Both well-known and blighted, the Globeville/Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods just north of Denver are in for some big changes. The ambitious projects will potentially cost billions of dollars and significantly transform the community. Residents hope the revitalization won’t come at their expense.
You’ve most likely driven through the Globeville/Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods, or more precisely, you’ve driven over them. Sitting at the junction of Interstates 70 and 25, the community of roughly 3,000 has been dissected by several elevated portions of interstate. For lifelong residents like Liliana Flores Amaro and her extended family, the gigantic gray slabs of concrete are a physical reminder of what the area has endured.
“You know, it’s really funny,” muses Flores Amaro. “There’s sort of a contradiction where people in different areas of the city might not even know that we’re in Denver, right? And if people know that we are part of Denver, you know, it’s really easy to make fun of us, and be the butt of jokes.”
With the revitalization, there’s a fear of gentrification in the neighborhood. Other renovation projects in Denver, such as the Northside and Highland neighborhoods have pushed a once largely immigrant population away as home prices have soared.
“People want to be able to have amenities and services that any other neighborhood has in Denver, and still be able to afford to live there,” Flores Amaro said.
A History of Industry
Immigrants have called Globeville/Elyria-Swansea home for well over a hundred years. Eastern Europeans moved to the neighborhood in the 1800’s largely because of the Globe Smelting and Refining Company that processed raw minerals brought from Colorado’s high country. Other industry followed. While the community may have a gritty appearance; residents have created a vibrant, cultural community all their own.
“It’s a great mix of families that have been there for generations and decades,” Flores Amaro said. The neighborhoods have always been that way, highly industrial and a home to immigrants. Most recently, from Mexico.
Denver City Councilwoman Judy Montero, who represents the neighborhood, says there’s not much that can be done about the lack of urban planning in the neighborhood, or the “past environmental justice issues” due to industry that have plagued the community for years. But it's the driving force behind the revitalization -city officials want to have an impact on the future.
“I mean, we weren’t at the table,” Councilwoman Montero said. “But it’s within our purview and within our responsibility to undo the things that had been done before, and do right by the people that live here.”
Creating a ‘Corridor of Opportunity’
With major improvements announced and then shelved in the past, the six new projects proposed in the neighborhood are the closest to fruition than any that have come before. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock unveiled the projects, dubbed the ‘North Denver Cornerstone Collaborative,’ in 2013.
“We absolutely want to transform this, we need sidewalks, we need new drainage,” said Mayor Hancock. “We’re going to need new roads out here. New infrastructure as far as vertical buildings are concerned, and that means jobs and investment in the area.”
A total of four new light-rail stations will be constructed in the neighborhood and the East Commuter Rail Line will cut through on its way to Denver International Airport. Another project could remove the aging interstate viaduct over the neighborhood, burying it underground and replacing it with a sprawling park.
The National Western Stock Show, an integral part of the neighborhood since the early 1900’s, also has big plans to integrate into the changes. Once the subject of speculation on whether it was moving or not, Paul Anderson, the stock show’s President and CEO says he remains committed to staying put.
“We’re looking at all of those [projects], with the neighborhood specifically,” Anderson said. “In fact, we’ve formed a citizen advisory committee made up of over 20 leaders in both Elyria-Swansea and Globeville.”
Despite being invited to multiple community meetings, Lilianna Flores Amaro, says some in the neighborhood are leery about the changes. “Projects or organizations or agencies come in and made promises and [were not] good on those,” she said.” And I think people are still really frustrated.”
But Mayor Hancock says the area needs to be improved; to turn what has been called the back door of Denver into the new front door. “Reality is that, you know, we are not pleased with the entrance to our downtown,” he said.
Councilwoman Montero maintains the community will have a say as planning moves forward, with funding secured for low income housing and other assistance programs to keep residents in the neighborhood.
“This neighborhood is a source of pride, and what they’re asking for is equity that is existent in maybe other neighborhoods, and that’s what they want,” said Montero. “And our hope here is to have them be at the core of what we’re doing, the human development part.”
Even if the projects come to fruition in their current form, it will take at least a decade before they’re all fully realized. In that time, multiple administrations could come and go. That could mean the hope and promises of a renewed neighborhood are in sight, but possibly just out of reach.