Driving the streets of northwest Denver, Jessica Dominguez sees the new and the old.
There are the physical changes: the angular, plywood forms of new homes under construction, the Victorian houses splashed in a new coat of bright purple.
And then there’s the invisible side: She parks in Sunnyside in front of her first house, near the tree she planted with her father. She’d never be able to afford it today on a teacher’s salary, and now she sees her colleagues in education forced out of the area.
“The neighborhood is prospering economically. Buildings are going up. But inside the classroom …,” says Dominguez, an elementary school teacher of 17 years, letting her sentence trail off. In one recent first-grade classroom, she said, two of 18 kids were homeless.
It has driven her to a new kind of engagement — one that’s happening throughout the neighborhood. She’s advocating for affordable housing and, recently, paying much closer attention to local politics. District 1 has one of the most contentious council races this year, a political scramble with seven candidates on the ballot.
To some, Northwest Denver is an urbanist success — new buildings densely clustered tightly near shops not far from downtown. To others, it’s a failure of design with its notorious “slot homes.” And beneath it all there’s the erosion of the community that stayed here through decades of disinvestment.
The candidates — at least so far — have been dancing a careful routine, some flirting with or even embracing the benefits of construction, others promising to give residents more power. It’s the race that represents the future of Denver, and the results will be revealing.
This is the third election in a row that will bring a new council member to District 1. In 2015, incumbent Susan Shepherd lost to upstart Rafael Espinoza in a race dominated by questions about the pace and appearance of development.
“Nothing was being done to sort of temper the character of development,” Espinoza said recently. In four years bulldogging developers and city government, he won new requirements to keep neighbors informed about development, and he fought to contain “slot homes,” the style that lines up dense “sideways” residences on lots among older homes.
This year, though, Espinoza is skipping the election, saying he would be more effective as a citizen. He’s still involved in the race: His former aide, Amanda Sandoval, is the second-highest fundraiser, and he has strongly supported her.
Some of the city’s most intense redevelopment has hit District 1. For example, Jefferson Park and Sunnyside both have absorbed about 700 new residential units since 2015, resulting in whole blocks of residential redevelopment, according to a Denver Post analysis.
“In 2015, I feel like we were just starting to recover,” said Cole Huling, 35. “In the last few years, a lot of things have exploded.”
The new construction has “really divided the neighborhood,” said Kalle Anderson, an eight-year resident living near Sloan’s Lake. He and…