ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL NEIGHBORHOOD CHANGE
IN DENVER'S CURTIS PARK NEIGHBORHOOD
FROM 1975 TO 1996
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Social Science
This thesis for the Master of Social Science
has been approved
Fur meine Eltem, die nach all den Jahren die Hoffnung auf meinen ersten
Hochschulabschlufi nie aufgaben.
Writing this thesis would not have been such a rewarding experience without
the support and help of many. First, I would like to thank the Curtis Park neighbors who
were open-minded towards my research and supportive of my efforts. I have always felt
that I was welcome in Curtis Park (while in the end I might decide that I still prefer
Scotch over the Bourbon to which Paul Millette and Russ Symons have frequently invited
Special thanks go to the Realtors Marty Lawson and Lanee Streeter who have
spent many hours with me touring the neighborhood, examining property data and
sharing valuable insights about Curtis Park's real estate. In order to transform this
information into maps John Hansen's help was indispensible; he saved me from giving up
on Arclnfo and ArcView all together.
Working with Brian Page was one of the most valuable experiences of my
academic life. His enthusiasm for my work helped me through times of doubt and
provided me with new energy. Special thanks also go to the other members of my
committee, Don Mitchell, Tony Robinson and Tom Noel whose comments and critiques
have added depth to my research. I would also like to thank the College of Liberal Arts
and Science for supporting my research with a substantial "New Urban University
Grant" during the spring semester 1997.
Finally, I want to thank Christina for being there for me, for helping me through
the tough times and for enjoying the good times with me. And my thanks go to Alex who
never got tired of feeding me pizza late at night.
Schuster, Christoph (Master of Social Science)
Economic, Social and Cultural Neighborhood Change in Denver's Curtis Park
Neighborhood from 1975 to 1996
Thesis directed by Assistant Professor Brian K. Page
Over the past two decades gentrification research has been characterized by a
bifurcation between economic (production-side) and cultural (consumption-side)
explanations. This thesis examines how both approaches can be integrated in a
complementary framework. It uses a case study approach focusing on Denvers Curtis Park
Curtis Park is an inner city neighborhood, which began as the city's first suburb,
became a place of neglect and poverty, and since 1975 has experienced a gentrification
process. Three distinct phases describe an uneven process of neighborhood change: 1)
Expansion from 1975 to 1981, 2) Crisis from 1982 to 1989 and 3) Expansion from 1990 to the
present day. These phases of neighborhood change are paralleled by the cyclic patterns
of the regional economy, i.e. energy based expansion, oil crisis and growth of an advanced
Evidence for the rent gap is found in Curtis Park in two periods of economic
expansion, during which the opportunity for real estate profits is accompanied by
(limited) displacement. Besides economic opportunity historic preservation is found to
be at the heart of the gentrification process.
A complex pattern of social relations have developed from the presence of
gentrifiers who are actively engaged in transforming the social and physical
environment of the neighborhood. As a small minority in the neighborhood the
gentrifiers have been engaged in a long standing struggle to shape the neighborhood
according to their desires with the goal to make it a place which is more accessible to a
middle class population. As a result of this, a strong sense of community has evolved
among this group.
But these efforts have not always been supported by the minority/working class
populations and have caused a sense of insecurity about the changes and subtle forms of
resistance have developed. While social integration has been important to the
gentrifiers, noticeable obstacles to this goal are in place. In part they are a result of the
politics of neighborhood change and in part they are a result of the larger economic
transformations, which are changing the neighborhood more rapidly than ever.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidate's thesis. I recommend its
Brian K. Page
1. INTRODUCTION....................................................... 1
Curtis Park and 'Gentrification'................................. 1
Gentrification and the Case Study Approach....................... 5
2. REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE........................................... 8
Early Approaches to Gentrification.............................. 10
Production-side Explanations.................................... 11
Consumption-side or Cultural Explanations of Gentrification..... 15
The Concept of Complementarity.................................. 23
The Politicization of Interest Groups........................ 26
Uneven Development........................................... 27
Economic Recession and the Explanation of Gentrification........ 28
Comparative Analysis and In-Depth Neighborhood Studies.......... 31
Curtis Park and the Complementary Approach to Gentrification.... 34
Production-side Explanations................................. 34
Consumption-side and Cultural Explanations................... 35
Specific Locational Factors.................................. 36
Paths for the Integration of the Different Factors into the Concept of
Concluding Remarks.............................................. 39
3. METHODOLOGY....................................................... 41
Property Data................................................... 42
Census Data..................................................... 47
Cartographic Analysis of Property and Census Data............... 49
Survey Data and other Non-spatial Quantitative Data............. 51
Interviews and other Qualitative Data........................... 55
4. THE HISTORY OF NEIGHBORHOOD CHANGE IN CURTIS PARK............... 59
Settlement and Early Suburbanization.......................... 60
City Growth, Racial Discrimination and Curtis Park as an Inner City
Curtis Park's Return to the Old Days?......................... 70
5. ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL NEIGHBORHOOD CHANGE IN CURTIS
The Geography of Profit and Loss.............................. 76
Phases of Neighborhood Change.............................. 76
The Euphoria of the First Phase......................... 76
Curtis Park Dream Fading................................ 82
From Ballpark to Curtis Park?........................... 84
The Geographic Extent of Gentrification................. 87
The Marxian Rent Gap Theory and The Phases Of Neighborhood
Change in Curtis Park................................... 90
The Rent Gap and Local Politics......................... 90
The First Opening and Closing of the Rent Gap........... 93
The Second Opening and Closing of the Rent Gap.......... 94
Displacement in Curtis Park............................. 97
The Social Geography of Neighborhood Change...................106
Indicators of Social Change................................106
Ethnic Change and Age Structure.........................106
Income and Education Levels.............................Ill
Curtis Park Newcomers and the Post-industrial City......116
6. THE CULTURAL EXPLANATION OF NEIGHBORHOOD CHANGE IN
Political Activism and Building a Community in Curtis Park....122
Back Then: Motivations for Inner City Resettlement.........122
The Strategies of Neighborhood Change......................129
The Dynamics of Community Building.........................135
The Euphoria of the First Phase.........................113
Curtis Park Dream Fading................................138
From Curtis Park to Ballpark or Extending the Community
Curtis Park as a Case Study................................147
Different Types of Data and Evidence for Gentrification....150
Complementarity and the Explanation of Gentrification.........153
Into the Future: Curtis Park An Integrated Community?.......157
B. MAIL SURVEY QUESTIONNAIRE.....................174
C. INTERVIEW QUESTIONS...........................179
D. RESEARCH PARTICIPANTS.........................180
E. ZONING CATEGORIES.............................182
1.1 The Greater Downtown Area...................................... 2
2.1 The discrepancy between potential and capitalized ground rent in
the deteriorated inner city.................................... 12
5.1 Residential property turnovers, 1975-1996, Assessor's data
5.2 Residential property turnover, 1975-1996, renovated
5.3 Houses sold in Metro Denver, 1975-1996........................ 80
5.4 Average house prices in Metro Denver, 1975-1996............... 81
5.5 Vacancy rates in Curtis Park.................................. 83
5.6 Depopulation Trends in Curtis Park............................ 99
5.7 Number of Housing Units in Curtis Park........................100
5.8 Renter occupied housing units in Curtis Park..................101
5.9 Owner occupied housing units in Curtis Park....................102
5.10 Number of Overcrowded Units...................................103
5.11 Ethnic composition of the gentrifiers.........................107
5.12 The Percentage of African Americans in Curtis Park............108
5.13 The Percentage of Latinos in Curtis Park..................... 109
5.14 The Percentage of population under 18 and over 65 years of age.110
5.15 Educational Attainment in Denver and Curtis Park, 1970........112
5.16 Educational Attainment in Denver and Curtis Park, 1980........113
5.17 Educational Attainment in Denver and Curtis Park, 1990........113
5.18: Educational Attainment according to the specific categories
of the 1990 census and the 1997 survey data....................114
5.19 Income distribution in Denver and Curtis Park, 1990...........115
5.20 Unemployment rate in Metropolitan Denver and in the City of
5.21 Denver's Labor Force..........................................118
5.22 Occupation by Industry........................................118
5.23 Quaternary Employment in Denver and in Curtis Park............119
5.24 Work Locations of Curtis Park's Newcomers.....................120
6.1 The Urban Village.............................................127
6.2 Political Activism and Community Building of Curtis Park's
5.1 Median income in absolute numbers..................................112
5.2 Relative increases in median income................................112
Curtis Park And 'Gentrification'
Curtis Park is a small neighborhood in Denver's inner city just a few blocks
to the Northeast of the downtown edge. Better known as the Five Points area,
inside which Curtis Park is located (see figure 1.1), it is the oldest residential area of
the city with a high concentration of the African American and Latino minority
population. It is also the part of the city with the worst poverty and enormous
Starting in the mid 1970's, the Curtis Park neighborhood has been
experiencing some substantial changes. What was then regarded as a "slum"
neighborhood is today an inner city neighborhood that is again becoming attractive
to the middle class. To describe and analyze this type of process, researchers in
urban and social geography and related fields have used the concept of
Spatially confined to the inner city, which comprises the oldest structures of
the city in either warehouse districts or more often in traditional working class
Denver's Curtis Park Neighborhood
and its location within
The Greater Downtown Area
| | Study Area Coors Field
the process of gentrification is associated with changes in the attributes of the
housing market and in the social characteristics of the neighborhood. Increased
activity in the housing market is visible through loft conversions and renovations of
Victorian residences for example, which are usually preceded by high rates of
turnover, increases in property values and speculation. Social change in gentrifying
areas, which can be described in household characteristics such as income and
educational levels, can be fairly dramatic and can involve the almost complete
replacement of the working class (often minorities) by the (usually white) middle
Many names have been invented to label such a process of neighborhood
change. The terms "revitalization" or "back-to-the-city movement" tend to stress the
benefits of this process of neighborhood change. "Gentrification" is most widely
used in academic circles and reflects a more critical perspective. Some stress the
aggravation of shortages in affordable housing as a possible consequence of a
continued process of gentrification, others view the consequences of the intrusion of
the middle class into working class areas in terms of class conflict and predict
rising social tensions for the future.
While conducting interviews in the Curtis Park neighborhood, I have
encountered a very specific usage of the term: Gentrification is a process of
neighborhood change during which the entire neighborhood is gentrified, i.e. a white
middle class population completely replaces the local (minority) working class.
Thus, Curtis Park residents would usually not refer to the process that had taken
place in their neighborhood as gentrification, because the new middle class
population is only a minority in the neighborhood. They would only employ the
term when refering to places like "LoDo", which have undergone a much more
radical gentrification process or when refering to the threats to the neighborhood in
face of an accelerated process of neighborhood change, which many believe may
eventually cause "gentrification" in Curtis Park.
The 'Curtis Park' definition of gentrification illustrates how loaded the term
is. Naturally, nobody wants to be called 'gentrifier' which raises a serious
terminological problem for this study. The academic usage of the term understands
gentrification as a process during which a middle class population moves into inner
city areas inhabited by working class populations, a process which is usually
associated with some degree of displacement. This definition includes no reference
either to the specific nature of the process or to its extent. The 'Curtis Park' usage
of the terms is more narrow and strictly derogatory1.
When I use the term gentrification in this study, I am aware of its
connotations. It is not my intention to point my finger at Curtis Park and critique
the changes in the neighborhood as 'gentrification'. I am using the term
gentrification in this study because it is the most widely used terminology to
describe the phenomenon. Because this study does not conclude with a bitter
denunciation of the gentrification process in Curtis Park, my study may even
contribute to broaden the concept of what gentrification can mean. Last but not
least, the word "gentrification" in this study can also be read as a reminder: A
process that began with good intentions can become part and parcel of a larger and
1 The term gentrification was created as a provocative and derogatory notion to describe this kind of a
process which was observed for the first time in London. A British researcher (Glass, 1964) invented
the term with ironic reference to the landed gentry of the 19th century, who maintained a city house to
reside in while conducting business in the city.
accelerated process of neighborhood change, which has the potential to turn against
those who are not able to afford the rising rents.
Gentrification Research And The Case Study Approach
Beginning in the mid 1970's, literature on gentrification developed rapidly in
the United States as a response to a new process of neighborhood change.
Approaches since the beginning have almost taken on as many perspectives as there
are researchers. While taking the risk of over-simplification of the diversity of
theoretical approaches, they can be divided into two major groups.
The first group can be labeled 'consumption-side' approaches, which
emphasize the production of gentrifiers as a necessary condition for gentrification to
occur. Baby-boomers in the search for housing, decreasing household size,
increasing participation of women in the work force, a new affluent city based
white-collar work force (global city argument), new lifestyle preferences and new
tastes in housing are all part of the consumption-side explanation.
Researchers in the second group prefer production-side approaches, which
place the opportunity for economic profit at the center of the explanation. A
history of disinvestment in a neighborhood is viewed as a necessary condition for
gentrification to occur. Real estate and investment interests are the force, through
which the gentrifiers are driven into the gentrifying neighborhoods. Gentrification is
understood as a representation of the larger pattern of uneven development in a
Consumption-side theories are usually complemented by an analysis of the
amenities a neighborhood has to offer, e.g. open space, relative location in the city,
historic structures, etc. Production-side approaches tend to integrate an analysis of
specific agents who are facilitating the supply-driven gentrification process, e.g. the
state, real estate and development interests. This account of theoretical
perspectives and analytical contexts, which is by no means complete, indicates
"The chaos and complexity of gentrification" (title of a frequently quoted
publication by Beauregard, 1986).
As I will argue in the following chapter an issue as complex as gentrification
can only be unsatisfactorily addressed at the macro level, or to put it differently,
place matters. Therefore, this analysis of gentrification was conducted at the
neighborhood level, employing a mixture of quantitative and qualitative methods.
The research was guided by two main objectives, (1) to provide an in-depth study
of the Curtis Park neighborhood that leads to a complex understanding of the
causes and effects of a particular process of neighborhood change, (2) to inform the
larger theoretical debate in the field of gentrification research. By employing this
approach, I agree with Neil Smith's concept of how research on gentrification is
most effectively conducted:
It seems to me that it is of primary importance to retain a certain scalar
tension between, on the one hand, the individuality of gentrification in
specific cities, neighborhoods, even blocks and on the other hand a general
set of conditions and causes [...] The power of a more general theoretical
stance is augmented by the suppleness that comes from a sensitivity to the
details of local experience and vice versa (Smith, 1996, p.186).
