Some Five Points residents just got a victory over an institution they felt was not treating them with the dignity they deserve.
The controversy over a small parcel of land nestled between the Bean Towers and the Cleo Parker Robinson dance studio is now over, and neighbors can now look forward to some type of community space there. But for a few weeks, it seemed that the Denver Housing Authority (DHA), which owns the land, would turn it into a dog run.
The Bean Towers are public housing towers between Park Avenue, Washington Street and Cleveland Place that cater to older residents, mainly retirees. According to Denine Wheelock and several other residents, they were presented with plans for both a dog park and a park for people about a year ago, and at the time of that presentation, they voted for a park for themselves, voicing their need for a shaded sitting area. They also said they would like an open area for garage sales or other activities they do not currently have space for, especially right now, with construction on the east side of the building.
The seniors in the towers I spoke with said they’d hoped for those things, and to be treated with the dignity they deserve. For Wheelock, the prospect of DHA choosing to place a dog park there after the residents chose the park for people was disappointing.
“Over here, they want to treat us more low-class because we’re low-income and try to move all the low-income people up out of here,” she said. “Regardless if it’s low-class or not, we should be treated equal, it should be an equal thing. We had a vote on it, we don’t want it. Why would you put it over there? It don’t make sense.”
Other residents gathered while we spoke and agreed with Wheelock, who also said a dog park would bring unwanted smells and would serve little to no use for the people in the tower, even the people with dogs. One Bean Towers resident who was holding a dog said she would have no intention of using any planned dog park and prefers to walk her dog around the block for exercise.
Community activist Jeff Fard said earlier this month that using the space for dogs would have been unacceptable, and he turned out to be right. DHA announced this week that the space would become “community space to include shaded areas, patio seating, a walkway to improve ADA access, improved lighting for safety and open green space to promote active, healthy living and positive social gatherings for residents and the local community.”
Stella Madrid, the community affairs officer at DHA, says that because of the community input they received, they are ready to give residents what they’ve asked for initially.
“We went and heard the voices of the community, we listened to the pros and cons in their comments ,we came back and looked at the options,” Madrid said. And as far as the dog park goes, she said, “It’s not even going to be feasible and we have put the nail in the coffin.”
About four weeks ago, when Fard became aware of the dog park plan from concerned seniors in the tower, he was outraged by the behavior of DHA, but now that he better understands the organization’s relationship with the city of Denver, his outrage has turned into understanding.
“Now I see Denver Housing Authority in a totally different light, they’re nothing more than another group of developers or land speculators, and although their product may be for low-income individuals and elders, and they might be benevolent to those populations, I really don’t care about them and I really don’t hold them to the same standard I would have for Denver, which is represented through elected representation,” Fard said. “See, I have a voice with my city because my elected officials are supposed to represent me. Denver Housing Authority has absolutely nothing to do with me. So whoever their board members are, whoever their stock holders are, whatever their founding documents say, they’re accountable to that; so long as they’re operating in the purview of the law, the decisions they make are their decisions.”
The DHA is a quasi-municipal corporation that functions with a board appointed by the mayor and provides the public service of housing. Although the organization is deeply intertwined with city government, it does not operate under the stewardship of the city government in the way many believe the name implies.
Fard remains skeptical of whether the DHA will fulfill their promise of turning the area into an outdoor space for residents and won’t feel comfortable celebrating until he sees the final product. He is also now calling for changes in the DHA’s protocol, which would include more transparency about their relationship with residents and with the city and county of Denver.
“I would like every piece of literature that comes out of the Denver Housing Authority to have a disclaimer on it that says ‘not affiliated with the city and county of Denver,’ that’s transparency” he said.
The tower lies in City Council District 9, which is the territory of Councilman Albus Brooks. He has not responded Denverite’s request for comment.
Update: Councilman Brooks told Denverite on Friday afternoon that he was disappointed with the process and would like to see the DHA engage in a more collaborative process especially when dealing with something this controversial. “I would say the process was poorly coordinated. They say they did outreach and we went back to verify the outreach and it wasn’t very well done,” he said. He would like DHA to communicate with his office as well as stakeholders in the community at large before they move forward with projects like this. He also noted that many of his constituents may not be aware of the relationship that DHA has with the city of Denver. He would like to see the hotly contested parcel become an expansion of the Cleo Parker Robinson dance studio.
The parcel is small, but the context of a changing city made it a big deal.
For Fard, the dog park’s removal is only a small victory in a much larger battle.
“Am I happy about what DHA did? I don’t care what they do. All I know is that they tried to manipulate elders and they did it while individuals like me and others who have been apart of this process since 2002 and earlier are still around. They probably didn’t expect long-term residents to be in the city, they probably thought they were already all displaced,” he said.
According to City Lab, the majority of urban dog owners are younger, more affluent, white residents. As they continue to move into central Denver, the demand for dog parks seems to have risen accordingly.
As the Denver Post recently reported, the growing number of dogs in Denver has become an issue. dog congestion is getting so bad in parts of downtown that it’s becoming an environmental hazard for the grass and trees in the area. This congestion of pets without adequate space for dog-friendly areas is forcing developers and stakeholders in downtown to create new fur friendly areas and possibly look into increasing the amount of dog parks.
Fard believes that this is the group of people the city is being designed for.
“This city is planning for the elders to not be there. They’re building the city for young people. They’re not building the city for poor people, and they’re not building for elders,” said Fard. “They’re building this city for — I think they’re called hipsters — young professionals, creatives, all those different interesting terms, investors, but look what they’re doing to the seniors, look what they’re doing to the homeless, look what they’re doing to those that can’t afford a $3,000 two-bedroom apartment, and this is another example of that.”
For Fard, gentrification happens when an emerging culture eclipses a formerly established one, which he describes as a “cultural clashing point,” and this potential dog park is a part of that process.
“No, the dog park is not symbolic of the bigger picture — the dog park is a part of the bigger picture,” Fard said. “When you go into any urban environment there are certain things you can look for and know that that area is being gentrified: coffee shops, dog parks, bike lanes, rental bikes, all of this is indicating that your community has certainly changed.”