Viva la Raza! A Park, a Riot and Neighbourhood Change in North Denver

Sig Langegger

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Langegger, S. (1). Viva la Raza! A Park, a Riot and Neighbourhood Change in North Denver. Urban Studies, 50(16), 3360–3377.

Aztlán , Chicano , Denver , gentrification , la Raza Park , Mexicano , public space , riot

People reside in homes; however, they live in neighbourhoods comprised of parks, sidewalks, restaurants, shops and other everyday places. Whether current or potential neighbourhood residents feel at home in these places remains an under theorised aspect of neighbourhood change. Rather than housing policy or real estate development, this essay explores public space as a mechanism of neighbourhood change. Drawing from ethnographic research in the Latino barrios of North Denver, It deconstructs the history of one small yet vital public space—la Raza Park. During the 1970s, this park, its pool and the many events it grounded, built community cohesion and fostered cultural identity. In 1981, city authorities went so far as to deploy a SWAT team to la Raza Park to enforce a permit violation. The following summer, they demolished its pool. North Denver is now gentrifying rapidly. This essay stitches these disparate-seeming events into a story of neighbourhood change.

Main finding
Profound changes in design and recreational programming, along with heavy-handed policing in la Raza Park helped dismantle the Crusade for Justice civil rights group from North Denver. The everyday injustices of culturally insensitive park regulations and racial profiling prohibited Northside Latinos from practicing their culture in public. In doing so, they are robbed of a public opportunity to engage with their collective history. As a result, their cultural practices became less visible over time. Northside Latinos concede their use of public space due to their cultural invisibility. This highlights two important and underexplored mechanisms of neighborhood change. First, poor residents and those relying on assisted housing were displaced despite their desire to stay. Many ended up selling their homes, which subsequently created a housing supply. Second, the displacement of the present culture from public space assists the influx of the mainstream middle class to working-class/ethnic neighborhoods by purging public spaces like la Raza Park of symbols of cultural practices that differ from their own.

Description of method used in the article
A year long ethnography that employed unobtrusive and participant observation, 60 narrative interviews, and years of casual observation informed the researcher’s data.

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