Emergent public space: Sustaining Chicano culture in north Denver

Langegger, S.

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Langegger, S. (2013). Emergent public space: Sustaining Chicano culture in north Denver. Cities, 35, 26–32. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cities.2013.04.013

Chicano , CO , Community Garden , Culture , Denver , Diversity , Memorial

Vacant land located in deteriorating neighborhoods collects physical detritus and social malaise; overt signifiers of urban blight, these spaces often become gathering places for garbage instead of people, illicit activity instead of civility. This essay deconstructs what happens when community activists appropriate, develop, and continually manage vacant land in manners that align with and express their community’s culture. Moreover, it deconstructs the metamorphosis of vacant land into public space. Part of a larger research project exploring the roles public space plays in neighborhood change, this ethnography centers in Sunnyside, a gentrifying neighborhood in Denver, Colorado. Combining ethnographic and archival methods, I explore how the physical, regulatory, and cultural facets interrelate to form something rather remarkable—public space on private property. The ‘‘Troy’’ Chavez Memorial Peace Garden is at once a community garden, a pedagogical space, and a memorial to the 108 youths who died in Denver’s 1993 ‘‘summer of violence’’. Twenty years later it is still cherished as a garden and a memorial, as a living artifact of Aztec culture, and as a publicly accessible space that contributes to the cooperation between neighborhood old-timers and newcomers. Turning scholarly discourse of the privatization of public space on its head, I unpack the processes contributing to the publicizing private space.

Main finding
A memorial community garden, in a lower income, formerly blighted area of north Denver has stayed viable for over 20 years despite being on leased private land - which could be revoked at any time. The author suggests that the reason the Memorial Peace Garden has remained - despite area gentrification, being on private land, and existing in gang territory - has, in part, to do with the fact that it was more than just a community garden - it's also a memorial space and pedagogical space. The incorporation of diversity and multiple forms of use - as a memorial site, respite for various peoples including gentrifiers and gang members, showcase of Aztec culture, space for cultural events, public festivals and religious celebrations, and community education - allows visitors from many walks of life engage in other ways of being.

Description of method used in the article
The author conducted 60 narrative interviews with key figures in the publicness of three north Denver neighborhoods. Data collection also included participant observation and archival research including property records, municipal codes and zoning codes.

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