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Talk of the Neighborhood

Compiled by Cara DeGette, Editor, GPHN

The following is a synopsis of what was discussed during the May 3 Greater Park Hill Community, Inc. monthly meeting. The next community meeting is Thursday, June 7, beginning at 6:30 p.m. at 2823 Fairfax St. There is no community meeting in July. The meetings are free and open to the public. Everyone is welcome.

District 2 Police Update

Community Resource Officer Sharon Avedaño provided an update on police activities in the neighborhood. She delivered the bad news first: Burglary trends have been on the increase at unoccupied houses, she said, and thieves are taking appliances and construction tools. Avedaño advised neighbors to call 911 right away if they see suspicious activity occurring. “If you see something, say something,” she said. And now for good news: Thefts from motor vehicles have decreased somewhat, likely due to people locking their cars and preventing would-be thieves from rifling through their stuff. “Good work,” Avedaño said. Avedaño also reminded neighbors that summer is approaching, meaning lots of kids will be out running around. When driving, “slow down and keep your foot off the gas pedal,” she said. At-Large GPHC board member Louis Plachowski inquired about whether police can do anything about cars driving down neighborhood streets that are playing thumping music so loud they can be heard four blocks away. Denver has noise ordinances that prohibit such loud disturbances, however police have to witness the violation to do anything, Avedaño said. Plachowski noted that there are signs in other parts of the city advising of the illegality, and Avedaño agreed to ask the noise ordinance authorities to install a sign or signs in Park Hill. Police Lt. Ray Martinez then provided a brief update on gang activity in the area. A potential suspect in a shooting near 28th and Eudora may or may not have been identified, he said. “We are working to keep gang violence and shootings down.”

GPHC Update

Sierra Fleenor, executive director of Greater Park Hill Community, Inc., reported that 44 households and 108 individuals received assistance in April via the emergency food pantry. In 2018 so far, a total of 110 households and 286 individuals have been served. Fleenor noted that several items are almost always needed at the food pantry, including fruit and meat, peanut butter, ramen, rice, instant mashed potatoes, oatmeal, soups, pasta and rice sides, and black-eyed peas. The pantry also needs all types of hygiene products. (For more requests and how to donate, check out page 16.) Fleenor said the weekend food program, which provides area students with food when school is not in session, has served approximately 275 students this school year. This month, GPHC’s free farm stand returns, and Fleenor asked local gardeners to consider donating their extra vegetables.

Engaged At The Library

Pauline Robinson Branch Librarian Leslie Williams and Park Hill Branch Librarian Tara Bannon Williamson provided an update on ongoing community conversations being sponsored by the libraries. The meetings seek to authentically engage people and better understand the neighborhood’s shared aspirations, concerns and actions.

Four group conversations were held between July 2016 and September 2017, with a total of 42 community members from across the Greater Park Hill community (North, Northeast and South). A summary report was published in a recent issue of the GPHN and excerpts the top five issues of concern that have emerged can be reviewed in the summary below. Those five issues include: gentrification in Park Hill, equity in schools, safety, civil discourse and understanding/preserving the history of the neighborhood. Conversations in the community are ongoing. If you would like to be more involved, contact tbannon@denverlibrary.org and/or lwilliams@denverlibrary.org.

A general discussion followed. Several people suggested places where the findings could be shared and distributed, including at GPHC-sponsored events, on the library websites, on GPHC, Inc.’s website (greaterparkhill.org), and as resources for local realtors, immigration offices, the city’s planning and zoning department, other city agencies, etc. Several people highlighted parallels between peoples’ concerns over gentrification and the current controversy over the Fairfax park land swap deal and redevelopment of the business block.

Auto Zone Rain Garden

Several landscape planning students in the environmental design program at CU Boulder have been working on designing a water retention project at the site directly north of the Auto Zone at Colfax and Cherry Street.  The students provided an update on their project, including a rain garden at the site that would help mitigate stormwater runoff.