Finally, this study of gentrification is the first one of its kind conducted in
Denver (with the exception of an early study on gentrification by DeGiovanni, 1983,
during which housing market trends in the Baker and Whittier /Five Points
neighborhood were analyzed). This might have to do with the fact that Denver is a
fairly young city that is barely starting to adopt some of the characteristics (and
problems) of other big cities.
Still today, phenomenal growth rates cover up underlying social tensions.
But as globalization advances, social cleavages will become more obvious. I hope
that my study, which analyzes one of Denver's most interesting neighborhoods, a
neighborhood which has a potential for real social and racial integration, will
contribute to a greater awareness of social injustices.
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
In the United States gentrification has been an intensely debated
phenomenon of urban change since the late 1970's. Physical improvements and
middle class invasion in deteriorated inner city neighborhoods initially struck many
researchers as an anachronism. This new process of urban change seemed
fundamentally at odds with traditional theories of residential location and urban
social structure (The "Chicago School"). With the advent of gentrification housing
cycles could no longer be explained by a linear filtering down process from the rich
to the poor segments of society, where the final stage marked a point at which
housing becomes obsolete and is removed (Hamnett, 1991). Consequently,
attempts to explain gentrification have been the major focus of the debate in the
United States, but also in Canada and to some extent also in Australia and Britain.
More recently, European researchers have taken up the study of gentrification to
explain processes of inner city social change (Blasius und Dangschat, 1990; Van
Weesep and Musterd, 1991).
The history of gentrification research has seen a great amount of polarization
between the so called production-side and the cultural explanations of
gentrification. Research on gentrification has indeed led to passionate academic
battles over some of the key theoretical issues in human geography and related
fields. Arguments about "structure and agency, production and consumption,
capital and culture, and supply and demand" (Hamnett, 1991, p.173) have become
the subject of endless debates. And although this discussion has been an ongoing
process to the present day, the complexity of gentrification leads Clark (1992) to
the conclusion that "we have no foolproof holistic theory of or methodology for the
study of gentrification, and it would be presumptuous to think we ever will"
After some 15 years of debate, research on gentrification has matured in a
way that many researchers are now trying to sketch out a more integrated theory.
After a brief discussion of the early works on gentrification, I will critically examine
the production-side and the cultural approaches. Then I will discuss some ways in
which they can be reconciled in a more integrated theory, which emphasizes
complementarity as opposed to prioritization of one approach over the other (this
has been most notably attempted by Hamnett, 1991; Clark, 1992; Lees, 1994, but
also indirectly by Rose, 1984; Beauregard, 1986; Mills, 1988). After a theoretical
discussion of the concept of complementarity, the recent debate about gentrification
in recession will be employed to illustrate how production-side and cultural
explanations intersect in a thorough understanding of the effects of economic
recession on gentrification. Finally, I will outline how the concept of
complementarity can be employed as a theoretical framework for a neighborhood
case study of gentrification.
Early Approaches To Gentrification
In his discussion of epistemological layers in the analysis of gentrification
Beauregard (1986) finds that many of the early works on gentrification were
empirical analyses in the positivist tradition, which attempted to establish an
overarching pattern, a set of regularities and an 'ideal type' gentrifier (see for
example Gale, 1979; Laska and Spain, 1980; Smith 1979). The conclusions of these
studies entailed simplifications and over-generalizations, which failed to account
for the complexity of the gentrification process.
These theories, which were developed on the basis of simplifications and
macro-economic explanations, were also refuted by Ley (1986). In a quantitative
analysis of the most commonly maintained theories of gentrification, Ley
demonstrated that these early theories, like the theory of demographic change and
some theories of housing market dynamics have very little significance for the
explanation of gentrification in Canadian inner cities2.
This first wave of gentrification studies, which to a large degree belong to the
planning literature, are according to Beauregard (1986) limited from an
epistemological point of view in that they lack theoretical depth and fail to address
the real causes of gentrification. The first notably theoretical approach to
gentrification is a production-side approach by Neil Smith. In two papers Smith
2 These findings are valid for American cities as well, because demographic shifts and suburban
developments are very similar. But as a cautionary note it must be added that Ley's analysis was also
conducted at the macro-economic level and cannot explain well the diversity of the actual cases of
gentrification. Furthermore, Clark (1988) and Smith (1987b) found that Ley's analysis was flawed in
terms of the rejection of Smiths rent-gap theory, it "turned out to be a schoolbook example of poor
operationalisation" (Clark, 1995, p.1489).
(1979, 1982) established the rent-gap theory, a supply-side approach to
gentrification, which is rooted in Marxist theory.
The development of the 'rent-gap' is associated with the larger pattern of
'uneven development' in land markets of the capitalist economy. A 'see-saw' theory
of capital investment (Smith, 1991, chapter 5) explains the extremes of decay and
prosperity as they are found in the landscapes of the American city (for a
discussion of the causes of decay and dereliction of American landscapes see also
Jakle and Wilson, 1992). Because capital seeks the highest possible profit rates, it
tends to move from one area of the city to the next.
A good example of this spatial process is the investment in suburban areas
and contemporaneously disinvestment in the inner city since the 1950's until most
recently. The highest profit rates in real estate development were available in
suburban areas, supported by low land values, improved transportation facilities
and other types of governmental support. Continued disinvestment in the inner city
sped up the process of falling property values, residential segregation and decay.
Eventually, the process of devalorization will reach a point at which if the
circumstances are right it becomes profitable again to invest in the inner city.
Thus, the rent gap is the "gap between the ground rent actually capitalized with a
given land use at a specific location and the ground rent that could potentially be
appropriated under a higher and better land use at that location" (Smith and
The term 'highest and best land use or the down scaled version 'higher and
better use' as quoted above might be misleading. The highest and best land use is
always determined according to relative location, perceived economic potential and
political and social context. For example, one area might highly qualify for
redevelopment because of location, and yet, it might never be developed because the
economic capacity of the city or an anti-growth policy are the dominant factors.
Also, the type of development is dependent upon a set of factors; sometimes the
highest and best use might be office space, sometimes residential high rises,
sometimes renovation of historic properties.
LAND VALUE DISAGGREGATED
Figure 3.1: The discrepancy between potential and capitalized ground rent in the
deteriorated inner city. Source: Lauria et al. (1983), p.27.
Gearly, this theory explores only one aspect of a gentrification process. It
was formulated by Neil Smith in 1979 in a paper with the provocative title "Toward
a Theory of Gentrification. A Back to the City Movement by Capital, Not People".
Smith used this title in order to direct attention to the possible profit involved in
this process of neighborhood change, which had been somewhat naively labeled a
"back to the city movement" in the early approaches to gentrification. Smith
directed attention to real estate, investment banking and other capital interests
which earned fortunes from the gentrification process. Furthermore, attention was
increasingly directed to the losers of the gentrification process, particularly the
working class, usually minority residents, who live in the inner city, the place in the
city with the most affordable rents.
The concept of the rent gap is an economic theory which contributes to the
explanation of the extremes of decay and wealth in the landscapes of the American
city. I agree with Smith that the rent-gap is a necessary condition of gentrification
(Smith, 1987a). For others the existence of a rent-gap might provide the economic
opportunity to buy a house, which they could otherwise not afford. For some the
rent-gap translates into enormous profits. Both speculation and high profit rates
for renovated houses in a relatively short period of time are good indicators for the
existence of a rent gap.
Critiques of Smith's approach are numerous and often bear witness to the
ideological battle that has evolved around the issue of gentrification (Hamnett,
1991). To this day, however, the relevance of the rent-gap theory cannot be refuted
(Clark, 1995). Rather, the rent-gap should be taken for what it can explain, instead
of denouncing it on ideological grounds.
The more substantial critiques of Smith concentrate on the fact that his
interpretation of the process of gentrification is exclusively economic which results
in a somewhat one-dimensional treatment of the gentrifier as an agent of capital
interests or to use Hamnett's (1992) words, his view of gentrifiers as 'lemmings'.
Smith appears to be fixated on abstract movements of capital, which he combines
with the analysis of the frontier rhetoric (Smith, 1996, introduction) associated with
the developers' and bankers' vision of making supposedly savage inner city districts
'livable'. In this perspective, the gentrifier is nothing more than someone with a lot
of money who blindly follows new trends in housing development. If anything,
Smith's gentrifier is involved in the "perpetual search for difference and distinction
amid mass consumption, [but this search] is eternally frustrated" (Smith, 1987,
This somewhat shallow treatment of the gentrifier is critiqued by Rose
(1984), who finds a large variety in the social composition of gentrifiers and
proposes a 'chaotic concept of gentrification. Smith, in response to Rose, argues
that the so-called marginal gentrifiers (low-income single female headed households
for example) should be excluded from the analysis, because "in good realist fashion
it [gentrification] should be defined at its core not at its margins" (Smith, 1987a,
p.160). Thus, he refused to allow variety among the gentrifiers to become part of
Consumption-side Or Cultural Explanations Of Gentrification
As a contrast to Smith's production-side approach, a substantial body of
literature has evolved around the cultural, reproductive and consumption aspects of
gentrification, an approach which is concerned with 'the production of gentrifiers'
(Hamnett, 1991). In search of a cultural explanation, which provides greater
theoretical depth than the 'life-style' and 'good taste' attributes of gentrification
found in popular magazines, Beauregard (1986) states that
[T]he explanation for gentrification begins with the presence of "gentrifiers",
the necessary agents and beneficiaries of the gentrification process, and the
directions taken by their reproduction and consumption (p.41).
In his analysis of the False Creek redevelopment project in Vancouver, Ley
(1980) sketched out much of the theoretical basis on which most cultural
explanations of gentrification are based. Without mentioning 'gentrification'
explicitly, he describes a new political elite, which dominated in Vancouver
throughout the 1970's, and how they brought about an inner city redevelopment
project. Ley establishes a connection between this new political elite, which evolved
in opposition to the old pro-growth regime and an economic restructuring process
from the industrial to the post-industrial city. Three key propositions can be
identified: The transformation of the labor force from an industrial base to an
increasing number of quaternary occupations, a transfer of the political decision
making process from the market place (i.e. boosterism of the business elite) to the
pluralism of interest groups (i.e. minority empowerment, anti-growth regimes) and a
socio-cultural value shift to city esthetics, individual life-style choices and new
consumption patterns (Hamnett, 1991).
Ley's concept of the post-industrial city is closely connected to the concept
of the global city. The gist of this theory evolves around the location of advanced
service and corporate control functions in 'world cities, which leads to the
establishment of a rank order of cities according to where the highest concentrations
of these functions can be found. New York, Paris and London are usually
portrayed as the most important world cities (Sassen, 1990). While the control
functions of these 'world cities' are currently subject of debate (Robinson, 1996), the
relationship between the expansion of the service economy to an increasing number
of cities and the effect on gentrification is well established (Ley, 1993).
Ley argues that the expansion of the service economy leads to an increase in
the quaternary work force, which constitutes a new, affluent type of city dweller,
who has increasingly settled down in gentrified areas of the inner city. This
argument is logical and has been supported by correlations between increases in the
quaternary work force and the extent of gentrification activity in the inner city (Ley,
Based on this framework of the post-industrial city and post-war
demographic change, the role of women as a constituent part of the pool of
gentrifiers has been established (Rose, 1984, 1989; Bondi 1991a, 1991b). In the
framework of the reproduction approach to gentrification it is argued that along
with a changing role of women in the work force (increased participation in upper
level service jobs) and with an increasing number of single headed female
households, the inner city is a preferred location for these women.
Furthermore, it is argued that the role of women in the gentrification process
forms an important part of a reworking of class and gender relations. Gentrified
neighborhoods are an important locale of this restructuring process. Bondi (1991a)
in particular argues that questions of gender have been largely neglected in the
analysis of gentrification, which is due to "Smith's (1987a, p.165) continued
insistence on the rent-gap as 'the necessary centrepiece of any theory of
gentrification"' (p.194). Thus, studies that explore the role of women in the
gentrification process have remained limited, qualitative studies particularly are
lacking (one notable exception is Bondi, 1994).
In addition to the feminist approaches to gentrification there have been other
studies, which focused on the more individual attributes of gentrifiers in an attempt
to gain more insight into the cultural and class constitution of this highly
differentiated group. Caulfield (1994) concludes for Toronto that gentrifiers differ
"along a number of axes" (p.124)3:
Visibility and tenure. They have ranged from owner-occupiers of
dilapidated old houses to tenants of developer-built batches of brand-new
infill structures designed to resemble elegant old houses.
Occupation and income. They have ranged from marginally employed
creative workers (artists, musicians, actors, writers) earning their main
income in part-time service jobs (as bike couriers, temp. Secretaries,
restaurant waiters, and the like) to high-salaried professionals and corporate
Political outlook. They have ranged from people committed to movements
of the political left (unionism, feminism, ecologism, as well as radical
municipal reformism) to individuals whose ideological outlook is vigorous
Cultural affiliation. They have ranged from members of institutionally
semi-complete subcultures, like the gay or bohemian communities, to people
whose everyday lives are wholly mainstream.
3 His account, which bears witness to the diversity of gentrifiers, can probably be generalized for most
Household composition and lifestyle. They have ranged from cosmopolitan
one- and two-person adult households to strongly familistic couples with
And there are no easy congruencies among many of these variables: gays
may be lawyers or paper-hangers; professors may live in shabby bungalows or up-
market townhomes; feminists may or may not have children. There is no 'typical'
middle class resettler in Toronto (pp. 124-125).
The diversity of the group and the absence of any kind of typical gentrifier
has made the cultural and class labeling particularly difficult. Although most
researchers maintain that there are commonalties in all gentrification processes,
generalizations about the gentrification culture are a delicate issue and too readily
result in stereotyping (for examples of stereotyping the 'yuppie' see Smith, 1987a).
Therefore, Caulfield's account of the gentrifiers' variety is indirectly a call for
qualitative work at the neighborhood level (e.g. critical ethnography), which seems
the only possible way to gain a better understanding of who the gentrifiers are. In
the following, I will present a few examples of such studies and discuss their
significance in the context of a cultural explanation of gentrification.
Jager (1986) conducted a study on Victoriana, Australia, and established a
connection between historic preservation and the class constitution of the new
middle class. The esthetic qualities of the renovated historic structures are a
representation of social differentiation and create landscapes of distinction, which
serve as visual social boundaries. The 'stigma of labor' is removed and the new
middle class is defined through new modes of consumption and a variety of social
practices (from social events to establishing historic districts and holding posts in
Jager's account of the symbolic language and meanings of historic
reconstruction is one of the few critical treatments of historic preservation activities
in terms of cultural and social practice. Most of the literature analyzes historic
preservation in the context of local history (for Denver: Leonard and Noel, 1990) or
in terms of a political movement (Freed, 1992). Furthermore, there is some planning
oriented literature, which is concerned with the revitalization process and economic
effects of historic district designation (Gale, 1991).
