By: Dr. Carroll Watkins Ali
Original Article Here
I was born in Denver and raised my family in Northeast Park Hill and North Park Hill, but we never made it across 23rd street into South Park Hill. I have had the privilege of directing the Greater Denver Interfaith Alliance (GDIA) in Northeast Park Hill for the past 21 years, which works to build coalitions to address racial disparities. After all my years of living and working in this community, there is one thing that was always clear to me — the affluent and privileged class and their politics determine what happens with property.
I suppose, as an outsider, if you just look at the Park Hill Golf Course property as a piece of land it might seem simple — to develop or not develop. Yet for someone that knows and understands the history and challenges of the people and families that have surrounded this property for decades, it’s more complex.
Since we moved to Northeast Park Hill in 1971 (when Black people were 88% of the population) the community has been systematically disenfranchised, discriminated against, and dismissed. Due to racist policies like redlining and economic disinvestment, we are facing rapid displacement and an affordable-housing crisis. We are in a food desert with limited access to fresh, healthy foods, and we have seen most of our neighborhood small businesses and shops deteriorate and disappear. Tragically, gun violence is on the rise and our families and children are paying the price. This land is an opportunity to redress the decades of disinvestment and indifference shown to our community and allow us to share in the prosperity that has passed us by.
Instead of allowing the community to discuss how best to address the neighborhood’s needs, people who have always tried to control our community are quick to try and take the opportunity away. They try to dominate the conversation and the process by clouding the issue with legal tactics and actively deceive people with a ballot initiative determined to remove the voice of the people of color surrounding the golf course. What other community would be asked to let the whole city decide what their community needs?
It’s offensive that so many of the voices telling us what we need come from people that have not lived a day in Northeast Park Hill. They are disparaging the city’s visioning process before it even begins. It is a slap in the face to the people, many with very different perspectives on this issue, who are taking time to sit on the steering committee and to engage in this process.
What Northeast Park Hill needs is a comprehensive and detailed conversation about its future and what this property could be for our community. Many people, myself included, would love a park and some open space, but we have other needs, as well. We also must be cautious of the effects of green gentrification as we have seen in other cities.
What we don’t need are the antics of the privileged and powerful class who are working to oversimplify this conversation into a false choice between a park and development. They are fighting to preserve the aesthetics of “open-space land” over the prospect of multiple uses of the land to better serve the needs of a diverse surrounding community. They are working to protect land over people, but those of us that live and work in this community believe there could and should be room to do both.
Our neighborhood can’t wait any longer for our voices to be heard, while the loud voices of privilege continue to try to drown us out. We need decision makers to start listening and focusing on the needs the people, and not just the property and the politics. Then it will become clear that this issue is very complex indeed — and it is one that deserves a thorough process.
Carroll Watkins Ali, Ph.D., is a Denver native and the executive director of Greater Denver Interfaith Alliance, a nonprofit in Northeast Park Hill.