The U.S. Census Bureau’s decennial census data, released last week, show that Colorado, like most of the rest of the country, saw a shift toward greater diversity, as the population became more Hispanic, Black and Asian.
But in Denver, that wasn’t the case.
Some parts of Denver already saw predominantly white areas become less diverse. And in some areas that have traditionally been home to the city’s minority communities, Black and Hispanic residents have moved out as white residents have moved in.
While the same isn’t true about the municipalities that border Denver and make up the periphery of the metro area, or the Denver metro area when counted as a whole, the city and county of Denver’s composition became more white, less Black and less Hispanic over the past decade.
The census data comes as real estate prices are at an all-time high, particularly pronounced in some of the same central Denver neighborhoods where residents of color have left.
It all hints at gentrification, where formerly inexpensive neighborhoods in the core of urban metropolitan areas, which themselves had emptied in the last century during what was dubbed “white flight,” have become magnets once again for new, often white residents, looking for the perks of urban living and willing to pay more than what lower-income residents can afford.
Traditionally Black neighborhoods, stretching from central Denver east through Five Points, Cole, Clayton, Whittier, and into the City Park and Park Hill neighborhoods, saw their composition shift.
Since 2010, the Skyland neighborhood, just north of City Park, went from about one-half Black and one-quarter white to the inverse: Now it’s more than 50% white, and about 25% Black.
North Park Hill and Whittier went from a majority Black and Hispanic to a majority white.
In central Denver’s Jefferson Park neighborhood, stretching west from I-25, north of Mile High Stadium, thousands of new white residents moved in, shifting the composition from about 55% Hispanic and 40% white ten years ago, to more than 70% white and less than 20% Hispanic.
Black populations are growing fastest in some of the most far flung neighborhoods in Denver: DIA and Green Valley Ranch in the northeastern parts of Denver; in Lowry Field and Windsor in the east and southeastern part of the city; in the central Civic Center neighborhood.
Neighborhoods where Hispanic populations are growing by the greatest percentages include some of the same neighborhoods: Green Valley Ranch, Montbello, DIA in the northeastern parts of Denver, Lowry and Hampden in the eastern part of the city, in the far southwest corner neighborhoods of Harvey Park South and Fort Logan, as well as the central Civic Center and Capitol Hill neighborhoods.
Where populations have shifted
Five Points was once known as the “Harlem of the West” and home to more restaurants and warehouses than people. That’s changed over the past decade.
A 5280 profile of the neighborhood in 2020 said 70% of the residents are renters, with an average income of $70,000 per year and average age of 33.2 years.
And according to the latest census data, Five Points had some of the largest growth of new white residents in the city.
The adjacent neighborhoods of Five Points, Cole, Whittier, Clayton, Skyland, North Park Hill and Northeast Park Hill, when counted together, saw 3,600 Black residents leave and 14,000 new white residents move in, making the total Black population drop from 28% to 17% in the past ten years, while the white portion of the same neighborhoods went from 33% to 49%.
The same is taking place in historic Hispanic neighborhoods, too.
Look at northwest Denver, home to the Sunnyside, Berkeley and Highlands neighborhoods. The neighborhoods were once the hub of Italian immigrants and residents, dating back before Colorado was even a state. The biggest influx of Italian immigrants to the northwest Denver area took place in the 1880s, according to a history of the neighborhoods.
In the 1930s, Columbus Park, along 38th Avenue, was one of the neighborhood gathering places.
Hispanics began moving into northwest Denver around the turn of the 20th century. But it was in the 1970s when the population really began to shift; the Hispanic population doubled, and Columbus Park became known informally as La Raza Park (led by a Chicano uprising). That name change became permanent just last December.
Census data analyzed by Colorado Politics shows that in the three neighborhoods, the strongest growth was among white residents. In the three neighborhoods together, roughly 4,000 Hispanic residents left while roughly 7,000 white residents moved in, pushing the cluster of neighborhoods from roughly 42% Hispanic in 2010 to 23% Hispanic in 2020.
Denver City Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval says the population shifts over the past decade in her District 1 neighborhoods don’t surprise her.
“I’ve seen the changing demographics and a cultural shift in the neighborhoods,” Sandoval told Colorado Politics. The price of land in northwest Denver has continually gone up for the past decade, if not more, so being able to find a home under $300,000 in Berkeley, for example, is a challenge.
Sandoval said she is saddened by that reality because she grew up on the north side that had a lot of socio-economic diversity. That’s really important for the fabric and history of Denver, she said. It’s what made northwest Denver eclectic, and it’s hard to keep that when extraordinary home prices make home ownership unattainable for people working middle-income jobs.