Class formation and cultural representation through historic preservation is
a particularly difficult issue, first because class is a very blurred concept (Smith,
1987a) and second, because the representational forms of historic restoration might
vary greatly depending on the local situation. Nonetheless, Jager's account, which is
grounded in the specific forms of gentrification in Victoriana and at the same time
establishes connections to a larger theoretical framework of class formation and the
meanings of landscape, can serve as a good starting point for further investigation
into the representational landscapes of historic preservation.
Mills (1988) study on Fairview Slopes, a gentrified neighborhood in
Vancouver, is a reading of a gentrified landscape grounded in the theories of critical
cultural geography. Mills establishes a relationship between the representational
forms of gentrification and marketing strategies. The gentrifiers are portrayed in the
tension between market forces and forms of self-expression, life-style and identity
formation. Furthermore, this qualitative study identifies some of the motivations of
gentrifiers (proximity to downtown, city life as a value, rejection of suburban life-
styles, etc.) and develops a complex picture with many layers of meanings in
gentrification. Thus, Mills' approach does justice to the complexity of the forms of
The involvement of gay communities is an example of the role of a particular
social group in the gentrification process. Castells' (1983) analysis of San
Francisco's gay community is an account of how a socially marginal group carved
out urban space to make a place for their practice of a life-style and identity
formation. A pre-dominantly gay neighborhood functions as a place where "young
gay men from the hinterland escape in order to come out,' or come to terms with
their sexuality." Also, this place functions as "bases of community economic and
political development." (Lauria and Knopp, 1985).
Castells (1983) analyzes the involvement of San Francisco's gay community
in a gentrification process in terms of a social movement, an approach which has
been taken up by Caulfield (1994). An essential prerequisite for the analysis of a
gentrification process as an urban social movement is the question of whether or not
the participants of the process function "as agents of critical urban change" (Castells
as quoted in Caulfield, 1994, p.137). In the case of the gay movement in San
Francisco this role seems to be clearly the case for three important categories of
urban social change:
within the economic realm, 'to obtain for its residents a city organized
around its use value'; within the cultural realm, 'the search for cultural
identity, for the maintenance or creation of autonomous local cultures'; and
within the political realm, 'the search for increasing power in local
government, neighbourhood decentralization, and urban self-management'
(Caulfield, 1994, p.137 quoting Castells).
I would argue that the key to the analysis of a gentrification process in terms
of an urban social movement is a sense of resistance and the construction of new
urban meaning (see also Fainstein and Hirst ; Fisher  for their
definitions of urban social movements) in the context of transforming a particular
urban space, e.g. a neighborhood. In this sense, a historic preservation movement or
other types of movements associated with the gentrification process, can be
analyzed as an urban social movement.
Other examples of 'in depth' studies of gentrifiers are those studies which
analyze the role of specific social groups in the gentrification process. One of the
most prominent examples is Zukin's (1982) study of the avant-garde art community
in New York and their involvement in the conversion of derelict warehouses and
industrial complexes into lofts. The art community is portrayed as a kind of social
movement, which (unintentionally) prepared the way for a more market oriented,
investment driven gentrification process. The role of the art community is viewed in
a similar fashion in an analysis of the gentrification process in the Lower East Side
(Abu-Lughod et al., 1994).
Knopp, who contributed to the analysis of gay communities in a context of
gentrification with his studies in New Orleans (1990a; 1990b) further explored the
relationship between culture and capital by combining a social movement approach
with production-side explanations of gentrification. By focusing on the actors
involved in the gentrification process, Knopp (1990a) creates a classification of four
groups, (1) local activists (e.g. gays, artists, preservationists) who are interested in
the use value of the individual properties and the neighborhood as a whole, (2)
investment, development interests focusing on the exchange value, (3) various levels
of the state as actors and (4) local non-profit organizations with an urban
managerialism perspective. He concludes that cross-class and cross-cultural
! alliances have contributed to create the particular kind of gay gentrification process,
j which took place in some New Orleans neighborhoods.
| In a second publication (1990b) Knopp analyzes how illegal appraisal
schemes employed to support the increase of home ownership of gays in these
neighborhoods relate to urban housing market dynamics as expressed in the rent-
i gap theory. Relatively cheap housing stock in the inner city was made available to
i moderate income gays and by doing so real estate values increased over time
(closing the rent-gap), which translated into greater profit margins for those
| involved in real estate.
j Thus, Knopp's analysis of the gentrification process in some New Orleans
| neighborhoods is a good example of the integration of cultural and economic
| explanations of gentrification. The explanation of the establishment of a gay
community in these neighborhoods would be incomplete without the integration of
j both approaches. Thus, Knopp's work, which seeks to explain how a particular
community of gentrifiers appropriated an inner city space points more broadly to
gentrification studies which are conducted at neighborhood level that seek and
employ an integrated concept for the analysis. In the following section I will discuss
studies that address the issue of integration and complementarity in more general
terms and then illustrate how this concept can be used for a neighborhood level
analysis in the case of Curtis Park.
The Concept Of Complementarity
Mills (1988) concludes from her exploration of the texture of gentrification in
Fairview Slopes that no singular theoretical position "could offer complete closure in
the explanation of this phenomenon" (p.165). She employs a conversation from her
interviews to prove that all elements of an explanation of gentrification are
interwoven and exist simultaneously:
This conversation gives credence to a variety of accounts of gentrification:
first, by asserting its desirability to consumers affiliated to a new lifestyle
(sphere of consumption); second, by professing 'workability' in everyday life
(sphere of reproduction); third, by implying that the place is a commodity
offering symbolic capital into which one might rationally buy (sphere of
Similarly, in "The blind man and the elephant: the explanation of
gentrification" Hamnett (1991) makes a concerted attempt to join economic and
cultural explanations in a more integrated framework. In his conclusion he
composes a valuable list of factors necessary for gentrification: First, there needs to
be a supply of gentrifiable inner city properties, which is characterized by a history
of disinvestment explained by the rent-gap. Second, the supply of gentrifiable
properties includes the mere presence of old housing stock, an absence of which
might explain the limited amount of gentrification in Dallas, Houston and Phoenix
and other Southern and Western U.S. cities. Third, a substantial service class needs
to be in place. And forth, this service class needs to express a demand or a desire
for inner city living, without which not even the largest number of quaternary
employees can constitute a gentrification process.
Hamnett emphasizes that his explanation is not consumption-based and is
firmly grounded "in the changes in the structure of production and the social and
spatial division of labour in advanced capitalist countries" (p.186). But although he
employs a language and form of explanation which embraces a Marxist perspective,
he sees the need for the analysis of gentrification to place a priority on changes in
the social and spatial divisions of labor and the growth in the quaternary work
force in the post-industrial city: "The explanation of gentrification must therefore
begin with the processes responsible for the production and concentration of key
fractions of the service class in a number of major cities" (p.186). Thus, Hamnett
unnecessarily prioritizes the production of gentrifiers and thus confesses to the
explanation that he has always preferred: The post-industrial thesis and the
cultural explanation of gentrification.
Hamnett's article triggered the latest debate over which explanation of
gentrification should have priority. This article and the following debate between
Smith and Hamnett (Smith, 1992; Hamnett, 1992) has left Clark (1992) with "a
mixture of disappointment over blindness, frustration over centrepieces and
encouragement over the common interest to consider the notion of complementarity
in approaches to gentrification" (p.358). Because the paradigms underlying both
approaches, the humanist/postmodern paradigm on the one hand (advanced by
Ley and Hamnett) and the neo-Marxist paradigm on the other hand (advanced by
Smith) are based on very different assumptions and yet are both necessary for a
satisfactory explanation of gentrification, Clark proposes the development of an
integrated theory based on the concept of complementarity: "... the notion of
complementarity says that even if competing theories are mutually exclusive due to
incommensurable abstractions, they may both be true and necessary for a thorough
description of that which the theories are about" (Clark, 1992, p. 361).
Lees (1994), who just like Clark is "frustrated with centrepieces and
encouraged by attempts to consider complementarity" (p.141), takes up the notion
of complementarity to come to terms with the oppositions in postmodernism and
Marxism. She argues that the dichotomization between the two has really been
forced by "a political choice as to which side of the fence to place ourselves on"
(p.138), which has produced the continuous insistence on 'centrepieces' or on one
exclusive 'starting point' of the analysis. The resulting bifurcation hinders a more
complex and integrated analysis of gentrification and unnecessarily promotes
tendencies of economic or cultural determinism.
By those who refuse to prescribe to either one of the polarities, the notion of
complementarity can now be employed to inform postmodernism by Marxism and
vice versa. Many efforts have already been made to combine the two in the analysis
of gentrification (see above the discussion of Knopp, 1990a, 1990b, Rose, 1984 and
Mills, 1988 and also the discussion of various other works in Lees, 1994, pp. 141-
144). In an effort to provide a larger theoretical basis for the integration, Lees
discusses three overarching issues of the gentrification debate, two of which I will
The Politicization Of Interest Groups
Both camps view the politicization of the groups involved in the gentrification
process as an important subject of inquiry. The postmodernist interpretation
prefers to focus on the formation of the new middle class as they struggle to
establish themselves politically. Reflections of this struggle can be found in the
replacement of a pro-growth urban regime by a more pluralistic, quality of life
oriented regime (see Ley, 1980) or in the social movement approaches (Lauria and
Knopp, 1985; Caulfield, 1994).
Politicization is also an integral part of Marxist analysis, only from a
different perspective. The class struggle between the owners of the means of
production and labor is the origin of analysis, which can be translated into the
struggle of haves and have-nots of the present day American city. A good example
of this type of approach can be found in a comprehensive analysis of the
neighborhood struggle over the gentrification on New York's Lower East Side (Abu-
Lughod, 1995) or in San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood (Robinson,. Different
forms of resistance are analyzed in detail and contrasted with varying alliances,
which more often than not cross class, culture and neighborhood boundaries,
hindered the gentrification process. In general, Marxists view gentrification
exclusively as a negative process and choose the examples of analysis accordingly.
While both perspectives analyze forms of politicization in gentrification,
they tend to choose very different forms, analyze according to different
assumptions and consequently develop different conclusions for the explanation of
the gentrification process they have observed. I would argue that in almost every
locality that is analyzed, evidence for both types of politicization can be
encountered. Employing the notion of complementarity, both the political struggle
of the middle class, which seeks to establish itself in the neighborhood, and the
resistance of opposing groups need to be analyzed.
The term uneven development is commonly used in the Marxist camp, where it is
employed as a concept to explain many of the processes of urban change (see the
discussion of the theory of uneven development). While being a strong analytic tool
in terms of economic change, the concept of uneven development often fails to
incorporate agency and various cultural elements in the highly complex process of
urban change. Particularly, the early critiques of the rent-gap theory are a good
example of this shortcoming. Lees therefore concludes that
"[U]uneven development has an economic side and a cultural side, for in the
rounds of investment urban actors and / or the culture industry, for example,
can ameliorate in the movement of capital. Examples could include
landlords who, for their own personal reasons, decide not to disinvest or sell
their property to developers, or those in the art world, who decide to locate
their cultural capital in a neighborhood" (p.146).
To expand Lees' notion of complementarity in the context of 'uneven
development', it can be argued that the level of macro-economic explanation in the
cultural camp is essentially very similar to the Marxist explanation. The
explanation for the production of gentrifiers is derived from the concept of
economic restructuring, which is based on changes in the division of labor in the
capitalist mode of production (Hamnett, 1991). Thus, both macro-level
explanations are based on the analysis of the capitalist economy.
And yet, both explanations have been separated along the dichotomies of
supply (the Marxist approach) and demand (consumption-side approach), a
dichotomy, which is not entirely justified. Clark (1992), for example, argues for the
importance of demand in the rent-gap theory.
Both approaches investigate the same phenomenon, but arrive at different
explanations. While 'uneven development' explains the pressure on restructuring of
the inner city with the movement of capital interests over urban space in an uneven
manner, 'economic restructuring' emphasizes the new city dweller as a product of
the observed changes. Thus, different dimensions of the same are emphasized by
each approach respectively. Prioritizing seems to be essentially unproductive when
faced with two sides of the same coin.
Economic Recession And The Explanation Of Gentrification
Recently a few studies have been concerned with the impact of economic
recession on gentrification. How economic cycles influence gentrification trends has
important implications for the validity of the competing explanations. A
production-side explanation would expect a recession to undermine a gentrification
process, particularly if the crisis occurs at a national level and freezes up potential
investment capital. If the crisis is only regional and the reinvestment process is
driven by national or international investors, the impact would remain limited.
Demand-side explanations would look more specifically at the financial potential
of the gentrifiers as the actors and would judge the impact of recession on how
these central actors are affected.
Accordingly, Ley (1993) finds for Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa,
Edmonton and Halifax that despite the national recession of 1982-83, the intensity
of gentrification in the inner cities analyzed has maintained a certain level from
1981-1986. He concludes that the urban professional class is mostly excluded from
the effects of the recession and unless there are more severe economic crises,
gentrification will remain an ongoing process.
Ley's findings are contradicted by Bourne (1993) who finds for Toronto that
the overall social upgrading of the inner city when compared to the standards of the
suburban areas is rather limited and predicts a slowing of gentrification activity for
The reasons for these paradoxical conclusions are two-fold. First, both of
these quantitative studies employ different indicators. Ley's analysis of social
change is conducted at greater depth, because he employs household structure and
educational levels as additional indicators, whereas Bourne limits his research to
income as an indicator for gentrification. Furthermore, Bourne compares his
findings for the inner city with the suburbs and thus employs a level of aggregation
which can hardly do justice to a process like gentrification, which is characterized
by trans-formations at a much smaller scale. Also, there is no doubt that even if a
city has been experiencing strong gentrification the majority of the poorest
segments of the city population are still located in the inner city and will therefore
skew any kind of aggregation at city level. Consequently, little can be derived from
Bourne's predictions for the future extent of gentrification, because the impact of
recession is not properly assessed.
Smith (1996, chapter 10) comes to a similar conclusion about the impact of
recession on gentrification as Ley does, but supports his statement with a supply-
side explanation. He finds that an economic crisis has consequences for the real
estate market, but he argues that they have only limited effects in the long run. The
case of the New York rental market had already shown signs of recovery from the
real estate market crisis from 1989-1992/3 as early as 1994.
