel will have 112 rooms, 90 of which will be unique sizes (yes, 90 – that wasn’t a typo). Only 22 of the rooms will have a twin somewhere else in the building. Even the attic of Denver Union Station is being converted in hotel rooms. Not many have been up here before and you can see why in the pictures below. There are awkward roof lines and little ventilation. This will change as a few additional dormers are added to the building as the hotel rooms are constructed. The attic will host some of the larger rooms in the hotel as rooms will be longer to make sure that every room has a window, as required by code. Obviously, there’s a lot of work to do before that happens, but construction is well under way. The large, angled beams will be integrated into the hotel rooms, serving as a nod to the building’s historic past. 

 

 

 

For those who have been in the basement at Denver Union Station may remember a space that looks very different than it does today. What used to be the home of the model railroad exhibit is being transformed into conference space and home to other essential hotel functions. Additionally, Amtrak will have administrative space in the basement. A lot of work has gone into shoring up the foundations down here as well. Crews have been busy installing reinforcing concrete and large steel beams to help support the structure above. A lot of excavation work has occurred as well to help clear the space, even turning up the bones of what Union Station Alliance believe was a horse – and no, they have no idea how that got down there.

  

   

   

Retail is included as part of the Denver Union Station renovations. As announced by Larimer Associates in May, Denver favorites Snooze and The Kitchen will be opening locations at Denver Union Station in addition to a restaurant and market concept by Alex Seidel. These will be located on the ground floors of the north and south wings. Construction of the retail spaces has opened up the wing buildings into very large and inviting spaces. The posts lining the center of the room will remain as well.

 

 

Construction will continue through the fall as rooms are constructed and the Union Station Hotel will open in the summer of 2014!