Caravan Through Neighborhood Starts and Ends with Commitments to Community

By Kathryn White

Mayor Mike Johnston spent Saturday morning, March 2, in the Denver neighborhoods of Globeville, Swansea and Elyria. Residents, former residents—some of whom had been displaced by city projects—and members of the GES Coalition guided the mayor through local history, grassroots accomplishments and opportunities to support neighborhood initiatives that they hoped the mayor would say “yes” to. 

It was a morning unlike most a mayor would experience during a typical day in an office downtown.

GES Coalition member Alfonso Espino speaks to an estimated 50 people, including Mayor Mike Johnston and Councilman Darrell Watson, on March 2 at the “triangle,” a 65-acre area of Denver that includes the current National Western Stock Show Complex. The triangle has been the subject of competing visions over the last decade, and the GES Coalition presented a draft of theirs to the mayor that day. Photo by Kathryn White

The three-hour guided caravan departed from Birdseed Collective’s community center in Globeville and made stops at the “triangle,” Longview Mobile Home Park and five homes on Josephine Street owned by the Tierra Colectiva community land trust. 

Over 50 people joined the caravan, including leaders from the National Western Center, Councilman Darrell Watson, city staff and members of several community groups.

“We’re doing this because we believe, and we hope that people here today, especially this administration, can see that we can build something different,” said GES Coalition member Alfonso Espino. “We’re doing this today, more than anything, because people want to be here. People want to build something different here.”

“People love their history here,” Espino continued. “And it’s something that could be integrated into a new vision, a new future, that involves our community at the heart of it.”

A banner depicting a portion of “Our Plan for Our Land: GES Community Plan for the Triangle” is affixed to one of the few remaining structures on a four-block area where parking lots and National Western Stock Show buildings replaced over 100 homes. Photo by Kathryn White

The caravan made its first stop in an area known as “the triangle,” a 65-acre area of Denver that includes the current National Western Stock Show Complex. The 47-acre portion of the triangle remaining to be developed has been the subject of several—often competing—visions over the last decade, and the GES Coalition presented a draft of theirs that day.

“Our Plan for Our Land: GES Community Pan for the Triangle” will be formally released in April, although many community members at the March 2 event were involved in the three-year process leading up to it. According to the plan, there were teach-ins, workshops, scenario planning, multiple community discussions and a walking tour.

Mayor Mike Johnston signs a banner of support rolled out for the March 2 visit to the triangle. Photo by Kathryn White

The plan includes affordable housing through the Tierra Colectiva community land trust, a “People’s Plaza,” local and small businesses along Brighton Boulevard, age-friendly safe streets, and gardens and playgrounds throughout.

At each of the day’s three stops, community members asked the mayor to commit, through yes or no questions, to supporting aspects of their vision. The group did not get a definitive “yes” from Mayor Johnston for Tierra Colectiva ownership at the “triangle,” but it heard from him that he saw a place for some sort of “community ownership” in the range of solutions he is hearing about. And he signed a banner of support that had been rolled out for the occasion. 

Longview Mobile Home Park families ask Mayor Johnston to extend a moratorium enacted last year to halt land development projects they feared could lead to resident displacement. Photo by Kathryn White

The next stop, Longview Mobile Home Park, provided the mayor an easier opportunity to say “yes.”

Residents at Longview, a community made up of 57 families, asked the mayor to help city council extend a moratorium enacted last year on land development they feared could lead to their displacement.

Johnston provided a definitive “yes,” eliciting cheers and applause from the group. He went on to commit to supporting council efforts to change zoning laws in order to give mobile home owners more flexibility to make improvements to their homes.

Councilman Darrell Watson commits to extending the moratorium on development at mobile home parks, and says he will work with Council President Torres on updates to Denver zoning to allow owners to make improvements to their homes. Photo by Kathryn White

Councilman Watson chimed in to add his own “yes,” saying that he and Council President Jamie Torres are actively working on these changes. Two of Denver’s five remaining mobile home parks are located in Council District 9, Councilman Watson’s district.

The day ended on Josephine Street, where owners of Tierra Colectiva community land trust homes spoke to the impact of home ownership on their families. By then, the sun was high and the wind had picked up.

After a morning spent hopping in and out of cars and listening to the concerns and hopes of a community, snacks were in order. And so, the well-organized event ended with refreshments provided by Mr. Corn Paletería, a popular small business located up the street from the homes.

“I think today,” Robin Reichhardt, director of organizing for the GES Coalition, said, “it was just great to see the mayor come out. It was great to see him willing to listen to the neighbors. We’re trying to show that there’s a real win here for the mayor. And we’re doing the homework, we’re gonna keep doing the homework. But we need someone to lift it up and open the door.”

Members of the GES Coalition, along with Mayor Mike Johnston and Councilman Darrell Watson, at the group’s last stop on March 2. Photo by Kathryn White

“It was a really good day,” Councilman Watson said. “Walking and listening with community, that can never be a bad day.”

Watson said that the requests made by residents at Longview provided an opportunity for a very practical, near-term win. “With the work that we are doing,” Watson said, “we want to make sure we have the zoning and the processes in place so that families who are living in these extremely affordable and attainable units can stay in these homes.”

A bill to extend the moratorium that halts development on properties containing mobile home parks was filed with city council on March 5. It will be taken up by the council’s Land Use, Transportation & Infrastructure Committee. If passed, the moratorium will continue until Dec. 31, 2024.

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