Thus in both cases similar conclusions are reached about the effects of
economic recession on gentrification. And yet, we know little about more specific
effects of recession on a particular gentrification process. Is a recession simply a
short interlude in an otherwise linear development? Or has a recession the potential
to bring a process to a complete stop or at least completely change the nature of
These questions uncover the theoretical shortcomings of the recession debate
at this point. Lees and Bondi (1995) refute the relevance of the recession debate
entirely, because "both sides in this debate seem to underplay the chaos and
complexity of gentrification: they move too quickly (italics in original) from specific
instances of gentrification to broad statements about gentrification in general"
(p.235-236). By comparing gentrification activity in New York's Lower East Side
and Park Slope neighborhoods over the past 20 years, Lees and Bondi show that
the impact of recession and the respective outcomes of the individual gentrification
processes were substantially different. Other factors, like political activism and
attitudes towards gentrification, relative location in the city, social composition, etc.
were found to be more relevant to the outcome of the process than general economic
Lees and Bondi's study certainly has not been the final word in the recession
debate, they only point out that more research needs to be done in order to be able
to understand the phenomenon better. In order to learn more about how
gentrification in recession differs from locality to locality, this research will need to
be conducted at a more local level of inquiry instead of the macro-economic level of
Comparative Analysis And In-Depth Neighborhood Studies
While they acknowledge the important influence of the macro-economy on
gentrification, Lees and Bondi's study is a good case in point for the limitations of a
macro-level analysis of gentrification. Because gentrification processes may vary
considerably from locality to locality, the case study appears to be a very powerful
tool in the analysis of gentrification. Connections between the macro-level and the
local level have to be established in order to justify the basic assumptions of
economic restructuring and uneven development as they impact gentrification.
These connections will also help explain why in some cities gentrification is
analyzed in terms of social conflict (Lower East Side, see Abu-Lughod, 1995) and
in other cases in terms of social stability (see the rather positive account of
gentrification in the Old City of Sacramento by Datel and Dingemans, 1994).
The case study approach can take on two different directions. Either it can
take on the form of an in-depth study of a neighborhood or a limited geographical
area or it can be a comparative study of two or more of those relatively small
geographical entities. Similar to Lees and Bondi (1995) a comparative study can
examine two or more neighborhoods in one city to illustrate specific aspects of the
gentrification process, i.e. response to recession, factors for the occurrence of
gentrification (for other examples see Beauregard, 1990; Cybriwsky, 1986).
International comparisons of gentrifying neighborhoods have become a
research frontier. These studies can function as a tool to test current explanations.
Some exploratory research has been conducted by Carpenter and Lees (1995), a
comparative study of three different neighborhoods in New York, London and
Paris. While acknowledging differences between American and Western European
geographical settings, differences manifested in the structure of the historic cores of
the cities, in social composition of the city (less segregation) and in degrees of state
intervention at all levels (Blasius und Dangschat, 1990; Van Weesep and Musterd,
1991), differences may well be more pronounced between various locations in the
U.S. or in Europe than between cities in international comparison: "I suspect that
Paris and Amsterdam, for all their own differences, have more in common with
Baltimore and Seattle than with Rotterdam and Rome" (Smith, 1996, p.185).
This cautionary note is also well taken for the second type of case study, the
in-depth neighborhood study. The findings of a case study have to go beyond a
celebration of geographic difference. Analysis in a case study has to embrace the
larger arguments, establish links to larger economic and cultural patterns, while at
the same time pointing out in what ways the local case of gentrification is different
and place-specific. While the generalizability of the in-depth case study will
naturally be somewhat limited, it has two very important advantages.
First, the case study can be grounded in the local economic and cultural
context in a way that the results are sound and reliable. By contrast, larger scale
comparisons and macro approaches to gentrification for an entire country have to
retreat to limited categories of comparison or to broad sweeping statistical
measures. With gentrification being such a small scale phenomenon (see Stout and
Lauria, 1995, for their block data analysis) that is characterized by important local
and regional variations, both in economic and cultural terms, the significance of
larger scale studies will always remain very limited.
Second, in-depth case studies have the best potential to employ the
theoretical concept of complementarity and overcome the unproductive dichotomy
of production and consumption-side approaches. When studying an area in depth
the variety of factors that determined the form and extent of gentrification becomes
very obvious. It will hardly be possible to ignore certain aspects of the gentrification
process. This does not mean that each and every factor needs to be equally
important. When explaining the local gentrification process, a prioritization of
factors will not be developed according to the preferred theoretical approach, but
according to which explanation is the most powerful in the particular local setting.
These two advantages of in-depth neighborhood case studies, the reliability
of the data and the potential for a truly complementary approach to the
explanation of gentrification, lead from a theoretical point of view to an analysis of
gentrification in Denvers Curtis Park neighborhood. In the following section, I will
outline the most important research questions as they relate to the theoretical
concepts addressed in this chapter.
Curtis Park And The Complementary Approach To Gentrification
The questions that are employed to guide the analysis of gentrification in
Curtis Park can be organized into two sections. The first set of questions is geared
toward a basic understanding of the gentrification process in the neighborhood and
follows the established research questions of the economic and cultural approaches
to gentrification. The second set of questions seeks to integrate the two approaches
by directing the research focus towards the concept of complementarity.
The Production-side Explanation
One of the most important elements for this side of the explanation is the context of
disinvestment. Disinvestment is viewed as a necessary pre-requisite for
gentrification to occur. The history of investment/disinvestment needs to be
established for the neighborhood before the process of gentrification as such can be
examined. In the following step, the agents of the reinvestment process need to be
analyzed: what are the driving forces behind the process? Investment interests and
developers or private home-owners? What role does the state play in the
reinvestment process? Once that the main players are identified they can be linked
to the existence (or absence) of a rent-gap. Who was able to profit from the kind of
process that can be observed and how does the profit margin in turn determine the
nature of the reinvestment process?
Because reinvestment in a neighborhood does not occur in an economic
vacuum, the analysis then needs to compare the neighborhood trends to the regional
economy (or national economy, if there are indications that the economic
determinants of the locality exceed the regional scope). Curtis Park's 20 year long
gentrification history will allow an assessment of the phases of both economic
recession and expansion. Finally, the economic analysis will allow conclusions
about who are the winners and who are the losers of the gentrification process.
Common effects like rising rents and property values and displacement have to be
assessed in the local context.
Consumption-side And Cultural Explanations
Guided by the question 'Who are the gentrifiers' (Beauregard, 1986, p.41 see
above) the socio-economic characteristics and the cultural forces behind the
gentrification movement need to be assessed. The first set of questions centers
around the assumption that gentrification is associated with employment in the
quaternary work force and that a downtown work location (prime office space) is
linked to middle class resettlement in the inner city. Here again, location and social
status of the neighborhood cannot be viewed in isolation, questions need to be
asked about the overall employment situation and socio-economic patterns in the
city; i.e. is there a significant suburbanization of quaternary employment? To what
extent does the city participate in the global economy?
Another set of questions is concerned with the cultural factors of the
gentrification process. How important was the Victorian character of the houses in
attracting people to the neighborhood? What kind of lifestyle choices underlie the
movement? What role do single women, gays, artists and other groups play? The
role of agency has to be carefully considered and underlying motivations have to be
examined, i.e. a sentiment of anti-modernity to promote historic preservation, a
social movement to explain inner-city living.
Specific Locational Factors
An array of amenities and general characteristics of the neighborhood play a role in
determining the extent of gentrification. Ley (1993) has shown that distance to the
CBD, proximity to industrial areas, parks and other amenities while they tend to
vary in significance during the 1970's when compared to the 1980's, they are
important factors to consider. Stout's and Lauria's block data analysis of two New
Orleans census tracts (1995) reinforces the importance of racial composition and
the impact of housing projects on the occurrence of gentrification.
In the context of Curtis Park a number of commonly held assumptions about
the neighborhood's amenities and locational characteristics need to be evaluated.
They include historic district designations in the neighborhood, proximity to
downtown office space, the possible diffusion of redevelopment activity in Lower
and Northeast downtown into the neighborhood, increasing traffic congestion on the
arterials connecting the suburbs to downtown on the one hand and close proximity
to Denvers remaining inner city industrial districts, a concentration of public
housing projects in the neighborhood and the proximity to the city's highest
concentration of housing shelters and other social service institutions on the other
Paths For The Integration Of The Different Factors Into The Concept Of
In the analysis of gentrification in Curtis Park, three concepts can be identified that
are most fruitfully explored in a complementary explanatory framework: the
relationship between gentrification and economic growth and recession, reasons and
motivations for the gentrification movement at the intersection of capital and
culture, and the political dimensions of the process.
To understand the impact of recession and expansion of the regional
economy on gentrification, the economic and the cultural side of uneven
development can be productively employed (see also discussion of Lees, 1994 in
"The concept of complementarity"). While economic cycles direct the uneven flows
of capita] in urban space, they also affect the agents in the gentrification processes
Even if the quaternary work force is largely shielded from the effects of an
economic recession (Ley, 1993), gentrification is likely to take on different
pathways, if the effect of renewed disinvestment is too severe for the gentrifying
neighborhood. In other words, even though the pool of gentrifiers may still be in
place, the effects of the economic recession on the neighborhood, e.g. abandonment,
foreclosures, increasing crime rates, might cause strong discouragement to invest
there. Additionally, different economic phases may see different actors, e.g.
speculators vs. committed home-owners and influence the social and cultural
characteristics of the in-moving population.
How economic phases may have an influence on who the gentrifiers are
leads to more general aspects of reasons and motivations for the gentrification
movement. Particularly if a distinctive rent gap is in place, of which individual
home buyers can take advantage, questions of cultural and economic factors cannot
be separated anymore. Affordability and the fetish for Victorian architecture, the
alternative lifestyle or emancipatory possibilities for single women go hand in hand
and have to be analyzed in conjunction.
Finally, the political aspects of a gentrification process offer fertile ground
for the integration of Marxist and postmodern explanations of gentrification (see
also discussion of Lees, 1994 in "The concept of complementarity). Preliminary
research has shown that common political viewpoints and strategies have
contributed to community formation among the gentrifiers (see also Ley, 1980,
1994). But community formation does not occur in a political vacuum and conflicts
with the longtime working class and mostly minority residents are usually
inevitable. An analysis of the trajectories of community building and the forms of
opposition and resistance combines Marxist and postmodernist approaches and
has the potential to produce a more complete understanding of the neighborhood's
internal political processes.
The 15 year long history of gentrification research has not only left a legacy
of a very productive, enthusiastically fought and still on-going intellectual debate, it
has also produced a variety of theoretical concepts for the explanation of
gentrification. In this review I have assessed the most important theories of
gentrification and I have attempted to move beyond the ideological limitations some
researchers have tended to impose on themselves. The outcome is an elaboration of
the concept of complementarity, invoked by Clark, 1992 and theoretically further
advanced by Lees, 1994. This concept suits the purposes of this study for two
First, gentrification research has come to its limits when bound by the
dichotomy of economic versus cultural explanations. For further theoretical
advancement questions at the conjunction of both approaches have to be explored.
Second, the concept of complementarity is a complex conceptual framework,
which suits a neighborhood with such a long and varied history of gentrification
best. The ups and downs in Curtis Park's gentrification process are likely to have
been caused by a combination of factors.
Also, the case study approach represents an appropriate level of analysis
when employing the concept of complementarity, because it is possible to analyze
the economic, social and cultural aspects of the process in great depth. At a larger
level of analysis this depth, which forms the basis for all three aspects to inform one
another, cannot be retained.
Finally, knowledge about gentrification processes in Denver is largely absent,
because no comparable studies have been conducted (one exception has been noted
earlier). In this review I have shown how essential local knowledge is to a reliable
assessment of gentrification activities. Therefore, this study has to be strictly
limited in its geographical extent. Future studies on gentrification in Denver can
build on the findings of this study and broaden the geographical scope of analysis.
In the last section of the previous chapter I outlined the most important
research questions for this case study on gentrification. The research questions seek
to explore the gentrification process in Curtis Park from a variety of different
angles, i.e. the economic factors, social aspects, cultural themes and attempt an
integration of these. This variety demands a number of different methods, each of
which is designed to be best suited for a particular aspect of the analysis.
Furthermore, the complexity of some of the questions, particularly those that
explore the concept of complementarity, need to be answered employing a mixture
of different methods. In the following I will discuss each method separately,
describe how they contribute to finding answers to the research questions and
illustrate how these methods work together to produce complex explanations of
In order to determine the extent and the different phases4 of the process of
gentrification, data on property change is the most reliable measure. Data on social
change is only an indirect measure of the actual process of gentrification, which
involves selling and renovating gentrifiable properties. A case study, such as this
one, lends itself to an analysis of property change, because the study area is
The publicly available assessor's property data base was employed as a
starting point for the property data analysis. For each property in the city the
assessor's data contains the block and parcel number, street address, name and
address of the owner, land use, zoning, square footage, year of property acquisition,
sold price, assessed land and property value and other items, which are not
relevant to this analysis. Year of turnover and sold price have the potential to
explain the extent and process, while the assessed value could potentially explain
the extent of gentrification.
The year of turnover is frequently used as an indicator for gentrification
activity. Yet, this data remains an indirect measure so long as it is not clear which
buildings have undergone an upgrading process. Furthermore, the turnover data
available through the assessor's office is updated with every new turnover. This
means that a data set of January, 1997, which forms the basis of this analysis,
captures best the number of turnovers for the last few years, but is only an
4 By phases in the process of gentrification I mean distinct periods of time that are identifiable by breaks
and differing intensities in gentrification activity as determined by a measure of property change. These
phases of gentrification activity can be compared to city wide real estate or general economic trends
inaccurate reflection of the history of property change. Because the analysis of
gentrification in Curtis Park has to begin in 1975, when, according to some
exploratory research, the process of neighborhood change first set in, the relevance
of the assessor's data set is severely limited. Consequently, the number of turnovers
per year may only serve as a weak indicator for the relative intensity of a process of
property change, i.e. help to determine different phases, but can only for the last
few years measure the actual extent of gentrification.
