By Bree Davies, P.U.M.A. Intern
Gentrification – “the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.” ~ Merriam-Webster
If we start with this definition of gentrification, Denver – like many cities across the world – is in the midst of a citywide gentrification process. While not a new phenomenon for my city, Denver became the epicenter of the conversation in November 2017 when a local chain, Ink! Coffee, posted a sign that read “Ink! Coffee: Happily gentrifying the neighborhood since 2014.” The local response was swift and the anti-gentrification movement that had been brewing for years was set ablaze, generating national news coverage.
In response, I joined several other community activists to form the Denver Community Action Network (DenverCAN) a mix of people from the worlds of politics, local business, affordable housing and development, arts and culture, homeless advocacy, and community organizing. We had all been working on the issue in our own respective spheres, but the Ink! Coffee sign situation was a wake-up call; we needed to join together to make a bigger impact on what we were seeing as a growing inequality in a once-affordable city.
On January 13, 2018, we held “Our Communities Are Not For Sale Gentrification Summit,” a daylong event where community members were invited to share their stories of how gentrification impacts them. We also worked to provide resources and space for conversation with leaders, organizers and organizations working on the various issues related to gentrification in Denver. The day’s program covered the topics of promoting business social responsibility, holding politicians accountable through direct democracy, developing affordable home and business ownership opportunities and cultural preservation.
The result was the beginning of a bigger movement — more than six hundred people showed up for the first conference. Several local news outlets covered it and many city council members were on hand to create a dialogue with constituents, bringing even more attention to the issues. Denverites had clearly been looking for a place to not only share their concerns and struggles with gentrification in their own changing neighborhoods but also to find ways to deal with it and, hopefully some day in the near future, stem the tide of what has felt to me like a whitewashing of a once-culturally diverse city.
I’m an intern with P.U.M.A. and a newcomer to the world of urban planning. Prior to receiving the opportunity to work with the P.U.M.A. team, I spent a decade and a half as a journalist, writing about the people, places and entities that make my hometown of Denver great. It was this reporting that brought me to urban planning; I wanted to do more for my community in a way that could positively and equitably impact the city I love.
Through helping to organize the conference, I was able to think critically about the foundation of a city like Denver and link my own arts community with other communities in the city facing similar challenges. My hope for my own future in urban planning is to incorporate what I have learned into my daily practice. I’m still learning about what gentrification is, how it happens, and what roles city planning, neighborhood development, city government, the business community and citizens play in the way our cities grow. We’d love to hear what’s happening in your community in regards to gentrification. You can share your experience with me via email or on my Facebook page.