We Were Here First
*please note that this article was written in 2017, and I have updated it in 2020. Many of the pictures, though, I have kept in the article, as the artwork no longer exists. They’ve been demolished by the I70 expansion. Please consider this article as a shot in time, an historical record, and if you do decide to walk the route, pay attention to detours and construction.
With such gratitude, one of Elyria-Swansea’s community leaders joined me on a walk through the neighborhood where she grew up. Rather than a tour of the neighborhood, Candi Cdebaca (now an elected City Councilperson) told me about her neighborhood’s point of view about the I70 expansion (known as Ditch the Ditch) as we walked her childhood streets. Here’s the summary of her point of view and a map of the walk in case you want to see that point of view, too.
Stop Driving over Our Neighborhood
Back in the 1970s, Elyria-Swansea-Globeville community lost the fight. Instead of 46th Ave becoming the planned parkway that it was designed to be (like 6th or 17th), it got covered by I70. Its goal became to move traffic east and west through Denver. Ever since this loss (which followed many earlier losses to pollution and transit fights), the neighborhood’s ills have gotten worse as a result–long-term childhood disabilities, the city’s ignoring of their basic needs (like a ped crossing over 4 railroad tracks!), a quality rec center, and healthy schools. So when the I70 expansion announced, the neighborhood said not again.
Dead End Here, There, Everywhere
This time, they refuse to have their school be scrunched up against a suggested park that will put the school children in even worse pollution. They refuse to have the lanes limit their connections to each other. They refuse to let their neighborhood be the sideshow to a giant bucket of federal bridge money that could go a longer way in easing congestion and pollution on I270.
2020 update: The neighborhood did win a few concessions. Sound proofing, air conditioning, a park, an elevated crosswalk, and an improved rec center are on their way to the neighborhood.
Candi articulated solidly for over an hour with research, data, and facts that counteracted the marketing and PR put out by CDOT. Then she walked me to Swansea Elementary, the school that will be most impacted by the changes. It was shocking to see children chasing each other in the playground, no more than 25 feet from semis, traffic, and highway filth. Candi reiterated that the suggested changes would be even worse for the children, putting the interstate even closer to the children and shrinking their playground.
Tight Knit and Ready to Win
She then suggested how she’d like to see the money spent and her neighborhood returned back to the connected community it once was. Walk in the neighborhood and you’ll see exactly what she’s talking about. Streets abruptly end in dead ends, at train tracks, and into buildings. Trying to walk a straight path is impossible.
2020 updated: Some streets will be reconnected through the park that will sit atop the tunnel of traffic that will divert below the neighborhood.
Go Get ‘Em
But despite the long-term battle Elyria-Swansea has fought, it’s won bit by bit. And the neighborhood is strong. 50% of the residents own their beautiful 1900-1960s homes, living in them for 5+ years. Many generations know many generations. Candi’s family fought Globeville’s Asarco, a smelter that polluted the neighborhood and turned it into a Superfund site, and won. Victories have happened here by this small, tight-knit group of fighters. Although they were not able to get I70 rerouted out of their neighborhood, they do see some neighborhood improvements and a way forward on holding their community together. Maybe.
To understand the point of view of those in Elyria and Swansea who have fought big battles, lost some, and won others, take a walk through the neighborhood. As you walk the route below, you may need to modify due to construction. But even if you get completely off the route, you’ll experience Elyria-Swansea, and that’s a treat that everyone should savor.
The route (click for interactive map):
Although this route doesn’t cover all of Elyria-Swansea, it covers most of the north side of the two neighborhoods in about 4 miles. On the south side of 46th Ave, you’ll find 80% of the marijuana supply for Denver Metro housed in the warehouses along 43rd and the Purina processing plant, which Candi sees as an environmental justice issue.
Start at 5100 Steele Street in the small park. Head southwesterly in a lock and step pattern, jigging one block and then jagging the next. Go west on E 51st Ave, left on Milwaukee, right on E 50th Ave, left on Filmore St, right on Beekman, left in the alley behind Clayton St. Notice Swansea Park and Rec Center on the right abutting the train tracks.
Take a left on Columbine, walking past Swansea Elementary. Stop at the playground that abuts 46th Ave and notice the proximity of the playground to the interstate. Candi states the interstate will take out the playground and position right next to the school. Students will play on the lid of the underground interstate.
Continue west on 46th to Josephine. Take a right. Cross the railroad tracks and stop in Grow Haus, a community garden and grocery.
Leave the Grow Haus, heading south on York. At 46th, turn west and go under the famous viaduct. Admire the wonderful street art. At Brighton, turn south and go under the interstate. Check out the fire station on the south side of the street as you turn north and pass the Forney Transportation Museum. 2020 update: The artwork is now gone as the viaduct is under construction. Follow detour signs.
You’ll go back under I70, making a circle and ending up at 47th and Brighton. This intersection used to be the center of Elyria. Notice the two-story white brick building on 47th to the west of the intersection on the north side of the street. I believe this was the Elyria Town Hall, but I cannot confirm.
Continue east on 47th to Thompson Court. Take a left, and start a jig-jag back up to your starting place by turning right on 48th, left on Filmore, right on left on 49th, left on Milwaukee, right on 50th, left on St Pal, right on 51st, left on Steele.
Experiencing Elyria-Swansea and Supporting DenverByFoot
If you’ve enjoyed this walk, maybe you’ll enjoy some other walks curated by Denver By Foot. Get the 52 Hikes 52 Weeks Denver Calendar, which recommends a hike a week, subscribe to the YouTube Channel to hear about weekly hiking suggestions in Denver, and buy access to the Denver By Foot Challenge. The Challenge is 30 activities in Denver to do by foot where you’ll uncover treasures throughout Denver. It’s a great thing to do with friends and family, or even along during our lock down.
Finally, please support Denver By Foot by purchasing Chris Englert’s books, The Best Urban Hikes: Denver and Discovering Denver Parks. Thank you so much!