Fairfax Park Land Swap

Several board members expressed the desire to discuss the controversial proposed land swap deal between the city of Denver and the developer of the Park Hill Commons project on Fairfax Street between 28th and 29th Avenues. Specifically, many wanted to discuss the findings of a news story and a timeline of events that was published in the May issue of the Greater Park Hill News. (The story and timeline, as well as past coverage dating to November, 2016, can be read at greaterparkhill.org.) Last month’s news story detailed several ways that neighbors are split – either opposing or supporting the proposed land swap – and how the city’s actions have helped fuel heated debate. During the discussion, several neighbors expressed frustration and anger at the actions by city Councilman Chris Herndon and Parks and Recreation Deputy Director Scott Gilmore, who helped broker the deal. Several also expressed anger at the department’s executive director, Happy Haynes. In an interview with GPHN, Haynes had denied the existence of a Letter of Intent between the city and the developer to move forward with the land swap; however a Letter of Intent indeed was formalized between the two entities last November. Despite that Letter of Intent, the Parks and Recreation Department hired consultants to carry out additional public sessions to provide “input” for a new public park design, and claimed that Haynes would make the final recommendation for where the park should be located. Note: Since the meeting, Haynes’ office announced it is indeed recommending the city move ahead with the park land swap with the developer, and supports the building of the public park inside the Park Hill Commons development (the unsigned letter from the department to “Park Hill Neighbors” can be read online at greaterparkhill.org).

The Denver City Council will need to vote on whether to accept the park department’s recommendation. Check back next month for continuing coverage of this issue.

 

Our Park Hill

Library Conversations and Findings

The following are excerpts from the report compiled by local librarians Tara Bannon Williamson and Leslie Williams, following a series of community-centered conversations. The complete report – including ideas for how people can better work together, and what people feel the library can do to help, and what’s on tap for the rest of the year – can be reviewed online in mid-June at greaterparkhill.org.

What kind of community do we want?

Community members we spoke with in the Greater Park Hill community want an inclusive and safe neighborhood where “we can live in our home as long as we want.” All age groups also talked about the importance of diversity. Residents also share a desire for open communication – “civil discourse” – exploring contrary beliefs and experiences.

For these things to happen, community members believe they need to work toward “One Park Hill” that includes all of Park Hill (North, Northeast, South). By embracing One Park Hill, the advantage to everyone is that a combination of races, cultures, socioeconomic statuses, family structures and ages provides a richer identity for the whole community.

What are we concerned about?

To achieve the kind of community Park Hill residents want, it is important to understand some of the big issues that are getting in the way. People can see each concern on its own and connected to the other issues.

1. Civil Discourse

Those we heard from stated a need to, in the words of one person, “practice talking to each other about things we’re uncomfortable with” and an increase in person-to-person dialogue. The ability to have conversations with others with different opinions … is seen as a stepping-stone to other issues. Neighborhood yard signs were seen as a frequent method of communication that may not always be effective.

People expressed strong opinions about the negative way the neighborhood interacts online in groups like Facebook and NextDoor.

These interactions were not seen as being effective conversations because one does not listen in order to understand in this environment. Specifically related to the comments on social media, one community member stated, “There’s history here, but new neighbors moving in don’t respect it.”

2. History of the Neighborhood

Historically, the lines that created the divisions in Park Hill have been variable and subject to change over time. As you can see from the aspirations above, people want One Park Hill. For this to happen, the community needs to understand and build on the rich legacy of inclusivity and working together for a common goal.

Residents who have lived in the neighborhood for 50 plus years, as well as newer residents, have selected this community for its rich history and diversity. There was concern that many moving into the neighborhood are unaware of the history and that “knowing the history of your community, and neighborhood, leads to some appreciation” in the words of one community member. This lack of knowledge is contributing to some of the tensions around diversity and discourse that is not very civil.

3. Gentrification

One resident voiced the concern that “gentrification threatens our history.” The fast changes, growth and gentrification of Denver make keeping up relationships with neighbors, and learning the history of the community, challenging. A neighbor stated that she “loves how diverse her block is and is afraid it will change.”

Another influence on losing the history of the neighborhood is that older adults are unable to age in place. Due to the rising cost of living and property taxes, they are being priced out of their longtime homes. Increasing isolation is also a factor.

4. School Equity 

Rising housing costs and redevelopment are also impacting Park Hill’s neighborhood schools as participants discussed the declining enrollment in some neighborhoods and deepening sharp economic divides between others, as can be seen in the five elementary schools in the Park Hill neighborhood.

5. Safety

The topic of safety was multifaceted and means different things to different residents. In one community conversation, residents talked about threats from gang activity. One person summed up residents’ frustration by saying, “We wish the police would get a handle on the gang activity in the Holly Square.” This is quite different from safety concerns expressed in another community conversation, “While riding my bike, I don’t feel safe with cars whizzing by.” To deeply understand this issue and related priorities, more conversations with residents will be needed.


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