Fighting for a Voice in a Process Designed to Silence Communities

September 11, 2012 -- FRESC
Photo of transit meeting

For ten years FRESC has helped communities in Denver engage in planning processes related to transit-oriented development because we believe that public investments should be used for public good.  Linda Gallegos, a mother of seven and a resident near the East Corridor commuter rail line, has been involved in FRESC’s equitable transportation campaign from the start.  “Things are hard right now.  The rent is higher than I’ve ever seen, my job pays barely gets us by, and my kids have to take a 3hr bus ride to get to a good school,” she says.  “I never thought I could do anything about this.  I am so happy that FRESC is reaching out to people in my neighborhood.  I’ve been able to learn a lot about what it means to be in a developing neighborhood and how I can really help get the people I live around to speak up for the things we need. That tax money should help us, not just the city.” 

One example that remains a highlight of FRESC’s community engagement and organizing work is the Lincoln La Alma neighborhood in Denver, Colorado.  The residents in Lincoln La Alma are predominantly Hispanic, low income families who are longtime renters. The Denver Housing Authority (DHA) had a plan to redevelop a large housing development there.  The community members were concerned because they didn’t want to be displaced from the community they lived in; they also wanted to make sure that this neighborhood kept its character.  FRESC was able to mobilize the community members and build a team of participants who won benefits for Lincoln La Alma.   DHA made commitments to residents to maintain the same number of units that the community currently had, create a workforce training center in the community, and hire a local artist to create murals on the building that captured the neighborhood culture.  The organizing work FRESC did and continues to do is crucial in ensuring community members have a voice in how their neighborhoods change. 

Many of us in cities that are being transformed by large public investments in new transit are watching our communities change dramatically.  Not only is new development changing the physical appearance of neighborhoods located near transit, it is also changing the face of who lives there.  Station areas become trendier with bike paths, nice wide sidewalks, and retail that targets affluent commuters.  Many people think that the new development is great, but in most cases the housing costs in these redeveloped areas are driven up to the point that long-time community members are no longer able to afford to live in the areas they’ve called home.  While transit can provide opportunity such as increased access to jobs, health care, and recreational opportunities to low-income residents and communities of color, the redevelopment process is driven by rich developers and real estate professionals who are looking only at their bottom-lines. Development is much richer and provides more robust benefits when it considers more than developers’ purse strings and includes the needs of the existing community. 

This year, FRESC is expanding our reach to engage communities across the entire Denver Metro region in connection with FasTracks, a $6.5 billion public transportation investment.  We began outreach this summer and have been talking to neighbors in developing communities to make sure they learn about the planning process and how they can be involved.  We believe the transit expansion and development should increase access to good jobs, affordable housing, and a healthy, active lifestyle.  The best way to do this is to involve the public in the planning from day one.  Our priority is to make sure that low income people and communities of color have a meaningful role in the planning process.

Like Linda, there are many others that have become active in building a better community. If you are interested in supporting our transit campaign, please contact Samaria Crews.