Inclusive Growth

By definition, gentrification is the buying and renovation of houses and stores in deteriorated urban neighborhoods by upper and middle-income people, which ultimately improves property values but displaces low-income families and small businesses.

As architects, planners and urban designers we often struggle with the idea of gentrification. Specifically, in Denver, we are often attracted to the eccentric neighborhoods that exist because of the diversity of families, lifestyles, cultures and businesses. This in turn attracts many people to those neighborhoods; therefore, becoming more attractive places to develop and build new homes, apartments and businesses. What we may often forget or deliberately choose to forget, is that when we develop these neighborhoods with the uses that stimulate the economy, we are displacing families and businesses because of the rise in property values, residential rents and commercial rents.

The question then remains; how do we create economic opportunity in our neighborhoods while remaining inclusive?

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This week, the Downtown Denver Partnership hosted their annual CityBuild event “CollaborEAT”. For one night, the CityBuild team activates a space in the city to demonstrate how activity can influence our urban spaces. This year, they turned a surface parking lot between 26th and 27th on Larimer into a four-course dining room. The event featured speakers from the RiNo Community to talk about the very issues of inclusive growth. As an Art District, RiNo’s mission is to smartly grow the district, but maintain the quality, culture and artists within the District. As you can imagine, this hasn’t been an easy task. There have been a lot of partners involved in the development of RiNo as it is today.

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It can be argued that RiNo is not affordable. Part of the CollaborEAT event was sitting and mingling with strangers, discussing how we preserve art in our communities, while also strengthening it. One of our table mates described how her boyfriend had been pushed out of his current RiNo location and priced out of other options within the District.

As our communities continue to evolve, develop and grow, we need to find strategies that allow for inclusive growth. Often development occurs to stimulate economic growth in an area. How can we advocate for inclusive economic growth?

Just this morning I read an article by CEOs for Cities about the role of Economic Development Organizations (EDOs) in Inclusive Growth. This article underlines a different aspect of inclusive growth in communities: jobs. It argues that sustainable communities and inclusive ones exist when communities invest in job creation, job preparation, and job access. The article also outlines three major strategies for ensuring and achieving inclusive growth. These strategies being:

  1. EDOs have a vital role to play in achieving inclusive growth.
  2. Inclusive growth is not an add-on to business as usual.
  3. Inclusive growth requires a good ground game.

I feel there are contrasting strategies that can be employed to ensure that the neighborhoods we love, maintain the people, character and culture that exists within them today. First, as residents, activists and artists, we must work together to support strategies and policies that work towards this goal. Second, business owners and Economic Development Organizations need to work together to provide opportunities and jobs so that residents can stay within these communities.

It seems the bottom line is, there is no one strategy to mitigate gentrification. But if we all work together to improve our communities, we might just be able to strengthen the aspects of it that we love.

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