Colorado is known for its care for the environment, and many residents are proud to consider themselves environmentalists. However, this means little to nothing without Environmental Justice. “Environmentalism” is just performative if it does not include everyone. You cannot be an environmental advocate without also advocating for social justice, they go hand in hand. Denver is now the second most gentrified city in the nation, and yes this does relate to the environment.
Gentrification is when a neighborhood starts to become more and more affluent, which then eventually forces longterm residents out who can’t afford to live there anymore. This is an environmental justice issue because as more affluent and white communities take over these neighborhoods, the residents usually are forced to move to areas that have poor air and/or water quality, which effects their quality of life and has a number of negative consequences on human health. This is one way that environmental harms are unevenly distributed. As a neighborhood is gentrified, it receives more benefits, one example being public green spaces. However, the original residents of the neighborhood don’t even get to enjoy these environmental benefits as the cost of living gets too expensive and they are pushed out to more polluted neighborhoods. It is a viscous cycle.
More specifically, this is called green gentrification, when a neighborhood is developed with an environmental plan, and more green spaces are added, which then leads to prices going up, again, forcing residents to leave, while more affluent people can move in. This is extremely problematic because as a city supposedly becomes more environmentally friendly and more green spaces start popping up, more low income people are forced out of their homes, usually into a different polluted area. Why should poor people suffer environmental harms solely because they can’t afford not to?
Even Colorado (and I would even say especially Colorado), the supposedly environmentalist state has issues of environmental racism. A study by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition found that over 27% of neighborhoods have been gentrified in Denver and Aurora. They also found that more Hispanic people have been displaced from neighborhoods in Denver than in any other major US city. These facts are very troubling to hear. A prominent example of this is the Five Points neighborhood in Denver, but gentrification has been spreading to more and more neighborhoods. Five Points is a historically black neighborhood, and had plenty of black-owned businesses. It is now called River North District and is a very wealthy neighborhood, which resulted in many residents being forced to move. There is a petition to change the name back to Five Points. The RiNo Arts District claims that they support communities of color, however it is still a gentrified neighborhood, which does not seem very supportive.
Another neighborhood that comes to mind is Globeville, also in Denver. This neighborhood is intersected by i25 and i70, is near industrial plants, and is within the most polluted zip code in Colorado… and in the entire US. A large majority of the residents are Latinx. The neighborhood has been neglected by the city of Denver, to say the least. It is at risk to fall to the same fate as Five Points, as there is talk of development. Hopefully, development can be balanced with keeping housing affordable for the residents who live there and have lived there for so long. There are many other neighborhoods throughout Denver that have been suffering, and are beginning to be gentrified.
A big cause of gentrification is the land itself. Developers will take advantage of cheap land in low income neighborhoods to develop it for profit later. This is why these neighborhoods need to be protected. This land should be used for affordable housing for the residents and should be owned by the community itself to prevent gentrification from starting. Rent control is also necessary. As gentrification begins, rent goes up, which is what forces people out. However, this is a deep rooted issue, and the fact that low income neighborhoods are often much more polluted than affluent neighborhoods is another problem with this cycle.
The city of Denver has taken some steps, by putting money into affordable housing, which is more than other municipalities can say, however it obviously isn’t enough because Denver is still the second most gentrified city in the US. Housing needs to be kept affordable for everyone. More funding needs to be allocated to affordable housing within neighborhoods that are becoming more “developed” so that this cycle does not continue. There has to be even more than this though, as it does not fix the problem of pollution in these neighborhoods. Funding also needs to go into making these neighborhoods cleaner, and keeping industrial sites away from any kind of neighborhood, not just the white ones. This needs to be a combined effort, of preventing gentrification, and improving quality of life for disadvantaged people.