Noelle Phillips, The Denver Post
Participants speak in a Breakout session on business social accountability at the Denver Gentrification Summit on Jan. 13, 2018.
The hundreds of people at a Denver gentrification summit Saturday morning acknowledged they were fighting an uphill battle, but they were determined to find a way to preserve the city’s minority neighborhoods as its growth continues to accelerate.
“We’re not here to stop gentrification,” said Yessica Holguin, whose Community Wealth Building Network is helping businesses that will be impacted by the Interstate 70 expansion project. “We know that’s not going to happen. But how can we ensure our communities continue to exist as Denver keeps growing?”
Several hundred people attended the “2018 Gentrification Summit: Our Communities Are Not for Sale” at Shorter Community AME Church, where the speeches were fiery and the ideas were free-flowing. Many expressed concern that new development is pushing minorities out of their traditional neighborhoods and eliminating the culture that defined them.
“We are here this morning because we have grumbled and complained among ourselves, but we have not had the public discussion of how we live humanely with each other without destroying each other’s past, present and future,” said the Rev. Timothy Tyler, the pastor at Shorter.
Many of the most-heated comments were focused on Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who critics say is too willing to cater to developers over community residents. On Thursday, Hancock hosted a live Facebook event in which he and a panel of five hand-picked guests discussed gentrification’s impact on the city.
But that social media discussion was mocked Saturday by activists who said they knew what Hancock would say before the first sentence was uttered.
“We don’t have time for politicians caught with their hands in the cookie jar,” Tyler said. “Yes, it is a difficult conversation, Mr. Mayor.”
Jenna Espinoza, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office, said in statement, “Several city staff members attended the meeting today to listen to community members concerns and collect ideas. We know this is a challenging issue that is impacting our longtime residents and we will continue to listen and work to make Denver affordable for our families.”
Much of Saturday’s event was spent in smaller group discussions as people offered ideas on how to hold elected officials accountable, how to force businesses to be better community members and how to develop affordable and accessible housing in Denver.
The catalyst for the gentrification summit originated among activists who were angered in November when Colorado-based ink! Coffee posted a sign outside its Five Points store that said, “Happily gentrifying the neighborhood since 2014.” The sign triggered protests, but the activists who organized Saturday’s meeting decided it was time to do more about the issue than protest.
“Gentrification is not a joke,” said Tay Anderson, one of the leaders of the ink! protests. “Kicking blacks, Latinos and Native Americans out of their homes is not a joke.”