Community at the Crossroads

Guest Contributor

Two neighborhoods rich with histories perch at the north edge of Denver near the “mousetrap” intersection of Interstates 70 and 25. Globeville and Elyria Swansea (GES) have been at the crossroads of the city’s march toward progress for more than a century. Through decades of changes both economic and demographic, the residents of these neighborhoods have remained connected to one another, nurturing what is best about community.

One such neighbor is Esperanza (see cover photo), who has lived in Globeville for 13 years. She works hard raising her four children, ages seven through 12, all of whom have attended Garden Place Academy at Lincoln and 45th Avenue. She is also hard at work launching a business. “It is my dream to have a restaurant, where I can serve traditional foods from my country,” she says. In the meantime, she prepares delicious pupusas, a Salvadoran delicacy, for events and gatherings. To lay the groundwork for her dream, Esperanza recently completed a 20-week program on business, finance, and nutrition offered by GES LiveWell (Globeville Elyria Swansea). Esperanza’s entrepreneurial spirit is not new to GES. These communities host the remnants of many industries that have bloomed and faded over the past century and a half. In the late 1800s, Globeville and Elyria Swansea were home to smelters processing gold, silver, and other ores from mines high in the Rockies. These were followed in the 1900s by stockyards and meatpacking plants, attracted by the presence of the railroad and the National Western Stock Show. Families similar to Esperanza’s, primarily immigrants initially from Eastern Europe and later from Spanish-speaking countries, came to take advantage of work opportunities and stayed for generations.

As the meatpacking industry moved out of the city in the mid-1900s to access automation and more affordable rural locations, tax revenues and job opportunities plummeted, while the abandoned buildings of the industry remained. Then, in the 1960s, Globeville and Elyria Swansea were hit hard by the construction of I-70, part of President Eisenhower’s vision of an interstate highway system. Despite dozens of homes being destroyed and the neighborhoods being bifurcated by the freeway, the communities have remained strong with some of the highest homeownership rates in the city of Denver. Still, they face many challenges. GES has lost a myriad of services and infrastructure, including a grocery store, and the community lacks a comprehensive healthcare facility. Now, these changes are intensifying yet again.

In 2015, voters approved a $1 billion bond to expand and modernize the National Western Stock Show complex, which will include a brand of the Colorado State University Veterinary School. A planned expansion of I-70 from I-25 to Colorado Boulevard will disrupt many more homes. The buildout of the FasTracks mass transit system cuts right through the neighborhoods, with the promise of development, along with the danger of gentrification.

In the face of these changes, Globeville and Elyria Swansea residents are seeking to define their own future, bolstered by the infusion of resources, times, and expertise from a network of neighborhood-based nonprofits, generous philanthropists, and involved city officials.

Just a few of the groups at work in GES include:

GES LiveWell- a nonprofit working out of Focus Points Family Resource Center. The organization works with and for the communities of Globeville and Elyria Swansea; organizing families to make positive changes to the built environment, increase economic opportunities, and achieve the fundamental changes that are necessary for residents to lead active and healthy lives.

El Sistema- a revolutionary music program imported from Venezuela operating at Garden Place Academy, Swansea Elementary, and Bruce Randolph Middle and High School. Students like Esperanza’s children David and Beatrice (see cover photo), learn to play instruments and sing, with direct benefits to their academic success, self-confidence, creativity, and social-emotional development.

GrowHaus- a neighborhood-based nonprofit organization focused on food production, distribution, and education in Elyria Swansea. GrowHaus programs include the Mercado de al Lado, which brings fresh produce to the neighborhood year-round and a food pantry providing nutritional food to neighbors. Community members also work in the Roots to Health “seedling start nursery” to provide seedlings to Denver residents to establish healthy gardens.

Valdez-Perry Library- librarian Pilar Castro-Reino has created the Plaza program, which offers extensive resources to local families, including help with English-language learning and citizenship, at the Valdez-Perry branch of Denver Public Library, located in Elyria Swansea. The library also offers the “After School is Cool” program to advance literacy and creativity among nine to fourteen-year-olds.

Clinica Tepeyac- there are no City and County of Denver health care facilities within the neighborhoods, which are home to 10,000 residents. The only health care services are provided through Clinica Tepeyac, a small, privately funded clinic at 51st Avenue and Lincoln in Globeville. Clinica provides essential services to residents, particularly immigrants and the medically underserved.

Habitat for Humanity- while most people know Habitat for their work building homes for low-income residents, Habitat has also implemented a Critical Home Repair Program in Globeville. The program has resulted in the repairing of more than 40 homes in the neighborhood, with residents contributing sweat equity and a modest financial commitment to pay for projects like new shingles and porch repair.

The Denver Foundation has worked with GES residents through its Strengthening Neighborhoods program (SN) for more than fifteen years. SN Manager David Portillo has seen groups of neighbors come together to make their voices heard many times over the past decade. “There are a number of impressive community leaders in these neighborhoods,” says Portillo. “Yet today, with a huge influx of development so close to downtown Denver, there is a real danger that rising rents and property values will force out longtime residents.” One of the Foundation’s most significant investments is funding community organizing, a process through which neighbors identify what’s important to them and then take action.

Community organizing is helping address the challenges associated with the FasTracks buildout. Mile High Connects, a regional transit collaborative house at The Denver Foundation, that focuses on ensuring that the transit system offers all residents of Metro Denver access to higher quality of life. One of their early efforts has been the Bus Stop Project, through which residents cataloged the condition of 50 neighborhood bus stops, then worked with the community and RTD to prioritize upgrades. After this first big success, the neighbors are now thinking about improving sidewalks and service routes to improve access to the new rail line. One of their main concerns is “displacement,” which can happen when rising rents force local families to move out of the community.

One of Mile High Connect’s partners in investigating how to address displacement is The Jim Bye Memorial Fund at The Denver Foundation. Several years ago, GES lost its most influential boosters, attorney Jim Bye. Denver philanthropists Joyce and Kenneth Luff created the Fund in his memory. Created in February 2015, the Fund’s intent is to help unify Globeville and Elyria Swansea so that residents can take action to meet the challenges and opportunities that the near future holds. The priorities of the Jim Bye Memorial Fund are food security and addressing resident displacement. The donors are also investing in several of the efforts described above, including El Sistema, the food pantry at the GrowHaus, the programs at Valdez-Perry Library, and Clinica Tepeyac. They are currently investigating what is possible in partnership with neighborhood residents, focusing particularly on retaining and supporting residents’ tight-knit orientation to family and community.

The Denver Foundation’s new President and CEO, Christine Marquez-Hudson, shares hope for the future of GES. “We are honored that the Luffs have chosen the Denver Foundation as their partner for the Jim Bye Memorial Fund. With so many forces at work in GES, there is a great potential that the influx of capital and physical infrastructure will result in positive developments for these historic communities and the families who live there. We are honored to work with the Luffs to ensure that residents have a strong voice in deciding what their future will bring.” In 5280 magazine (Nov 2014), Councilwoman Judy Montero, who represented the neighborhoods at the time, said: “Through all the ups and downs-- people are still there. They are tenacious and as strong and as vocal as ever. They definitely know what they want, and they definitely know what they need.”

For years, these communities have persisted in the face of tremendous challenges. The city of Denver is made inestimably richer by their strength, and we all can be part of ensuring they endure to write the next chapter in their history. If you want to help the residents of Globeville and Elyria Swansea, or if you’re interested in learning more, write to or contact one of the organizations described in this story.

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