13 January 2006

The Gentrification of Five Points

The neighborhood to the North of downtown Denver is called "Five Points". In recent times, it has been one of the city's most distressed neighborhoods. But, the same class of developers who brought us LoDo, the South Platte neighborhood, and Uptown (f.k.a. North Capital Hill) are now taking a big gamble on the idea that they can turn a small swath of Five Points near Coors Field into a high end "Ballpark" neighborhood with expensive townhouses and condos.

Outside of the gentrification area, Five Points is undergoing a different kind of transformation. Historically, it has been a predominantly black neighborhood, but the most recent census tract data indicated that black residents of the neighborhood are increasingly being replaced by Hispanic residents, while many black residents are moving to other historically black neighborhoods to the East, to new neighborhoods like Gateway, and to the suburbs.

The large public housing project near downtown in the neighborhood is also undergoing transformation -- it was originally going to be converted into non-subsidized units by the developers when their HUD obligation expired, then was bought by the City, and then was discovered to be in such bad shape that it was temporarily shut down for renovations, even though one of the City's purposes in buying it had been to prevent the mass displacements that arose from the original developer's eviction of the residents so that they could upgrade the housing stock there for the general public.

Unlike the urban renewal programs of the 1970s which have been widely condemned by later urban planners and urban historians, gentrification efforts like those in the Ballpark neighborhood are simply part of the natural life cycle of a vibrant city like Denver. While the city has allowed the boosters to set up a historic district, these projects have not been accomplished using governmental sticks, like the power of eminent domain, or carrots, like huge tax breaks or loan guarantees. The City has given fair and helpful assistance to the developers in the zoning process, but little more. As a result, residents move out piecemeal, in chunks small enough for the community to absorb socially, homeowner's leave only when and if they are ready and are well compensated in the process, and because the move is from one kind of residential use to another with similar density, albeit of a very different character, the new residents can sometimes find common ground with the old ones to improve community resources like parks, businesses and other public spaces. This isn't to say that neighborhood transformation is ever comfortable for all involved, or that there aren't renters in the neighorhood who will now be forced to move much further out to avoid rising rents as the area changes, but it could be worse.

By comparison, the Auraria campus near downtown, which houses CU-Denver, the Community College of Denver and Metropolitan State College, was built as part of the 1970s urban renewal movement in a style typical of that era. The government condemned and bulldozed a huge swath of a relatively healthy working class neighborhood adjacent to downtown, dispersing the previously cohesive community as people sought new residents all over the metropolitan area. Another swath of that neighborhood became the Parkway complex, which due to its supermarket, offices, senior residences, townhouse complex and large numbers of mid-range apartments, managed to acquire the critical mass it needed to become a neighborhood of its own. The remainder of that neighborhood, Lincoln Park, has never really recovered, and a decision to put one of the city's largest public housing projects in that neighborhood dealt a crippling blow to a neighborhood already amputated by the Auraria development. West High School (even the International program in the school will be moving to a separate campus) and Greenlee Elementary School have not thrived, further impairing postitive development in the neighborhood, Sante Fe Avenue struggles to become a new avant guard main street of galleries, small theater companies, Hispanic oriented businesses and non-profits despite these pressures, and Sunken Gardens Park in front of West High School, once home to Denver's answer to New York's Rockefeller Center outdoor ice skating rink has now ceded that honor to the Cherry Creek mall.

Time will tell if the Ballpark developers will lose their shirts, or will prosper as Mayor Hickenlooper did in LoDo. Overall, my sentiments are that new high end development in the vicinity of downtown (and likely favored by those who spend a lot of time downtown, in many cases because they work there), isn't a bad thing.


EMRosa said...

I don't think it is. We don't need another LODO, and rent prices in the Metro area are high enough. I know I can' afford a condo, and certainly no place by LODO.

Also, if you have no car (and can't afford one and insurance), living in the Metro area is the most convenient, whereas the bus routes by the suburbs are sub-par and sometimes go in hour intervals. (And at late times don't run at all.) How is a working person with out a car supposed to live in the suburbs? Aurora maybe, but even the routes there aren't good.

What this is doing is actually making it more difficult for young "low-skilled" workers to support them selves, even with room mates. Then they get pushed to the crazy places in Capitol Hill.

But then again that is an issue I doubt has ever crossed our mayors mind. I’m obviously no economist, but I don’t like the idea of rolling over Denver’s arguably most well-known community. That’s not what I call progress.

EMRosa said...

And this is to say I understand that it won’t happen in an instant, but it still feels wrong, so very very wrong.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Keep keeping me honest and keep raising questions. I have my own biases and deserve to be flagilated with them regularly. I need to think and say more about the issues you've raised.

Anonymous said...

I personally like it. I would really like to see Capital Hill and the areas between Lincoln and Speer at that end of town become more upscale. It is really exciting how much construction is going on right now in downtown. I can't wait to see what things are going to be like in five years. It is fun to be a part of a vibrant young city like Denver.

gus said...

one thing is for sure...when the gentrification is complete all you will really be left with is a plastic martini bar culture. And isn't that what life is really about for the techno-managerial type.
Gus Hoffman

Anonymous said...

all of you will never understand, until youre a victim of gentrification, being forced to move from a neighborhood/home that generations of your family have lived in. is it really worth it, so you can walk your dog to the bookstore down the street and lose the originality that denver once posessed. please respond

Anonymous said...

Gentrification is about as natural as it gets. It is purely a condition of supply and demand. When neighborhoods are in low demand, values decrease and vice versa. Gentrification is simply a form of heightened demand that actually brings value to neighborhoods because they now have inhabitants that 'want' to be there. Affordability is always an issue, and trust me, Five Points has more than it's share. The resurgence of Five Points is well deserved and can be done in a way that celebrates the past by welcoming in the future. This is what will make it unique. The notion that neighborhoods must stay the same to be attractive is absurd. A mix of historical energy and contemporary energy can be a wonderful fusion - we should not lose progress in our efforts to preserve.

Anonymous said...

you mean i'm gonna stay this color?

black black black black-- you.
you arn't black. so why are you on the same line as black?
are you trying to take over thier neighborhood?
thier slang, and thier babies? thier boyfriends? thier ladies?
i thought educated white people like you knew
that cites have clear lines between me-- and you.
and that satelite images of streets don't change
and if you live on that side, you probably don't 'bang.'
you like it soft, and slow, and sensual, because
that word reminds you of guns and black people.
and you're pretty sure thats' whose been raping your babies.

i may have been born pink, but i live in five points now,
so these days i can afford to speak
for every color of people-- somehow:
and i say, don't be sad that you can't stay,
its a gentrification nation baby,
we've known you'd get pushed out of here
since the very first day.