The Saturday before I left for Madison and XGM 2018, I spent the day (April 28th), learning from inspiring organizations and people, working on issues of and in; Boulder, Colorado Springs, Denver and Longmont.
As the program explained “Both food and gentrification bring our focus to issues of justice/equity and demonstrate the historical experiences of many communities with institutionalized systems of oppression“.
The day was billed as an unconference. Besides thematic panel sessions, guest (welcoming, closing and keynote) talks and performances, the event included parallel/simultaneous; community mapping, walking/biking tours, and other, kid friendly, activities throughout the day.
Interestingly, last weekend, I ran into a neighbor who works in the environmental/food-justice space locally, who also attended the event. One of the first things we discussed was each other’s impression of/reaction to the Summit. The main point she argued, was the “lameness” of the experts/panelist on a stage, format. That in today’s day and age or political climate, people want a more bottom up, dialogic, interactive format. Certainly, given the billing as an “unconference”, not what the organizers intended. Though, I wondered, given neither of us attended/participated in the mapping, walks etc., if that was the “unconference” component?
The crowd was mixed, but skewed young(er). Perhaps the result of it’s location (a neighborhood school) or connection(s) to Regis University? Appearances were made by at least two City Council candidates and I believe I saw, a Mayoral candidate, (Kavyan).
The event opened, with a suggestion from one of the organizers, “Step Up / Step Back“. The idea being, those who don’t normally speak up, should and those who do, should not. Rev. Tyler of Shorter A.M.E., then provided an excellent kickstart to the day. With an exhortation to “put your privilege at the door.”
The keynote was given by Dr. Damien Thompson who laid out his vision for the “Right to the City“. I had actually met him previously, when he facilitated a joint, SEED Institute and The Alliance for Sustainable Colorado, three-night event on gentrification in Denver. In 2017.
Dr. Thompson’s keynote, explained gentrification as simply one form of displacement. A chain, going back at least as far, as indigenous, dispossession. Another violence. Importantly it is, an economic process. The solution, is therefore economic development/mobilization, with democratic control, at neighborhood level.
It was especially exciting to learn more about Denver Community Action Network and the policy platform they are developing. I first heard of them through social media via developer Kyle Zeppelin.
Big themes of the Denver CAN policy platform
The group, in the face of “class warfare“, proposes a wide-ranging platform. For housing CLTs, among other solutions. Presently, three homes/units, eventually, up to 150 in Globeville-Swansea and beyond. More local and rent, control. Currently outlawed, at the state level. Along with other co-operative housing and land models.
One intriguing proposal; equity or strategic zoning, addressing saturation of business types. The intended target being, to keep focus on developing housing, and reduce (in some neighborhoods at least) food and beverage or hospitality developments. Or, in the case of north Denver, industrial warehouse grows. Is the idea too reminiscent of single-use / Euclidean, NIMBY approaches to zoning, for urbanist YIMBY types?
Other members of the group, made the case for more systemic accountability in local politics. Ultimately, for why we need a “new progressive party“, a working families, Party.
Whether in the lessons offered by Mickki Langston or the words of Ara Cruz, an “Xicano/Indigenous (Nahua/Genizaro Tiwa) spoken word artist“, indigenous experiences were foregrounded throughout.
One panel featured three women from the Colorado Springs, region. The moderator began by noting that Redfin had recently ranked Colorado Springs # 2 “Worst Access to Fresh Food (Food Deserts)“. Yet the city, had just been ranked number two “Best Place to Live” in America, according to the 2018 rankings released by U.S. News & World Report. Luckily, the city is in the midst of the PlanCOS process.
One common challenge, is participation. The organization of community action. As Councilwoman Avila urged, although some in the community may take her presence as a sign to rest, they shouldn’t. As, the only way the big ship of government changes, is as a result of the pressure of citizens from the outside.
First, on Twitter