Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Project Features
For a number of years, the Globeville community has been disenfranchised and it wasn’t until the 2014 Globeville Neighborhood Plan that the City of Denver began to reinvest in the community. Globeville has a rich history and the neighborhood was originally established in the late 1880’s around the Globe Smelting and Refining Company. It was settled by immigrants from Eastern Europe and Russia who found jobs in the area’s smelters, foundries, brickyards, meatpacking plants and railroads and created institutions that would support each other: ethnic taverns, fraternal organizations, churches and religious schools. Some of the residents that live in Globeville today are fourth generation and maintain their traditions as a tight knit multi-ethnic community. After the community had been working together for nearly 11 years, the landscape architect was approached by the community advocacy organization that was working with the Platte Farm Steering Committee to develop their vision into a master plan. This was before the detention project began and the landscape architect worked closely with the Platte Farm Steering Committee to provide design services. The landscape architect learned a great deal about the Globeville community and their history. As a result, when the detention project began, the landscape architect was the conduit to the community to uphold their vision for the open space parcel. The landscape architect kept the trees that meant so much to the neighborhood, maintained the rural feel in the unique, highly urban setting, implemented green infrastructure as part of the detention solution to keep the natural aesthetic, incorporated an accessible small nature play area for the neighborhood children, created a seating area for residents and visitors to enjoy the views and feel a connection to the natural surroundings, and provided safe, accessible trails throughout the entire site.
Platte Farm Open Space, a 5.5-acre parcel that was once contaminated land, a dumping ground for industrial waste and trash, is now a thriving community space that comes alive each spring with mixed native grasses, wildflowers, trees, and pollinator gardens. The parcel is located in the culturally diverse, working-class Globeville neighborhood of North Denver within the Asarco Superfund site boundaries where the now closed smelter plant polluted the groundwater, surface water and soil. In 1994, the Globeville community won an unprecedented class action lawsuit that demanded extensive cleanup which included the removal and replacement of the existing soil. The residents of Globeville continued to advocate their vision for the rehabilitation of the land as an open, natural space where residents and visitors of all ages and abilities can recreate, exercise, and reconnect with nature. After nearly fourteen years, through strategic partnerships and persistence, this resident-led initiative is now recognized as a significant community amenity with trails, pollinator gardens, green infrastructure improvements and is a vital piece to the City of Denver future planning efforts.
SITE & COMMUNITY CONTEXT
Platte Farm Open Space (PFOS) is a 5.5-acre parcel located in the north Denver neighborhood of Globeville. The neighborhood is bisected by numerous signiﬁcant barriers including the South Platte River, Interstates 25 & 70, major train lines, light industrial and heavy commercial development. These form the most divisive barriers that stand between the neighborhood and the northern end of Downtown Denver. PFOS stretches through the middle of the Globeville neighborhood and is a diagonal swath of land that was set aside for power transmission lines owned by Xcel Energy. The only access road to the site is 49th Avenue, all other streets dead-end at the periphery. The open space parcel is bounded by railroad tracks on the south and east, with single-family residential houses to the east, north, and west. The land was used for agriculture in recent years, and a small barn with horses remains today.
The Globe Smelter, which granted the neighborhood its name, had been purchased by Asarco in 1899 and continued to operate for another 107 years. Besides precious metals, it also produced toxic by-products including lead, cadmium, and arsenic. The State of Colorado sued Asarco to investigate contamination liability and residents of the area filed a class-action suit. Asarco settled with an agreement to clean up toxic household yards and gardens. A 1988 EPA investigation identified high levels of lead and arsenic in the soil and designated the area a Superfund site the following year. This led to additional soil mitigation efforts which entailed removal and replacement of contaminated soil and a 12’’ topsoil cap on portions of the open space site.
In the past, drug dealing, illegal dumping and joy riding occurred frequently. As a result, the land was neglected and highly degraded, and a majority of the site was dominated by poor soil and invasive weed species. Despite this, there were patches of shortgrass prairie, trees that provided habitat for birds and occasional sightings of urban wildlife. Globeville residents felt a connection to the site as it provided a “little country in the city” and residents enjoyed the peacefulness it offered most of the time.