There is a younger demographic as well, Sandoval observed. To address that, the “built environment” has changed, bringing in more renters in corridors along Tennyson Street and in the lower part of Highlands, where there is five-story zoning.
Where Pagliacci’s restaurant used to be – West 33rd Avenue — is now a five-story apartment building, she said. “When you see that kind of shift in the built environment, I don’t know a lot of 40-year-olds living in apartments. Most people of that age want duplexes” or places with a bit of yard, she said.
That shift in the built environment, which she called a sign of gentrification, also means a change in the type of businesses in the district. Sandoval said laundromats and the corner stores started disappearing. You could find a laundromat every six or eight blocks at one time, and when gentrification happens, those amenities and neighborhood-serving businesses leave since they are not needed as much, she said.
The district still has a lot of Latino/a artists who have strong roots in the district. She pointed to the name change to La Raza Park, which Sandoval said had strong support from all residents, including new ones.
When she was doing the outreach for the park name change, Sandoval said people wanted to absorb and understand the history, and how the name honors what’s changed in the neighborhood. Sandoval said she got letters of support from newer residents, who she said “wanted to honor the legacy and cultural capital that exists in the neighborhood.
“It still exists,” Sandoval said. “You just have to find it a little more.”
A similar story can be found in Athmar Park, on the city’s central-west side. The neighborhood, bordered by Federal and Alameda, is the hub of the city’s Asian population and popular with Hispanic residents as well. But between 2010 and 2020, the biggest growth was among white residents, according to the Denver census analysis.
The census numbers for Denver also paint a difficult picture for the future of affordable housing.
Jenny Usaj, owner of Usaj Realty, said that as home and property values continue to skyrocket, expect the next 10 years of growth to expand into peripheral neighborhoods that are already seeing steady changes, such as Regis, Chaffee Park, Sunnyside and West Colfax.
“The future 10-year growth of metro Denver is promising as the 2030 population is expected to increase to more than 3.6M — a 20% increase — but I don’t expect most of the population growth to be in the neighborhoods experiencing rapid change today,” Usaj said in a statement this week. “Naturally, future first-time homeowners will look to neighborhoods that are centrally located, perhaps near the light rail system, and whose home values are still within financial reach.”
So where does the data say minorities are moving?
Denver District 2 City Councilman Kevin Flynn believes, and the data confirms, that many are headed to his southwest Denver district.
Flynn has been following the demographic changes from almost day one in his role representing District 1, which includes neighborhoods such as Harvey Park, Mar Lee, Bear Valley, Ruby Hill and Fort Logan.
Harvey Park, Harvey Park South and Bear Valley were already strongly Hispanic, according to current and past census data. But the most dramatic change in the district’s population was white residents leaving, more Hispanic residents moving into Harvey Park South and Fort Logan, and a slightly growing Black population.
Mar Lee, the furthest north part of the district, gained more Black, Asian and multiracial residents in the last census update and saw drops in its white and Hispanic populations. Harvey Park, immediately south of Mar Lee, saw the same.
Flynn isn’t surprised; it’s what he’s expected, and he also cites Denver’s zoning as part of the reason.
Through the annual American Community Survey, a service of the US Census bureau, Flynn said he noticed growth in the Asian and Black populations.
Flynn said planners and advocates for density and other zoning changes that he said “produces negative results in other parts of the city” are looking to his district for more housing density. That includes advocating for the elimination of single-family zoning.
That contradicts what Flynn saw from the ACS data, which he said shows that southwest Denver is the place where people who are being gentrified out of other neighborhoods in the north and northwest are moving “because our housing is affordable.”
From 2010 to 2018, the ACS data showed his district was becoming more diverse than the city on average, with fewer white households, and more importantly, broader household income diversity. For example, the percentage of households earning $50,000 or less shrank, Flynn said.
“Southwest Denver has the kind of demographic and household income makeup that planners say they want to have in the rest of the city, but then they want to impose zoning changes that have caused less diversity than in other parts of the city.”
Some neighborhoods have adopted density as an affordable housing strategy, but it has had the opposite effect, Flynn believes. He said affordable bungalows in the district, at around $450,000, are being scraped off, replaced by duplexes that are selling for $750,000 for each unit.
“That’s the opposite of affordable housing,” Flynn said. It would have been more affordable to leave the bungalow there. He now tells constituents that single family zoning is one of the main protections against them being displaced. He cites as an example Brentwood, part of Harvey Park South, where housing is primarily late-1940s wood-frame bungalows. “If we upzone that to introduce density, those people will be priced out in five years.”
Flynn said he’s looking forward to more census data to see how else the district has changed, and he’s keying in on income data that will be released in September.