In order to link turnover data to the upgrading process and thus make it more
relevant to gentrification analysis, one option would have been a count of the
residential construction permits for the area. Another option was to work together
with two local Realtors who have practically been the only agents in the area for
two periods of time, from 1975-1982/3 and from 1982 to the present day
respectively. For two main reasons, working with the Realtors became the preferred
First, both agents were intimately involved in the gentrification process. Both
of them are historic preservationists and actively promoted the neighborhood. Their
rich knowledge about the process of property change and property renovations is
more specific than construction data, which will include any type of construction
from maintenance work to complete renovation. While the real estate agents might
have overlooked a few buildings or in an exceptional case might not have been
aware of a few property changes which were handled by another agent, the data
that was accumulated with their help is fully reliable: I can be completely confident
that every property listed has actually been gentrified.
and, within the neighborhood, to specific social or cultural aspects of neighborhood change during the
Second, through working with the Realtors, it was possible to obtain a vast
array of qualitative data, which would not have become available through
researching construction permits, e.g. complete property change histories of
individual buildings including sold prices at different stages and amount of
investment in renovation, speculation activity, insights into reinvestment strategies,
additional contacts to important agents in the gentrification process.
While the Realtors' information facilitated a successful link of turnover data to
renovation data, the completeness of the turnover information for the entire 20
years of gentrification history remains a problem. It was possible to establish a
complete history of property change for many individual buildings. But in many
other cases it was only possible to find out one or two turnover dates or merely a
period of time during which turnover and renovation have occurred. Thus, the
extent of gentrification could be well documented while the turnover information
was improved but not completed for the entire history of gentrification in Curtis
Park. Again, especially the early years of the process are far from being completely
represented. Consequently, the phases of gentrification can only be approximated
from a combination of the assessor's turnover data and the gentrification turnover
data obtained through the Realtors.
Besides the year of turnover the property data includes other information
which have the potential to help determine extent and phases of gentrification.
First, the property data includes the sold price for each property. It is fair to
assume that a renovated property would be distinctly more expensive than a
property that is not renovated. But even if a measure is employed that accounts for
variations in building size (i.e. price per square foot ratio) only the most recent sales
will be listed. Furthermore, if the renovation was done after the purchase and the
house did not experience another property turnover, the price per square foot ratio
will not be able to capture the upgrading process. Thus, a measure that would have
ideally allowed for some conclusions about the phases of gentrification in terms of
relative price increases and slumps needs to be discarded as too inaccurate and
Second, the names of the property owners provide some indirect information
about whether or not the property has been gentrified or not. The gentrification
process in Curtis Park is largely a white, middle class phenomenon and by the early
1970s the neighborhood had almost exclusively become Latino with the exception
of a limited number of African Americans (at least in the core of the historic
district) and some Asian property owners. Thus, all Anglo-American names could
be counted and employed as an indicator for gentrification. Also, gentrification in
Curtis Park is largely associated with owner-occupation, which means that this
measure would only exclude a small number of renters. And it would be difficult to
single out long-time black property as well as a small group of Latino newcomers
who would not be identified as gentrifiers. Nonetheless, a count of Anglo-American
surnames would still be a fairly accurate measure of the extent of the gentrification
process, while it cannot contribute to establishing the phases of gentrification.
Third, every property is assigned an assessed value, which was in the case of
the Curtis Park neighborhood updated last in 1994. Assessed property value per
square foot should ideally be a good measure for property improvement. But the
assessed values display a sense of randomness. While some of the fairly rundown
properties are assessed at average or high levels, many renovated properties are still
assessed as low as they were before renovation. Thus, assessing practices cause
this data to be completely unreliable for the purposes of property change analysis.
Besides the unreliability of the assessed value data, a few more general
limitations of the assessor's property data need to be added. The turnover data
and the sold price data has in all cases corresponded to the information of the
Realtors, but in some cases the information has simply not been updated or the sold
price is not available. This means that the data is correct, but not in every case
complete or up-to-date. As a general limitation of this type of data it has to be
noted that re-financing of a property can also appear as a turnover, while the
property has actually not changed owners.
Incompleteness is a problem for the entire data set. Sometimes it is just one
piece of data that is missing, e.g. the zoning for one property, the building area for
another. And sometimes the entire data set for one property is missing or a building
that has been tom down is still listed. Some of these inaccuracies have been
corrected as I found them during property data adjustments and updating, but
corrections could not be performed comprehensively because of the time constraints
of this project.
It can be concluded that the assessor's property data can be employed as a
basic data set, which serves its purpose well for information on zoning, land use
and building area. Furthermore, the assessor's data provides a good starting point
for and can be integrated into the accumulation of historical turnover data.
Incompleteness and antiquatedness in some cases is a serious short-coming, which
can only be overcome through a tedious process of updating the assessor's data
base with other sources.
The analysis of census data is one of two methods employed in this study to
understand the social geography of neighborhood change. While the analysis of the
survey data, which was solely compiled on the population of gentrifiers in the
neighborhood can provide insights about the social characteristics of the gentrifiers,
one purpose of the analysis of census data is to provide information on the
neighborhood as a whole. Another purpose of the usage of census data is
methodological in nature. Both, tract and block data will be analyzed. By
comparing the results of both it will be possible to determine which level and which
categories of census information serve as the better indicator for gentrification in
As shown in map 1 (Appendix A) study area and census tracts do not
correspond very well. In addition to those blocks that lie within the study area,
tract 16 includes the industrial areas that are located to the west of the
neighborhood as well as parts of Northeast downtown, a mixed used area that is
undergoing rapid economic and social change associated with the gentrification of
Lower Downtown. Both these areas are traditionally working class areas with a
low density of residential population, but have been experiencing some
gentrification. In addition to the Curtis Park blocks on Champa, Stout and
California Streets Tract 24.01 includes a number of blocks to the Southeast of
Welton Street, a residential area in the core of the Five Points neighborhood. The
portion of African Americans in this area is higher when compared to the study
area and gentrification is generally perceived to be less pronounced than in the
Curtis Park neighborhood. Thus, the additional blocks in tract 24.01 are likely to
obscure the evidence for gentrification, while the additional blocks in tract 16 may
well display social characteristics similar to those in the study area.
Tract and block data differ in the their degree of geographical scale and their
wealth of information. Block data may be employed to list a number of social
characteristics for the exact study area, which can even be broken down into sub-
areas. For this study I have developed two groups of block data. The first one
comprises the study area, which corresponds to the boundaries of the Curtis Park
neighborhood as defined by the Neighborhood Plan from 1987, except that I
included the blocks between California and Welton Streets (Map 2, Appendix A).
The maps of the social characteristics of the neighborhood are based on this data
set. The second one describes only the most heavily gentrified blocks of the
neighborhood as determined from the spatial analysis of the property data set and
is almost identical with the boundaries of the National Historic District from 1975
(Map 3, Appendix A).
Thus, the strength of block data is its degree of spatial accuracy, which may
be the only level of census data analysis at which evidence for gentrification can be
found (compare Stout and Lauria, 1995). And yet, the limited amount of
information available at the block level is its greatest weakness. As indicators for
gentrification only the following variables can be employed: Number of units,
renter/owner occupation, number of over-crowded units, percent of units one-
person households, total population, percent of population African Americans,
Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans and percent of population under 18 and over
By contrast, census tract information additionally provides information about
employment status, occupation, educational level and income. Thus, it is only the
census tract level that can produce conclusions about the social status, which has
been developed as an indicator for gentrification (Ley, 1993). At the same time, the
census tract level is often unlikely to capture evidence for gentrification, especially
when the processes is of limited extent.
To conclude, both types of census data have to be employed for what they
can produce. While block data appears to be suitable to explain the spatial
intricacies of the gentrification process, tract level data, when not completely
irrelevant may lend itself to comparisons of social status at a higher level (city).
Cartographic analysis of property and census data
Gentrification is essentially a geographic process. The various aspects of
economic and social change, which I have outlined above have distinct geographic
qualities. These qualities can be displayed and analyzed employing a Geographic
Information System (GIS).
As mentioned above, the property data base includes a number of specific
types of property information for each property in the study area. This information
can be linked to a base map that not only includes the blocks but also the parcels as
the basic property unit. Thus, all information that can be added to the individual
parcel can be displayed on a map and analyzed geographically. Maps displaying
information such as zoning, building area, land use can be created. Also, the
gentrification process can be mapped out in its different phases and its entire
extent. The maps have the potential to show if the gentrification process occurred
in pockets, if it began in one area and extended from there outward, or if it was
randomly scattered in parts of or in the entire study area.
In addition to displaying the property data a GIS can also be employed to
display the social data that is available at the block level. The different categories,
e.g. renter /owner occupation, population density, ethnic composition, can be
mapped out with a historical perspective for the 1970, 1980 and 1990 census.
Because extent, phases and process of gentrification are already available through
the geographic data on property change, the social data can now be employed to
validate those findings. Furthermore, the relevance of the social indicators can be
tested and as a result the social characteristics of the process of gentrification can
be determined, i.e. the data will be able to show what characteristics best explain
gentrification in Curtis Park, e.g. loss of ethnic integration, decreased population
density, increased number of one person households, decreasing population under
18 years, etc.
In this fashion GIS becomes a tool of historical analysis that combines the
economic and the social data. Also, it can relate those data to other spatial data,
like the zoning and the square footage of the residential structures as mentioned
above or the boundaries of the historic districts. The overlay of historic district
boundaries with economic and social data can then produce conclusions about how
historic preservation is linked to the various trends that have already been
To conclude, a GIS is a powerful tool to explore the geographic aspects of the
process of neighborhood change. A GIS is not only capable of displaying
information that would otherwise only be available in figures and tables, it is also a
method for historical analysis. Whether displayed in one map or in a sequence of
maps, social and economic changes over time become apparent and can produce
valuable conclusions about the nature of the local gentrification process.
Survey data and other non-spatial quantitative data
Given the location of the census tracts and the well established limits of tract
level data to produce reliable evidence of gentrification it was decided that more
accurate social data on Curtis Park's gentrifiers need to be generated. Specific
quantifiable data on only one segment of the neighborhood population can serve
two purposes. First, the data need to form a social and economic basis on which
arguments about the social composition and the cultural and societal motives of the
gentrification movement can be built. Second, such precise data on this population
in one particular neighborhood can be compared to the same economic and social
variables in the wider city context. Comparability will allow to test some of the
attributes of gentrification that are commonly maintained in the literature.
The limited extent of the study area supported this approach to data
collection. For reasons of time efficiency and because of a general sense of open-
mindedness in the neighborhood towards social research mixed with a generally
high educational level among the gentrifiers, it was decided to conduct a mail survey
as opposed to a house to house data collection.
Because the target population consisted of the gentrifiers only, the original
strategy was to send out the surveys to only those properties that had been
identified as renovated in the property data analysis. For reasons of time
constraints I was forced to send out the survey before the renovation information
was completed. In order to still be able to reach the target population in a
satisfactory manner, two strategies were employed.
First, through fieldwork in the neighborhood renovated properties were
identified visually. The identification of the renovated properties proved to be very
challenging. Not only had a 20 year long process of neighborhood change made it
difficult to maintain with certainty which buildings had undergone a process of
complete renovation, because many of the originally rehabilitated buildings were
again in need for improvement. Also, often enough the outside of the house was not
well maintained whereas I knew that in many cases a complete renovation had
taken place. Furthermore, a modest amount of physical improvements had changed
the outer appearance of some of the more modest homes and some of the houses of
longtime residents such that visual differences when compared to the gentrified
properties were not necessarily obvious.
This dilemma lead to the conclusion that it would be best to generously
include all properties into the mailing list, which show the slightest signs of a
possible gentrification process. Some of the questions in the survey would need to
be constructed in a way that it would be possible to differentiate between long-time
residents / marginal gentrifiers and the newcomers / gentrifiers.
Thus, secondly, the question about when the respondent first moved into the
neighborhood and the question about the renovation status of the house were
constructed to identify the renovated properties/gentrified households
retrospectively (compare survey questions in Appendix B). Consequently,
households that had been in the neighborhood before 1975 and who did not
renovate completely by themselves or had not moved into a completely renovated
property were excluded from the sample.
377 surveys were received by households in the Curtis Park neighborhood
(returned surveys for reasons for inaccurate address or abandonment of the
property were subtracted), 113 responses were returned and 83 surveys could be
included in the final sample. Because the list of gentrified properties as retrieved
from the property data analysis cannot be complete (see above for the limitations of
the property data analysis), the actual response rate cannot be determined with
final accuracy. But assuming that the list of 206 gentrified properties is sufficiently
accurate, the actual sample size is 40.3 % of the total population of gentrified
households in the Curtis Park neighborhood. This sample size, which was compiled
randomly out of all possibly gentrified properties, is generalizable to the entire
population of gentrified households in the Curtis Park neighborhood and can thus
be compared to data sets on different scales, i.e. census tract information or city
level economic and social statistics.
A comparison of the survey data with census tract / census block data would
on the one hand allow some conclusions as to where the gentrifiers stand in the
social-economic context of the neighborhood. It would be possible to see if they
really stand out along a certain set of variables, e.g. educational level, ethnicity,
renter/owner occupation, or if they blend in with the general characteristics of the
neighborhood. On the other hand a comparison is yet another way to test the
accuracy of census data in terms of how powerful a tool the census is to provide
evidence for gentrification activity.
Furthermore, the survey data can serve as an instrument to take the
neighborhood level analysis of gentrification to larger scale. Similar to a comparison
of residential real estate trends in the metropolitan area with real estate trends in
the neighborhood, social statistics can be compared to city wide trends. The
postindustrial argument (downtown employment and expansion of the quaternary
work force are linked to the degree and intensity of gentrification in a city) can be
tested by comparing the gentrifiers' occupations and work locations to Denver labor
statistics and office space development.
Thus, the analysis of survey data not only facilitates a more thorough socio-
economic portrait of Curtis Park gentrifiers. It also has the capability to make
neighborhood level analysis relevant beyond the limits of the study area. While the
results of the survey data analysis do not allow generalizations for gentrification
trends in Denver as a whole, they will allow to explain gentrification in Curtis Park
not as an isolated phenomenon that occurred as the result of a number of specific
local circumstances, but as a social process, which is to a certain degree dependent
on regional economic trends (economic growth and recession), employment trends,
Interviews and other qualitative data
Economic explanations of gentrification, based on the rent-gap theory or on
the post-industrial city argument can to a great extent be supported (or refuted) by
the quantitative methods outlined in the previous sections of this chapter. While
cultural explanations of gentrification have been attempted by employing
quantitative methods as well (see for example Blasius and Dangschat, 1990, for the
use of MDS), I would argue that qualitative methods which give a direct voice to the
gentrifiers are the best method to explore the cultural aspects of gentrification.
First, gentrifiers or inner-city resettlers as they are labeled by Caulfield (1994)
are socially and culturally a very diverse group (see also "Consumption-side or
cultural explanations of gentrification" in chapter 2). By no means will it be
possible to develop a unified concept of the gentrifier. Therefore, it is essential -
especially for a first study on gentrification in a locality to explore the cultural
element in the gentrification process in great depth without attempting any rushed
and most likely irrelevant generalizations.
