As the landscape of Denver changes, so too, do the demographics. This is seen particularly in neighborhoods that were once the home to a chunk of the city’s minority populations. For many gentrification is an ugly word. It means being forced out of a neighborhood, a home, a community due to rental increases, real estate development and increases in overall cost of living.
“I’ve seen it all over the city,” said Warren Hines, 66, a resident of the Berkeley neighborhood in Denver, one of the “up-and-coming” Denver-area neighborhoods that saw the median home value increase by nearly 30 percent in the past five years. “I’ve lived near [Berkeley] Lake my entire life and, sure, people said it was ‘the bad part of town’, but it was our part of town. It wasn’t any more bad than any other neighborhood. People don’t understand that. You are in a city with more people. More people means more crime. But it doesn’t mean bad. They think by bringing in big real estate and pricing us out they are doing the community a service. But there is no good done in driving folks out of their homes and their communities.”
That feeling of being driven out is the ethos behind Su Teatro’s latest production Northside. The theater company operated in part by Executive Artistic Director Tony Garcia, has been a staple of Denver’s arts and culture scene for more than 40 years. Often that scene involves productions that push the envelope on race relations, civil rights and social activism. Northside is a continuation of that.
Written by Denver’s own award-winning writer, performer and cultural worker Bobby LeFebre and directed by long-time Su Teatro contributor and professional actor Hugo E. Carbajal, Northside takes a look at Denver’s changing landscape through the eyes of several individuals. Mrs. Lujan is a woman in her nineties looking to sell the North Denver home she’s lived in for decades; there is the couple, Teo and Luna, who are trying to hold on to what they have while being priced out of home ownership; and there is a third couple hoping to move into the up-and-coming neighborhood in search of all the bells and whistles that come with modern, urban living.
Though Northside is not based on a true story it is, in many ways, a story that is being lived out regularly in some of Denver’s growing neighborhoods.
“Oh hell yes,” said Hines to the question if he feels the increasing gentrification in his community is based solely on wealth. “People want to get rich by any means. They take the historic buildings put up by our ancestors, and these are our landmarks and turn them into cafés, breweries, high-end restaurants. Suddenly, our history is gone and you’ve got a nice little place for white people. No offense, but that’s just the way it comes across to those of us who have been here and lived through this.”
To hear Hines talk about gentrification in his neighborhood, is to hear the effects the controversial phenomenon is having on Denverites specifically and Coloradans in general. The continuing conflict of money versus history, community versus chic is addressed - to some extent - in Northside.
The show began its limited run on June 13th and tickets for remaining shows are going quickly. The popularity of Northside is such that Su Teatro added additional times to appease interested parties.
Tickets still remain for the added shows on Wednesday night, June 26; Saturday matinee, June 29; and the Sunday evening finale on June 30, after which Northside, like many of Denver’s landmarks, will be gone.
For tickets and more information visit www.suteatro.org.