How a Denver neighborhood came together to buy their first community-owned green space

"It's a dream come true," says a community member
Globeville Elyria Swansea green space
Posted at 5:45 PM, Mar 04, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-06 21:49:48-05

DENVER — The community in Denver’s Globeville-Elyria Swansea neighborhood have long dreamed of swapping out industrial pollution for more parks and trees. Now, they’re banding together to make it happen.

A community land trust known as Tierra Colectiva is buying a plot of land, bordered by railroad tracks and a metal manufacturing plant, to convert into a community-owned green space and urban food forest. It’s a first for the neighborhood.

“This is one of the few projects like this in the country,” said Javonni Butler, who serves on the board of the Denver Park Trust, the nonprofit fundraising arm of Denver Parks and Recreation.

The Denver Park Trust invested $5,000 toward purchasing the property at 4790 Josephine Street, which has been vacant for more than a decade.

4790 Josephine Street green space
Tucked between railroad tracks and homes, the plot at 4790 Josephine Street has been vacant for more than a decade. But now that the community bought the land, it will soon be lush with fruit trees and vegetables.

Tierra Colectiva has bought land in the neighborhood since 2018. They've built 13 affordable homes, which currently house around 50 people. But because the plot on Josephine is too close to the railroad to be suitable for housing, they decided to try a green space.

“It was so unique, and it was so powerful to be led by the community, that it's something we want to be a part of,” Butler said.

Many other groups like the Metro Denver Natural Alliance and Gates Foundation also pitched in, and community members held fundraisers selling tamales to collect the rest.

In total, Tierra Colectiva and its sister organization the Globeville-Elyria Swansea Coalition raised $200,000 to buy the land.

Denver Parks and Recreation considers the Globeville Elyria Swansea neighborhoods to be in “high-need” of walkable parks and more trees. Denver has plans to develop more parks, such as on a recently purchased plot at 52nd Ave. and Cook St. But recent additions like the I-70 Cover Park have been controversial, and don't address all of the community's needs.

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Butler said Globeville-Elyria Swansea is not only a “park desert, but it's also a food desert, there really aren't that many fresh food options.”

That’s why the community-owned green space plans to grow vegetables and fruit trees on its roughly 10,000 square foot plot.

“To grow our own food for salads. Lettuce, tomato, cucumbers, everything we can grow,” said María Carmen Olague, who lives in the area and volunteers with the Navegadoras and Tierras Verdes groups. She is working closely with the land trust on this project.

She said the community has hard work ahead to clean the space and prepare it for planting. But she said everyone coming together will make it a “pachanga,” a party. And she’s looking forward to sharing a meal made with fresh produce: An ensalada de nopales, or cactus salad. Although they don't expect to grow the cactus, all of the other ingredients — like onion, tomato, cilantro and oregano — can grow in their new garden.

The area around the green space has one of Denver’s largest Latino populations — it also has some of the worst air pollution and highest rates of chronic health conditions like asthma, according to the Denver government.

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“Those of us who live here suffer from the air, the pollution. This neighborhood has always been that way,” Olague said. “But we want to change it, and we’re going to fight, and we’ll keep moving forward.”

They hope to plant apple and pear trees along the fence line bordering the railroad tracks to help improve the air quality, as well as raised garden beds to grow the vegetables. The group expects to start preparing the soil in April and planting trees in May.

But plans for the green space won’t be finalized until community members have time to weigh in. On Wednesday, March 6, Tierra Colectiva invites the community to meet at the property and learn how to get involved. The group is also continuing to collect donations.

“It’s a dream come true,” Olague said. “It’s beautiful to come together, and that’s why we keep going.”

How a Denver neighborhood came together to buy their first community-owned green space

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