Second, the cultural characteristics of gentrifiers are not well explored
(Caulfield, 1994, chapter 6). Research that explores the agency involved in a
gentrification movement is largely absent. Qualitative work is therefore needed to
develop a basic understanding what the motivations, ideals and attitudes of
gentrifiers are. Study areas of limited geographical extent lend themselves to such
an approach. Similar to Caulfield's effort in Toronto's inner city, the study of
cultural aspects of gentrification in a small neighborhood like Curtis Park appears
to be particularly suited for the compilation of good qualitative data. The
researcher's familiarity with the study area is essential to the approach.
Finally, generalization and quantification of cultural data usually reflects the
pre-dispositions of the researcher, although this might be disguised by personal
distance and detachment implied by the (post-) positivist research design. The
collection of qualitative data in this study is therefore guided by an attempt to give
as much voice to the participants as possible, to only carefully make generalizations
and to state the pre-dispositions of the researcher whenever possible.
In the face of these challenges and limitations to producing good qualitative
data and to arrive at valid conclusions about the cultural aspect of the
gentrification movement in Curtis Park, unstructured interviews with open-ended
questions were deemed the best method. The unstructured interview, although
guided by an array of questions (see appendix for interview questions) which in
broad terms reflect the purpose of the research, leaves a lot of lee-way to the
interviewee to express his/her feelings, attitudes, motivations, etc. The negative
effects of the pre-dispositions of the researcher are minimized and opportunities for
new and alternative explanations to arise are created.
Interviewees were recruited by the method of snow-ball sampling. Because of
my extensive contacts to members of the block council and Curtis Park residents
there were a number of reasons why this method was particularly appropriate.
First, a reference to somebody else always overcame the first reservations a
participant might have when a stranger begins to ask fairly personal questions.
Second, the snow-ball method helped explore the network of newcomers and
helped produce good information about community cohesiveness among this group
with only a limited number of interviews. Third, I was always able to obtain some
general information about my next interviewee from another resident. This kind of
information simplified my effort to sample as diverse a population as possible.
12 interviews with 'newcomers' to the neighborhood were tape recorded. The
pool of interviewees represents a fair amount of variety in that participants were
-different phases of the gentrification process (move-in dates from 1975 to 1996),
-mixed age groups (from mid 20s to late 50s),
-one and two person households, both male and female singles and gay and straight
-household incomes probably varying from 25,000 to well above 75,000.
Unfortunately, the represented occupations are mostly quaternary, with the
exception of some service and some crafts. And with the exception of one renter all
interviewees are homeowners. And yet, this aspect of homogeneity reflects the
social characteristics of Curtis Park's gentrifiers.
The interviews were (partially) transcribed and analyzed according the
method of narrative analysis (see Riessman, 1993 and Anderson and Jack, 1991).
The aim of narrative analysis in this case study is to identify the discourses
underlying the statements of the interviewees, to organize them according to
intrinsic patterns and inductively arrive at some generalizations about the
motivations of the gentrifiers, how they construct their identities, how they
formulate community cohesion through practices of inclusion and exclusion.
In addition to the taped interviews I was able to collect extensive amounts of
other qualitative data through informal interviews for which I only took notes
(sometimes retrospectively), through interviews with professionals (planners,
developers, real estate agents, etc.) from outside the neighborhood, statements of
residents during public meetings, conversations at dinner parties and other social
events, walking tours through the neighborhood with residents, phone conversations
and even through a long letter from an enthusiastic survey participant.
This study draws from a large variety of data to develop an in-depth analysis
of the gentrification process which occurred in the Curtis Park neighborhood.
Naturally, each type of data lends itself more or less to a specific realm of analysis.
Property data for example is most important to the analysis of economic factors,
census and survey data to the analysis of social factors, and finally interview data
is most important to the analysis of cultural change.
But already the use of a GIS as an analytical tool has shown paths of how
economic and social data can be combined and analyzed in conjunction. In the
following three emperical chapters I will not only show how each type of data
contributes to the analysis of the economic, social and cultural aspects of
neighborhood change, but also how they work together in the explanation of
gentrification and its politics.
THE HISTORY OF NEIGHBORHOOD CHANGE IN CURTIS PARK
Curtis Park is Denver's oldest suburb. It has an intriguing history of social
and ethnic diversity and it has been the subject of a number of historical accounts
over the years, many of which will be cited in this chapter. Every history is
different as it is written by authors with different motivations, ideologies and
knowledge. Similarly, "The History of Neighborhood Change in Curtis Park" is an
account that reflects this author's choices and intentions.
This history of Curtis Park understands the development of the neighborhood
over time as the result of two sets of processes. One is constituted by the
particularities of the place: Its people, the social conditions and the location. The
second set of processes occurs on a larger scale: Denver's economic development,
nation-wide social and political trends, patterns of social and racial residential
segregation. Throughout time, Curtis Park has been both the product of social,
economic and political processes and the producer of specific social conditions as
they are continuously in flux and contested by its residents. It is this tension that is
underlying the following history of Curtis Park.
Settlement And Early Suburbanization
The history of Curtis Park is closely linked to the time when Denver was
originally settled. The promise of gold had driven many into the area and around
1858 four settlements sprang up at the confluence of the Platte River and Cherry
Creek: Montana, Auraria, St.Charles and Denver. Montana and St.Charles
disappeared as independent entities and Auraria and Denver were merged into one
town, Denver city in 1860 (Denver Office for Planning and Community
Development, 1987, i). Named after the Governor of the Kansas territory, Denver,
city founder General Larimer hoped for institutional support from Kansas (Ptak,
Larimer laid out a grid for Auraria, Denver and Highland with the streets
arranged parallel to the waterways (Noel, 1981, p.4; Ptak, 1996, p.8). The generous
design reflected great ambitions that were somewhat frustrated with the stagnation
of the town during the 1860's. In only two years the settlement had expanded to a
town of about 5,000 by 1860, but only maintained that size throughout the 60's.
Clearly, Denver's potential as a local provider for gold diggers and other frontier
men was exhausted (Leonard and Noel, 1990, p.30). It was only the arrival of the
railroad that fostered economic growth in Denver after 1870. The connection to
Kansas city, Chicago and the East Coast spurred economic development,
industrialization, population growth and rapid city expansion. From 1870 to 1880
Denver experienced a population growth of 748%, from 4,759 inhabitants to a size
of 35,629 (statistics adopted from Ptak, 1996).
Denver had laid the foundations to become the urban center of the region and
joined some of the common patterns of urban development during late 19th century
America, one of which was industrialization. Denver became not only an important
marketplace and transportation hub for the region, it also became a site for the
processing of raw materials (e.g. ore-processing), which led to a continuous
advancement in manufacturing (e.g. coal, steel, food processing). The location of
the factories spread from downtown along the railway lines to the Northeast.
Residential suburbanization was another important process. Streetcar
technology (at first horse-drawn, since the 1890's electric) opened up possibilities
for Denver to grow beyond the limits of the walking city, a process similar to those
in the big cities on the East Coast (see Warner, 1962, for the example of Boston).
Most of what is today Curtis Park and the larger Five Points area was developed
along the first streetcar lines. Private investors purchased prairie land outside the
original boundaries of the city of Denver and began developing these additions as
early as 1870 (Denver Neighborhood History Project, 1993-94, p.12). Since 1871,
the first streetcar line ran from the downtown core along Champa and ended at
27th Street. More lines followed along 23rd Street, Welton, Stout, Curtis and
Larimer (Leonard and Noel, 1990, chapter 6).
The development of Curtis Park began in the mid 1870's. Its oldest building
was recorded in 1876 and it grew most rapidly during the late 1880's with its
building boom in 1886s, when 76 houses were under construction (National Register
of Historical Places, Curtis-Champa Streets, statement of significance, p.l). 5
5 This building boom is part of a larger economic process in Denver as it marks the year the economy had
successfully recovered from an economic crisis. Expressed in a slump in the construction industry from
1880-85 (National Register for Historic places, p.l), Denver was showing clear signs of a 'boom and
bust economy', which were later to be become decisive factors in the city's development. Ptak (1996,
Construction for the area was more or less finalized by 1891 (also p.l), only a few
buildings were added in the early 90's. Except for a few lots, the Curtis Park that
was donated to the citizens of Denver by the developers Francis Case and Frederick
Ebert in 1868 and two undeveloped blocks adjacent to the park, which are today
part of the Curtis Park, the entire neighborhood was built up at that point in time.
Hardly any construction has occurred since and at least in the Curtis Park National
Historic District the features of its built environment have not changed much.
As Denver's first suburb with a close proximity to downtown, the driving
forces behind the original social composition have to be carefully considered,
because they diverge slightly from the typical case of the streetcar suburb as laid out
in Warner's Streetcar suburbs (1962).
First of all, streetcar-driven suburbanization before 1900 has to be addressed
as a middle and upper class phenomenon. The use of the term working class in the
context of the settlement of Curtis Park (Ptak, 1996, p.35) is inaccurate and may
cause some obfuscation about the process, which is dangerous in the sense that it
may promote a romantic sense of social integration, which may not have existed in
Curtis Park's early days.
The middle class residents who settled Curtis Park had to be able to afford
the travel cost for the street car, the purchase of the land and the building and
financing of the house. This financial ability is what distinguishes the Curtis Park
builders and settlers from those they left behind in the dirt, crime and sin of the
frontier inner city. The ability to make that choice is what sets the middle and
working class apart from one another. Furthermore, the ideological motivations
p.19) also points to a period of economic crisis only 10 years earlier, when railroad speculation
resulted in business bankruptcies and bank closures in the mid 1870s.
behind the concept of suburbanization, which became the prototype for American
city growth throughout the 20th century, are based on a rural dream carried out by a
separation of work and living place and a spatial segregation of the social classes
as a response to the problems of the inner city (Warner, 1962; Jackson, 1985;
Fishman, 1987). Curtis Park, therefore, is not so much an example of residential
integration as it is a product of the constraints of time and place.
While the development of Curtis Park corresponded to the larger suburban
trends in the United States, some local particularities are important factors in the
development. The potential of Denver, with a population of about 40-50,000
during the 1870's and 80's, does simply not allow for pronounced patterns of
spatial segregation as they can be found in Boston or in the other big cities of the
East Coast. Curtis Park was the one and only suburban development of its times,
which largely explains the original social mix. Even if the upper classes had
preferred to live secluded, apart from the middle and lower middle classes, they
simply could not: One, there was no other area available, second, they were not
great enough in numbers to develop Curtis Park by themselves, the open lots had to
be filled by the socially upward mobile lower and central middle class.
Thus, the economic profile of Curtis Park's early settlers was very diverse,
from the richest in the city to those who could barely afford to build and own their
own house. In such an 'integrated' neighborhood the social stratification was
expressed by the relative location in the neighborhood and the size, building
material and ornament of the house. Often, the more prestigious homes were
strategically placed on street corners such that the building profile of the
neighborhood would often resemble the traditional wooden picket fence with high
posts at the edges and lower ones in the middle6. This physical structure
symbolizes the difference between the hard working carpenters, tailors and bakers
and the evolving leisure class that watches their investments over a Victorian cup of
tea in their Curtis Park mansion.
Two important results arose out of this peculiar constellation, a process,
which was somewhat untypical in the context of early American suburbanization.
First, a neighborhood was created that consisted of a fascinating variety of housing
styles from the late 19th century, i. e. Italianate, Second Empire, Romanesque,
Gothic, Carpenter Gothic, Queen Ann, Eastlake and a variety of commingled styles
frequently labeled as 'Victorian Period Eclectic' (National Register of Historic
Places, description, p.l). Consequently, ornaments and individual character vary
enormously along with the differences in size.
Second, the integrated character of the neighborhood could only be a short-
lived phenomenon. As the opportunity arose with the platting of the Capitol Hill
area and other areas in the South-East of the city, the upper class and everybody
else who could afford it (or thought who could afford it) left, with the exception of
a few.7 Huge Victorian mansions came to be symbols of anomaly as early as the
1890's, when Curtis Park prepared to host Denver's excluded and unwanted.
6 This image was invoked by a Curtis Park resident during a walking tour of the neighborhood.
7 Jay Joslin lived in Curtis Park unitl his death in the 1920's.
City Growth, Racial Discrimination And Curtis Park As An Inner City Slum
The Denver of the late 19th century was a place of rapid economic and social
change. Driven by the silver mining industry the city experienced tremendous
growth rates until everything came to a sudden stop with the silver crash of 1893,
when silver prices collapsed and the city's economy went down with it. It is
important to analyze rapid economic growth during the late 80's, early 90's on the
one hand and rapid decline of the mid to late 90's on the other hand in terms of
their effects on the social composition of Curtis Park.
The neighborhood began experiencing social change by as early as the late
1880's. It can be assumed that the construction of apartment complexes (terraced
houses') and some cases of house enlargements8 in the neighborhood can be
interpreted as pressures on the housing market exercised by rapid growth. This
process, Curtis Park's proximity to downtown and the evolving industrial area in
the Platte Valley along the railroads with a growing potential of working class in-
migration and the presence of the lower and central middle class made it all the
more likely for the upper class and the upper middle class to leave the area.
This change is documented in Mrs. Hill's bluebooks, "a list of householders
having sufficient money and position to be 'available' either as good customers [...]
or add to the interest of occasions where a city gathers her 'beauty and her chivalry',
and financial power" (Agnes Leonard Hill, The Colorado Blue Book as quoted in
West and Etter, 1980, p.8). Clearly an inventory list of the city's shakers and
makers, the upper class, the two editions of the blue book of 1892 and 1898 reflect
* 2840 Curtis is an example of a single family residence that was added onto during the late 80's or early
90's, a few years after its original construction.
how Capitol Hill took Curtis Park's place as Denver's fanciest neighborhood. While
the 1892 edition still lists a significant number of Curtis Park residences,9 in 1898
the list almost entirely consisted of Capitol Hill residents.
The crisis of 1893 accelerated the process of social change which had already
been anticipated by the upper class. With a lot of people leaving the city and
others moving into other neighborhoods, the working class pushed into Curtis Park.
In proximity to the downtown area and to the working class neighborhoods
immediately adjacent to the sites of industrial production, Curtis Park became the
place of the immigrants, who were excluded from other places on economic and
often on ethnic and social grounds as well. During the late 1890's and the first
decade of the 20th century, these immigrants were still largely Irish, Polish and to a
lesser degree Italian. They lived next door to the descendants of the first settlers of
Curtis Park, who did not have the economic status of their parents and
grandparents anymore, but as first and second generation Americans with Northern
European backgrounds they were of the same ethnicity (for details about ethnic
relations of the time see Leonard and Noel, 1990, chapter 16).
