Denver neighborhood pushes back on park closures in response to violence – The Denver Post

The president of the La Alma-Lincoln Park neighborhood association for more than a decade cannot afford to live in the neighborhood she oversees.

Instead, Helen Giron, 70, lives in Lakewood with her son. She was kicked out of the Denver Westside neighborhood she grew up in around 2010, but her heart will always call La Alma home.

The neighborhood, west of Capitol Hill, was designated a historic cultural district by the city last year for its prominence in the Chicano civil rights movement.

Giron received tear gas while fighting for Chicano rights at La Alma-Lincoln Park as a young woman. She was inspired by the historic Chicano murals on the walls of the recreation center. She spent quality time with her friends and family under the shade of the trees in the park.

“When we wanted equal rights, that’s where the fight was,” Giron said. “That’s why it’s called La Alma — ‘the soul’. This is where it all happened. »

Lately, however, the historic park and mainstay of its community has been surrounded by city- erected barricades, closed to the public, for weeks and months at a time, due – according to Denver officials – to the continued violence in the region. It’s part of a pattern of restricted access to public spaces in Denver, including Civic Center Park and Union Station, in an effort to address systemic issues like homelessness and substance abuse.

But in La Alma-Lincoln Park, residents of the predominantly Latino neighborhood are pushing back, demanding city officials explain how cutting off access to a cultural staple is effective public safety management and begging for investment in the gentrified neighborhood to prevent crime and promote wellness.

Their councilwoman, Jamie Torres, called the park closures counterproductive.

“When something like this happens, we should have flooded the park and the neighborhood with love, resources, programming,” she said. “Instead it has been teeming with barricades.”

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

Denver City Councilwoman Jamie Torres, right, speaks during a community meeting held with Denver Police and Denver Parks and Recreation to discuss the reopening of La Alma-Lincoln Park and Recreation Center, which was closed for a week due to ongoing violence, Wednesday, May 4, 2022.

Denver Parks and Recreation closed La Alma-Lincoln Park and Recreation Center for nearly three weeks in December, citing shots fired at the recreation center during business hours. Within weeks, the park and recreation facilities were closed again, this time from Jan. 14 to March 24, due to a shooting on the corner of the street adjacent to the recreation center, said Cynthia Karvaski, gatekeeper. word of Denver Parks and Recreation. .

Most recently, on April 28, Denver closed the park and recreation center for a week after Gary Arellano, 63, was shot and killed while trying to break up a fight he witnessed in the park, officials said. Police have arrested 24-year-old Trahavonie Deshawd Smith in connection with a first-degree murder investigation related to the shooting. Police confirmed that Smith was not from the La Alma-Lincoln Park neighborhood — important information for people who lived there.

Karvaski said Denver closes parks throughout the year for several reasons. “Parks are public resources and require maintenance and we continue to work to restore recreational spaces to their intended purposes,” she wrote in a statement to the Denver Post.

At a town hall meeting Wednesday night at the Denver Inner City Parish across from the park, Arellano’s family along with other members of the La Alma community circled to hear updates on their park and the homicide.

The meeting was tense as Torres, Denver Parks and Recreation executive director Happy Haynes, and Denver police officials announced the park would reopen the next day and community members expressed frustration about its closure in the first place.

Some have asked if this is an excuse to punish Hispanic residents. Others asked how effective the closure of a local children’s play area was in dealing with crime.

Victim Gary Arellano's brother Thomas Arellano, left, and niece April Arellano, right, participate in a community meeting to discuss the reopening of La Alma-Lincoln Park and Recreation Center, which was closed after the death of Gary, Wednesday, May 4, 2022.

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

Homicide victim Gary Arellano’s brother, Thomas Arellano, left, and his niece, April Arellano-McGwier, right, attend a community meeting to discuss the reopening of La Alma-Lincoln Park and Recreation Center, which was closed for a week after Gary Arellano’s death, Wednesday, May 4, 2022.

“It’s like we’re being punished for something we didn’t do,” April Arellano-McGwier, Arellano’s niece, said during the encounter. “My uncle would die if he knew the park was closed because of something that happened to him. It’s the last thing he wants to happen.

Arellano-McGwier described La Alma-Lincoln Park and Recreation Center as a sanctuary — one of the few remaining in the area.