At the outset of the project, according to the US Census, 20% of Globeville families lived in poverty and 91% of the Globeville children attending Denver Public Schools were eligible for the free lunch program. The neighborhood demographics included 77% Latino, 17% non-Latino White, and 6% other. The community understood there would be hurdles ahead as an under-resourced Denver neighborhood. Yet in the eyes of the residents, they could either work to activate the site or it would continue to be a dumping ground that negatively impacted their community.
In 2006, the neighbors approached their City Council representative to help with the misuse of the site and the recurring flooding. The Council member’s response was to form a steering committee and work with a local community advocacy non-profit to develop their vision and outline their concerns. Once the steering committee became more organized with the support of the community advocacy group, they named the parcel PFOS and received funding from the City of Denver’s Office of Economic Development to organize meetings and engage with the larger community.
Nearly six years later, the steering committee and community advocacy group were incredibly persistent in maintaining their vision for a green, open space and continued their fundraising and outreach efforts. A City Council member recognized the tenacity of the steering committee and formed a working group of City stakeholders to help move the dial on their efforts. In 2014, the Globeville Neighborhood Plan was adopted by the City and PFOS was targeted as a part of its implementation recommendations. This started to get the ball rolling. However, it wasn’t until 2017 when additional funding was secured to make it possible for the design phase to begin.
DESIGN & CONSTRUCTION
A study of the Globeville-Utah Junction basin was underway in 2017 and PFOS was prioritized with some of the worst flooding. As a result, funding became available for design and construction of the site with a detention facility. The core design team included the landscape architect, engineer, and ecologist. The team met with the steering committee and the community advocacy group at the outset of the project to understand their needs and establish the design tenets moving forward:
- Connect with nature
- Provide accessible opportunities for recreation and exercise
- Include sustainable, green solutions
- Provide a 50-year detention facility to maximize storage capacity
The design intent was to restore the site, provide an accessible trail from both entry points, and create a detention facility that blends into the natural surroundings. At the beginning of the project, the community made it abundantly clear that the two existing trees directly adjacent to the proposed detention could not be removed. Most of the site is linear and the detention had to be in that location to meet the 50-year needs. The landscape architect and engineer collaborated to design an overlook that protected the two trees, blended seamlessly with the detention edge and is now the jewel of the site.
The landscape architect, engineer and ecologist worked closely to design a facility that had a naturalized aesthetic. The design was to restore the entire site with native seeding and to complement that aesthetic. It was important for the detention to have 4:1 side slopes, the low flow channel was vegetated with seeding and wetland plugs, and the forebay was cast-in-place with regularly spaced holes to plant wetland plugs. Plains Cottonwoods were planted throughout the detention in the transitional zones, the areas adjacent to the wetland zones. On the north end of the site, there are two large Cottonwood trees that were slated to be protected and it made sense to select that species in the facility.
There were a handful of other unique considerations that the landscape architect had to resolve including the remediation areas. There was a 12’’ topsoil cap that was cost prohibitive to penetrate on a large-scale basis. The design challenge was one of the largest remediation areas was in the middle of the site. Underground irrigation was provided in all other areas of the project except for this location. The landscape architect worked closely with the ecologist to develop a non-irrigated dryland seed mix that would have comparable viability to the adjacent irrigated seeding areas. Additionally, the trail was graded with additional fill to avoid digging into the cap.
The City purchased the property in 2019 and construction began. Once the landscape portion of the construction came online the landscape architect was on site weekly to ensure the aesthetic was consistent with the design. One of the unique roles the landscape architect embraced was the de facto liaison with the residents throughout the construction phase. Before the detention project began, the community advocacy group approached the landscape architect to assist with design and planning graphics. As a result, they had an established relationship with the community and provided updates through a steering committee representative.
It has now been three years since the completion of the installation. The residents have shared that people are using the trails daily, children are playing and riding bikes, and many enjoy the colorful pollinator gardens. Today, there are planning and design efforts underway for future connections to the site and internal to the site. Future efforts include directly connecting this parcel to Argo Park which is bisected by the railroad tracks directly to the south. This will connect to a future greenway that will cross the South Platte River to the National Western Center, connecting Globeville to Denver.
What began as urban blight now shines in Globeville as a beacon of what can be possible when communities come together to reimagine a new future for their neighborhood.
Documents and Media
Planning Docs (if applicable):