With the construction of the Broadway viaduct in 1910, a historical precedent
to Urban Renewal, the homes of the black working class were destroyed and its
population displaced. The residents left the 'Bottoms' (Larimer, Market, Blake and
Wazee, roughly between 23rd and 27th), and moved into the Five Points area,
southeast of California. This transition marked the beginning of the visibility of
Denver's African American community, which became spatially restricted to the
* It should be noted that the addresses given in the 1892 edition are almost completely located in the core
of the historic neighborhood (California, Stout, Champa and Curtis between 23rd and 30th Streets),
while Arapahoe and Welton hardly have any and Lawrence and Glenarm have none (National Register
for Historic Places, significance, p.4). This observation is important in the discussion of why the black
Five Points area through common discriminatory practices in the American society
until the 1970's and, in many cases, up to the present day. The history of Denver's
African American community is well documented and will not be discussed here in
any further detail (see particularly Ptak, 1996 and Denver Neighborhood History7
The slowly growing African American population only became a marginal part
of the Curtis Park area (when narrowly defined in its historic district boundaries).
As mentioned above, Curtis Park was still populated by ethnically homogenous
white immigrants and Americans, who most probably saw to it that Black in-
migration remained limited. Why the Blacks moved to the Welton area and into the
blocks beyond is not entirely clear from the literature. With physically smaller
residences and possibly with a population change in progress, the incoming Black
population probably did not meet as much resistance as must have been the case in
Curtis Park. Nonetheless, Curtis Park was soon to undergo a first major change in
Originally recruited for working on Colorado's beet and sugar plantations,
Spanish Americans (from the Southwest) and Mexican Americans, beginning in the
1920's started to settle down permanently in Denver, which had long become the
industrial and commercial center of the region. Because of limited financial means
and discrimination they moved to the low-income and working class neighborhoods
of the city. By 1940, 45% of all Mexican-American households were located in the
larger Five Points area (Denver Neighborhood History Project, 1993-94, p.49).
minority settled South and East of California instead of settling in the core of the Historic Curtis Park
This process of Mexican-American settlement was far from smooth. A
contemporary of the times remembers that 'Mexican Americans were not welcome
east of 23rd Street". Nonetheless, during the 1930's the depression years facilitated
social change (as had the 1893 depression earlier) (West and Etter, 1980, p.13) and
the Mexican Americans moved eastward. They bought inexpensive homes in the
historic core of Curtis Park and largely replaced the white population, who fled the
While there were substantial Chinese and Japanese minorities in Denver since
the turn of the century (associated with the expansion of the railroad and
plantation work), they remained discriminated against and isolated in ethnic
enclaves in the downtown area. The 1940's saw a strong in-migration of Japanese
Americans, attracted by the liberalism of the Carr administration (1939-43) in
Colorado, who had explicitly welcomed the Japanese minority. Nonetheless, the
Japanese were faced with a lot of resentment and discrimination in Denver and just
like the Mexicans were left to settle down in Curtis Park. The Japanese presence in
the neighborhood became very strong. Lelo Martinez, whose family has lived in
Curtis Park since the 1950's remembers "most of the neighborhood being Japanese
when I was growing up. Then it kind of went through a change, and Hispanics
became the majority." (Lelo Martinez as quoted in Read, 1996, "Lelo Martinez").
The changes occurred during the accelerated suburbanization process Denver
was undergoing during the 1950's and 1960's. Substantial and continuous growth
driven by a fairly diverse economy, which nevertheless increasingly relied on natural
resource exploitation (agriculture, mining and particularly oil since the late 1960's)
fostered a strong population growth: "The 1950's saw an increase of more than
350,000, and between 1960 and 1980 another 700,000 became Denverites"
(Leonard and Noel, 1990, p.408). Most of this growth was absorbed by the
suburbs leaving the central city in slow, but continuous decline, a trend shared by
almost every American city during this time.
This process had two important effects on Curtis Park. First, it accelerated
the process of social isolation that had been taking place at least since the
depression years. This period of economic growth provided opportunities for a
growing middle class. With increasing social problems in the neighborhood,
segregation trends in the American city and its associated ideologies and
discriminatory practices, it had become imperative for the upwardly social mobile
to leave the neighborhood in order to improve their opportunities and overcome the
stigma of the place. Curtis Park was the place to move out of, not to move into.
This further drained the white population who had virtually disappeared by 1960.
The white population had statistically dropped to 18.7% for the entire Five Points
area (statistics adopted from Ptak, 1996, p.73-4, modified by me).
More importantly, it prevented the formation of a local middle class. Large
parts of the Japanese population left as they started to earn more money and
became re-integrated into the mainstream society. The same is true for the evolving
black and Hispanic middle class who started to move out as residential and
employment discrimination was decreasing in the late 60's and 70's. Thus, the
changes Lelo Martinez mentioned must in part be explained as the racialization of
poverty. Curtis Park and the entire Five Points area had become the home of the
disadvantaged, a trend that was supported by federal programs, which financed
three large housing projects in the neighborhood during the 1950's and 60's in the
name of urban renewal. The location and the structure of the projects exacerbated
the situation, as poverty had now also become institutionalized and spatially
The second effect is related to this trend. With the departure of the socially
mobile and the concentration of poverty, disinvestment in the built environment
continued to accelerate. While the Japanese and the Hispanics who moved in
during the 40's and 50's and also earlier were still financially capable to keep up
their homes, this became increasingly harder for the minorities of the 60's and 70's.
With declining owner occupancy slum landlordism (and the associated process of
dividing up houses and apartments into smaller and smaller units), the last phase in
the housing cycle, became a prominent way to capitalize on poverty and squeeze
the last out of a building. The virtual absence of investments by private people on
one hand and developers, investors and the city on the other hand had made the
neighborhood a classic case of central city neglect and a victim of uneven
development (cf. book title, Smith, 1982, see also discussion in chapter 2).
Curtis Park's Return To The Early Days?
In the 1970's the history of Curtis Park becomes closely linked to Denver's
historic preservation movement, which had gained momentum after a number of
early preservation successes (1965, Larimer Square restoration into 'festival retail'
complex by Dana Crawford; 1969/70, Saving of the Molly Brown House and
founding of Historic Denver; 1972, Local Historic Districts become a policy tool;
1973, Ninth Street Historic District designation). It was during this time that
attention was increasingly drawn to old residential neighborhoods. Sandra Dallas'
(1971) account of Victorian Denver ("Cherry Creek Gothic. Victorian architecture in
Denver") was one important book that pointed at and promoted the growing
interest of Denverites in their history (see also Brettell, 1973). The following
passage, which was also published in the Denver Post10, inspired some of the first
newcomers to Curtis Park:
[...] few people are aware that within walking distance of downtown Denver
lies a Victorian neighborhood almost completely intact. Gothic, Italian,
mansardic nearly every style of nineteenth-century architecture is used in
these houses. Never Denver's plushest area, the neighborhood was a
respectable middle-class section filled with proper little houses. Only a few
stores and apartment buildings were built there originally, and unlike most of
Denver's older areas, this section never became commercial; it never became a
warehouse area or factory center. Roughly bounded by Twenty-sixth and
Thirtieth streets, Lawrence and California, this neighborhood at the edge of
the Skyline Urban Renewal project lies in a semislum trance waiting to be tom
down or perhaps discovered by someone with the money or inspiration to
clean it up and turn it into one of the finest Victorian restorations in the
country (Dallas, 1971, pp.47-48).
In 1975 Curtis Park received national recognition through the creation of the
Curtis-Champa Streets National Historic District, which was extended into the
Curtis Park Historic District in 1983 (see Map 3, Appendix A, for extent of Historic
District). During the time of the district designation in 1975 the first 'pioneers' (as
they were commonly labeled in newspaper articles of the time) started to move in
and restoration activities began in about 20 30 homes (Ditmer, 1978, see footnote
no. 10, Ptak, 1996, p. 78).
As mentioned above, the historic preservation movement in Curtis Park is
linked to a larger movement in all of Denver that had already introduced a lot of
10 Joanne Ditmer: Curtis Park face-lift. The Denver Post, 08/20/78.
changes to other historic Denver neighborhoods (e.g. Capitol Hill, Baker, Highland
Park). Curtis Park was 'discovered' last and had not yet experienced the explosion
of property values that was well underway in Denver during the late 70's. Real
estate prices rose about 10% per year, "a residence that sold for $37,190 in 1975
cost 85,242 in 1981" (Leonard and Noel, 1990, p.408). Curtis Park was still very
affordable and thus attracted a variety of people, historic preservationists who
wanted to save the neighborhood, moderate income people who could afford their
own home here and speculators who thought that Curtis Park was about to 'take
Thus, in the late 1970's changes in Curtis Park occurred in the tension between
a social movement and a phase of regional economic growth, stimulated by the
rapidly expanding oil industry. Curtis Park news coverage was very substantial
during those years both in terms of the local and national attention it was receiving
as a restoration project and as a 'hot' real estate market in the city. Nevertheless,
the actual turnover rate and the profits made in the process never lived up to the
expectations and promises suggested by the newspapers and some outspoken
members of the community (see chapter 5).
The newcomers introduced a new social mix to the neighborhood. By the
1970's whites had left the area almost entirely. But beginning in 1975, the white
population began to grow once again. Particularly since the gentrification process
that slowly started to occur was a middle class movement, one should expect social
tensions arising from the racial and most of all economic differences. Yet, apart
from a limited number of personal conflicts and one larger racialized struggle over
zoning issues in the early 1980s, open tensions are largely absent in Curtis Park.
Reasons for the peaceful neighborhood relations can be found in the newcomer's
overall sensitive and communicative approach to neighborhood change, their social
agenda (e.g. FACE block project in the early 80's which supported structural
improvements in low-income homes), shared interests among the home-owners,
which are a majority in the neighborhood and the limited extent of gentrification
(chapter 6 and 7).
Before a gentrification process could fully develop, Denver was hit hard by
the economic crisis of the 80's, a result of the plummeting oil prices. The regional
economy went from one cycle of crisis to the next and when the real estate market
and the banks were most badly affected from about 1985-1989, many houses went
into foreclosure. Abandonment and the blue 'HUD' signs became a common sight in
Curtis Park. Many of the newcomers left because of bankruptcy or because they
had given up on the neighborhood, which showed no prospect of being able to fulfill
their dreams and visions. The newcomers shrunk to a small circle of people, a hard
core that was determined to make it through the bad days.
For the large group of poor people in the neighborhood the crisis meant
unemployment, doubling up and becoming increasingly dependent on state support.
The projects more and more became the final destination, a place almost impossible
to leave. Crime and gang activity increased steadily and turned Curtis Park once
again into a dreadful place. Also, the historic preservationists, who were very
successful in securing funding for social improvements in the neighborhood lost
support and were not as able anymore to contribute to neighborhood improvements.
By the late 1980's the Denver economy began to show signs of recovery. The
diversification of the economy and gains in the hi-tech sector improved the
employment situation and had a positive effect on the real estate market. By 1992-
93 investment in Curtis Park was renewed once again and a new generation of
middle class inmovers was attracted to the neighborhood. While many of the
neighborhood's chronic problems remained (e.g. poverty, crime), the situation was
not comparable to the mid 1970s anymore. A substantial white middle class
community had remained in the neighborhood, continuously working on improving
the residential, historic character of the neighborhood (renovations of historic
structures, crusades against unwanted businesses, bringing city services back in,
clean-ups, publicity and image improvements, etc.). The neighborhood had now
become attractive to a larger group of potential middle class inmovers.
Thus, with the new economic boom, the neighborhood is now beginning to
experience dramatic changes again. Property values are rising quickly,
abandonment is down to just a few buildings and the social composition is once
more at the verge of change, now also with a growing black and Latino middle class
becoming increasingly visible. At the other end, the problems of the poor are far
from being solved. In the age of globalization the new boom phase leaves the poor
in economic isolation and induces an ever widening gap between rich and poor.
Poverty has increased by 8.96% from 1979 to 1989 (census tract 24.01, 1980 and
1990 census) and unemployment in Curtis Park/Five Points remains among the
highest in the city. Accordingly, displacement is once again becoming an issue
The rich history of the neighborhood has been shaped by regional economic
forces as much as by the actions of its inhabitants. Curtis Park has evolved from a
white middle class Victorian neighborhood into an ethnically diverse neighborhood
comprising an economic spectrum from the city's poorest to the upper middle class.
Although the historic preservationists tend to remind the public of the Curtis Park
in the 1880's, the neighborhood is by no means comparable to the late 19th century,
except for some physical characteristics in the case of authentic restorations. Curtis
Park has come a long way and has successfully shaken off the limited ideology of
early suburbanization. While a neighborhood can never be entirely stable and is
always subject to larger trends and a place of contestations between various groups
and individuals with varying visions for the neighborhood, Curtis Park is one of the
few places that has the potential to become ethnically and socially integrated.
In the following chapters I will explore the recent economic, social and cultural
changes in greater detail. Finally, it will be possible to carefully speculate about
where the neighborhood will be going in the near future.
ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL NEIGHBORHOOD CHANGE IN CURTIS PARK
The Geography Of Profit And Loss
Phases Of Neighborhood Change
The most important corner stones of a 20 year long gentrification process in
Curtis Park were presented as a narrative account in the concluding section of the
previous chapter. In this narrative I have already organized this process of
neighborhood change into roughly three separate phases based on larger regional
economic patterns which reflected on the neighborhood. In the following section I
will elaborate on the cyclical nature of the regional economy and link them to real
estate and social trends in the neighborhood. Based on these phases I will then
analyze how the rent-gap theory applies to Curtis Park during two phases of
neighborhood change. Finally, I will demonstrate how during these phases of
investment and disinvestment the strategies and politics of neighborhood change
The Euphoria Of The First Phase. The nomination of Curtis Park as a
National Historic District occurred almost simultaneously with the sound of
hammering, which still reverberates in the ears of some of the longtime residents.
One of them expressed this amazement about the unusual sounds and the peculiar
group of the first 'pioneers': "What are you doing here? Nobody is moving into this
neighborhood this is the neighborhood to move out of.
! Banks and real estate lenders which had systematically redlined the area
found the efforts of this group just as peculiar. Even middle class inmovers in
| secure employment situations found themselves struggling to obtain a loan. An
article by Bill West entitled "Thank you, Blanche Fall and Midland Federal Savings",
which was published in the Historic Denver News, September 1976, reflects this
1 struggle. Indirectly, this article attests to the lending practices and the structural
neglect of the inner city. It also becomes clear that the minority and lower income
i residents of the neighborhood were denied agency in the preservation of the
neighborhood. Disinvestment was structural and for the first wave of inmovers a
high obstacle to overcome.