The 44-year-old grew up nurtured by sports programs and craft projects at the recreation center, where she said neighborhood children flocked to play and be occupied. The park, she recalls, was a gathering space for the heavily Latino community – a second home where everyone knew each other and looked out for each other.

The neighborhood began to change as Arellano-McGwier grew.

His neighbors and friends became increasingly dear as wealthier people moved in. New developments, especially around 10th and the Osage light rail station, have brought in businesses and housing for more affluent people, shifting the mainstays they knew. Increasingly, there were fewer residents who looked like Arellano-McGwier and his family.

“People who come here don’t take into account the existing culture,” she says.

Increasingly, Arellano-McGwier and his neighbors have the unpleasant feeling of not recognizing the neighborhood that raised them.

“Where is the investment in the community for people who were already here?” Arellano-McGwier said.

La Alma-Lincoln fenced park and recreation ...

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

La Alma-Lincoln Park in Denver is closed Wednesday, May 4, 2022, several days after a fatal shooting occurred in the park.

“Strewn with Barricades”

During the public meeting, Haynes told residents the park had to be closed due to a series of “really scary times over the past few months.”

“My responsibility is to act,” Haynes told the crowd, who spoke to the director of parks, expressing grievances about the closure and the changing dynamics of the neighborhood.

The city has closed other parks to address systemic issues such as homelessness and drug use in the past.

Civic Center Park was closed in September after city officials said the downtown space had become a ‘hot spot for violence, crime, drug sales and substance abuse “. The park was recently almost fully reopened to visitors, but some areas remain closed while the grass grows and to prevent illegal drug activity, city officials said.

The Governors Park playground was also closed in September “due to the discovery of numerous needles in the playground,” Karvaski said. She said the city is waiting for a fence to provide “controlled access” to the area until it can be redesigned.

Additionally, the union representing the Regional Transportation District called Denver’s historic Union Station a “lawless hell hole” in December, citing drug use and violence in the area, and RTD now limits the terminal to formerly public bus to paying customers only.

“Denver Parks and Recreation has the authority to close as necessary for health, safety and security measures and as necessary for the preservation and management of the park and recreation system,” Karvaski wrote.

Torres, the councilor who represents the ward, said she hopes to find solutions beyond closing public spaces, including ideas such as volunteer community policing programs and holding more community meetings to hear what residents want.

Haynes said the city and police are working together to find better ways to make the park safer. She mentioned increased police patrols throughout the park and security cameras.

Denver police, in a statement, said they will continue to work with Parks and Recreation and Torres to improve safety, including through “proactive patrols.”

“The Denver Police Department understands the safety issues in the La Alma Park and Recreation Center area and recognizes the tremendous value these spaces bring to the community,” police officials said.

“During the meeting, community members shared how they felt they were being watched all the time, and you don’t feel that in other communities,” said Lucha Martínez de Luna, Chicano/a/x project director. Murals of Colorado and Associate Curator. of Hispanic, Latino and Chicano history at History Colorado. “You don’t feel that in Washington Park. Why? That’s the big question.

La Alma-Lincoln Park and Recreation Center in Denver is pictured Wednesday, May 4, 2022.

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

La Alma-Lincoln Park and Recreation Center in Denver is pictured Wednesday, May 4, 2022.

A white and brown problem

Giron wanted to make it clear that the La Alma-Lincoln Park Neighborhood association does not represent “the gentrifiers”.

“It’s not for them,” Giron said. ” It is for us. Even when the barricades are up, our children are prevented from playing, but they (the gentrifiers) go out and walk their dogs and they are fine. It’s a white and brown problem.

Giron wants to see more youth programming at the recreation center. She wants buses to pick up neighborhood children this summer, ferrying them to a community pool that won’t be closed for repairs all summer like the one in La Alma will be — a reality neighbors protested at the meeting. She wants the agents patrolling the area to establish genuine relationships with the residents so that they are not watched by strangers.

The neighborhood association will work on these goals and find its strength in the fact that at least the soul of the community is open again.

“They feel like they’re losing the neighborhood,” Martínez de Luna said. “This neighborhood is truly one of the last kind of somewhat intact neighborhoods that still has a population of people of color… It’s scary that it’s one of the only ones left. The locals are scared. Their only escape and the meaning of their anchorage is this park. There’s so much history in this park and for the city to keep putting up these barricades, it just sends a message to the community, ‘We’ve got control and we’re going to punish with.” “

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