Against the odds and with night time patrols to protect their investments
against burglary and arson, the newcomers slowly established themselves in the
| neighborhood. An optimistic view of the neighborhood's future was thus mixed
I with a sense of adventure. The pioneers were then followed by what is in the
neighborhood now usually referred to as the 'second wave', a second group of
people that was generally perceived to be financially better off. All in all, a strong
influx of newcomers continued until about the early 80's, when the investment
process began to lose momentum.
Both, figure 5.1 for all residential properties and figure 5.2 for all renovated
properties in the neighborhood show clearly the end of this first phase of
investment. Although the actual amount of turnovers is only approximated in these
graphs (compare discussion of assessor's data base and acquisition of renovation
information in methods chapter), in figure 5.2 the beginning and end of the first
phase of investment are clearly marked. These results have also been confirmed by
the local real estate agents who remember real estate activity to have slowed down
considerably in 1981/82.
Houses sold in Curtis Park, 1975 1996
Figure 5.1: The total amount of residential property turnovers from 1975 to 1996.
Source: Assessor's data base, 1997.
All renovated residential properties
Figure 5.2: The total amount of turnovers from 1975 to 1996 among those
properties identified as renovated. Source: My own data.
The beginning and end of this first phase of investment are less a reflection
of a short-lived interest in the historic inner city, and more an expression of
economic boom and crisis. Investment had begun when Denver was thriving on its
expanding oil industry. The OPEC embargo and a sequence of oil crises had led to
a six-fold increase of the oil price, which made even an inland and relatively small
oil region like Colorado profitable. Oil production was increased continuously and
Denver left the trend towards diversification of the economy, which had begun after
World War II to become a largely monostructural economy based on extraction
industries. In 1980, the expansion of the economy relied on the energy sector for 25
percent of the total job creation (Robinson, 1996). Downtown was built on oil
money, speculation was normal practice and real estate values soared with an
The growth of the economy reflected first on the commercial (downtown was
built on oil money) and then on the residential real estate market. The number of
houses sold and the level of housing prices increased dramatically until 1981 /82
(see figure 5.3 and 5.4). This trend coupled with the promise of revitalization in a
severely undervalued neighborhood (the average house in Curtis Park stood at
$4,800 in 1970, a city-wide low11) attracted not only preservationists to the
neighborhood, but also those who were hoping for fast returns on their real estate
investments. But this promise was only short-lived.
Houses sold in Metro Denver, 1975-1996
Figure 5.3: Total amount of houses sold in Metropolitan Denver from 1975 to 1996.
Source: Denver Board of Realtors.
11 RMN, Aug 3,1986: "Curtis Park Dream Fading."
Average price of houses sold in Metro-Denver, 1975 1996
Figure 5.4: Average price of houses in Metropolitan Denver, 1975-1996. Source:
Denver Board of Realtors.
Curtis Park Dream Fading.12 In 1983 the number of turnovers reached an all
time low, from which the neighborhood did not recover until the early 1990's. By
1982 the dramatic decrease in oil prices had diminished the demand for Colorado
oil, which was not profitable anymore. An economic crisis that lasted until about
1987/88 had begun.
Following the typical pattern of monostructural, extraction based economies
(see Feagin, 1987 and Hill and Feagin, 1988 on Houston's economy) the first step
was a cut back in oil production. Petro-Lewis, America's largest marketer of oil and
natural gas laid off 80% of its Denver work force and Exxon closed its Western-
Slope oil shale project (Robinson, 1996). Drilling labor, but also related white-collar
employment were the first to suffer. Shortly after these early effects, the crisis
spread to related industries in the manufacturing and construction.
The commercial real estate market was affected before the residential
market, because it is more closely connected to employment. An increase in office
space vacancies reflects the collapse of office space demand which led to dropping
rent levels and to speculation losses, foreclosures and bankruptcies in the real estate
business. In this phase of the recession unemployment soared and the crisis
extended more horizontally. Retail, trade and services experienced cut-backs and
even teachers lost their jobs with the onset of out-migration. The possibility of bank
failures indicated that the recession had reached deep down and had strong
negative effects on all sectors of the economy. Finally, public and non-profit funds
dried up and lead to an intensification of the social crisis.
12 Title of an article in the Rocky Mountain News, Aug.3,1986
On the neighborhood level, particularly in an inner city neighborhood like
Curtis Park, such a deep recession has a variety of effects. First, the influx of
newcomers was practically halted by 1982/83. Second, those who suffered directly
from the economic crisis, because they lost their employment or business, in many
cases defaulted on their mortgage payments, went into foreclosure and left the
neighborhood. Similarly affected were those who had developed in the
neighborhood and now found their money tied up in real estate, which could not be
sold anymore. Consequently, with the deepening of the economic recession Curtis
Park, which was at its most vulnerable in the beginning phase of reinvestment,
became the site of numerous foreclosures and bank repossessions. In 1987/88
abandonment was at its worst (see figure 5.5).
Figure 5.5: Vacancy rates in the two Curtis Park census tracts and in the city of
Denver. Source: The U.S. Bureau of Census. The 1970, 1980 and 1990 Census of
Population and Housing.
Third, along with dramatic vacancy rates a lot of the neighborhood's old
problems returned. The poor were affected most badly by the recession, because
they lost their jobs in the manufacturing sector, in the low end of the service sector
and suffered from reduced public support. Poverty rates increased by 8.96% from
1979 to 1989 (census data for Tract 24.01) and with the increase of poverty crime
worsened. Abandoned structures were once more used as drug houses and gang
activity took its toll on the neighborhood. Curtis Park, which had been well under
way to become gentrified had once more turned into the urban jungle so dreaded by
the newly arrived middle class. Consequently, in addition to those that were driven
out by bankruptcy, others, who had given up hope were ready to leave. But with
the absence of demand for houses in the neighborhood, most of them were not able
to sell, or only with extreme difficulties and high financial losses. During the mid
1980s properties were often listed for 2 to 3 years, before they were sold.
The mid 80s had brought an end to speculation and reaffirmed Curtis Park
as a place for the low-income population and for those who wanted to buy a cheap
house and valued living in an integrated neighborhood. Only a small, but
substantial group of newcomers stayed on.
From Curtis Park To Ballpark? Towards the end of the recession the
gentrification movement experienced a comeback. Aggressive marketing of the
neighborhood and depressed property values were combined to attract newcomers
to Curtis Park once again. The initiative was designed as an owner occupancy
movement, which was geared towards people who intended to commit to living in
Curtis Park, not towards the shallow promises of a quick return on their investment.
Some of the newcomers, who had stayed on then became actively involved
in changing the neighborhood house by house. According to their financial
capabilities about 7 to 10 residents began to buy up properties cheaply, renovated
them, in many cases again with their own labor. With the strong support of a local
real estate agent their marketing efforts (house tours, parties, recruiting friends)
began to show a first success by 1988, when property turnovers for the renovated
buildings had a first peak since the height of the recession (see figure 5.2).
This renewed effort to bring in new people was built around a concept of a
tight knit community. Potential buyers were examined according to their
anticipated commitment to the neighborhood. New inmovers were integrated
quickly and encouraged to participate in the common effort to advance the
'revitalization' of the neighborhood. It was during the late 1980's that the Curtis
Park Block Council again became a political force. Local Historic District
designation, neighborhood cleanup, the push for stronger police patrolling, forcing
out of 'unwanted' uses, e.g. liquor stores and bars, constituted an agenda geared
towards making the neighborhood a more favorable and safer place, which would
ultimately be able to attract a sufficient amount of newcomers to stabilize Curtis
Park as a community of home owners.
By the early 1990's the rate of property turnover again started to gain
momentum. Denver had recovered from the oil crisis and experienced sustained
economic growth. In Curtis Park abandonment was still pronounced, but on the
retreat. While the community was still fighting the neighborhood image, which was
still far from favorable, conditions had improved considerably. Therefore, the
renewed investment of the early 1990's which has been sustained to the present day
occurred in a context very different from the mid 1970's. The neighborhood was
now a much more accessible for a wider middle class spectrum.
At this point in time investment in the neighborhood is becoming increasingly
wide-spread. Today there are only a few properties left which are abandoned and
await renovation. Victorian row houses and apartment complexes are the focus of
reinvestment and the state is once more involved in the neighborhood, i.e. light rail
construction in 1994, a new child care center and even the Denver Housing
Authority has launched an effort to invest in the Curtis Park housing projects.
Reinvestment in Curtis Park in the 1990's appears to follow the pattern of
Lower Downtown and the Ballpark district. A new generation of home buyers is
moving in. While property values have increased sharply for renovated properties
from an 1980's low of about $45-50 per square foot to $80 90 at the present day,
they are still well below the city's average of $100-110. And by no means do they
compare to the prizes that are presently paid for lofts in LoDo.
Whether the redevelopment processes in LoDo will have an impact on the
Curtis Park neighborhood is doubtful. In the following section on the geographic
patterns of neighborhood change in Curtis Park I will explore, among other things, if
a diffusion process initiated by the redevelopment in Lower and Northeast
downtown can be held accountable for the transformations in Curtis Park.
The geographic extent of gentrification. In order to display and analyze the
geographic dimensions of the process of neighborhood change, cut off years for the
three phases had to be established. While the general trends are indisputable, it is
far more difficult to determine an exact year to mark a new phase. A degree of
arbitrariness is inevitable, particularly because patterns in real estate activity show
To determine the cut-off year for the first phase was fairly unproblematic.
The all time low was clearly reached for the renovated properties by 1983, the
assessor's data base showed the low point for 1982, which was also supported by
the data set for residential turnovers in Metropolitan Denver (compare figure 5.4).
Thus, it was decided that 1981 mark the end of the first investment phase and 1982
as the first year of recession.
According to narrative accounts abandonment reached a peak in 1986-88.
Consequently, the phase of renewed investment had begun shortly after that. But
here the cut-off point was more difficult to determine. The neighborhood only
shows a sharp increase in investment after 1993, 1989-1992 still show great
fluctuations. At the same time, the Denver housing market had shown signs of
increased activity since 1990, which is also reflected in the average sold prices
(figure 5.5). It was decided to take 1990 as the earliest possible point of time for
the beginning of sustained renewed investment. Although 1990 may be a slow
beginning, there has been no substantial break in real estate activity ever since.
The influx of newcomers according to the survey results re-affirms these cut-
off points. 5 participants first moved into the neighborhood in 1979, while each
time only one arrived in 1980, 1981 and 1982. While only one participating
household marked 1990 as the first year in the neighborhood, 1991 and 1992
establish a trend with 5 and 7 newcomers respectively. 26 newcomers in 1996 (out
of a total of 83 entries in the survey data file) leave no doubt about the latest phase
of renewed investments in Curtis Park. Overall, the 1997 survey results still reflect
the first phase with 20.5% of all participants first arriving in the neighborhood.
1982-1989 only saw 15.7% of the participants as newcomers and 63.9% arrived
from 1990 to the present day.
The map representing the renovation data according to these three phases
(Map 4, Appendix A) shows no distinct pattern in the history of neighborhood
change. The randomness of renovations all over the neighborhood during all phases
clearly rules out the possibility of a diffusion process, which began in one area and
then extended further and further into the neighborhood.
For the first phase (1975-1981) a few initial pockets of gentrification can be
distinguished. This finding confirms the narrative accounts of how the process of
neighborhood change had begun in Curtis Park. And yet, those pockets are not
pronounced enough to identify them as a dominant strategy.
If no clear pattern within the neighborhood can be found, other than the first
phase being a time of high turnover, the second phase of much lower turnover, and
the third phase again one of high turnover, dynamics on a larger scale must provide
an explanation for the kind of gentrification process that occurred in Curtis Park.
The overlay of the boundaries of the Curtis Park National Historic District
and the renovated properties (Map 4, Appendix A) produce one plausible
explanation: The gentrification process in Curtis Park is driven by the historic
quality of the individual structures. Newcomers to the neighborhood chose a house
according to their taste, financial capability and availability during time of
purchase. While they might have preferred Curtis Park over another neighborhood,
the actual location within the neighborhood was only of secondary importance at
Furthermore, while no clear pattern within the historic district can be
determined, the gentrification process has pushed slightly outward from the most
valuable historical core of the neighborhood. During the third phase (1990-1997,
Map 4, Appendix A) some renovations on the Southeastern side of California and
one on Lawrence Street can be observed.
Map 5 (Appendix A) provides an explanation for this pattern. On the West
side of the neighborhood the housing projects function as a barrier to gentrification.
Even the number of renovated houses on Arapahoe (note that this street is not
included in the historic districts) is much lower as are the real estate values there.
At the same time, another block of housing projects on the 3100 Block of Champa
does not appear to have an impact on gentrification activity.
The Southeast side of the neighborhood (California Street) has only been
slightly affected by the gentrification process. This trend may probably be
attributed to the presence of the larger low-income apartment complexes, the
greatest concentration of African Americans in the neighborhood outside of the
housing projects (Map 6, Appendix A, Percentage of black population in 1990) and
the related perception of crime in the proximity of the Five Points area.
It can be concluded that the gentrification process, while to a certain extent
based on pockets, occurred freely all over the historic district. And yet, restrictions
to outward expansion can be observed. The housing projects on Arapahoe and the
largely black low income area on California constitute the boundaries of the
gentrification process. From the cartographic evidence alone, no causa]
relationships can be established at this point. Explanations for the geographic
limitations of the gentrification process are readily provided in the realm of housing
preference theory, i.e. perception of crime and concentration of African Americans.
It is difficult to find evidence either for or against these assumptions, which is why
the explanation has to remain at a speculative level.
By contrast, the commonly held perception that development is directly
spreading from Northeast downtown into the neighborhood can now be safely put
aside. If anything, the developments in both areas are an expression of an economic
growth phase that has spread throughout the entire Northern fringe of downtown,
possibly even throughout the entire inner city. Thus, not much can be learned here in
terms of an explanation of gentrification. It must be concluded that both
developments are independent of one another.
The Marxian Rent Gap Theory And The Phases of Neighborhood Change in Curtis
The Rent Gap And Local Politics. Earlier I discussed how the Marxian rent
gap theory has been established as a tool to explain reinvestment in the inner city
based on the concept of uneven development of urban space. The history of Curtis
Park is a history of systematic disinvestment and a concentration of urban poverty.