The complex interplay of law, politics, and business guiding our communities can make our values as a society seem opaque. But every society has a character “tell” that’s easy to spot once you know it – all you have to do is determine how equitably it divides its public resources among the children who live in it. A just system ensures that children everywhere receive the same access to the same quality of resources. An unjust system, like a bad farmer, only waters certain crops.
Allan’s article removes any ambiguity about the above by sharing how you youth throughout the metro Denver region understand how society treats them. Their answers were clear: the current distribution of resources across metro Denver leaves a pattern of opportunity-deserts for children, one that correlates closely with the race and wealth profiles of their parents. This forces some children from marginalized communities to commute long hours through unreliable and unsafe transportation networks simply to access parks, education, and other resources enjoyed by their less-marginalized peers. In the words of two of the students interviewed in the main article:
“It’s just sad to me that like, people … have to, like travel so far, just to get like a decent education, especially at like the K through 12 level, especially because that’s like the foundation of like a successful career.”
“My neighborhood school is not the best but why isn’t it the best? You should be able to just go to your neighborhood school and get a good education and how come we can’t do that?”
To fix something, you have to understand what’s broken. When it comes to regional education & opportunity-disparities, the reason hinges on the underlying framework of housing policies supporting society today.
Much of Denver’s current landscape was created during a period where redlining and other discriminatory practices were a matter of course, as the quality and quantity of investment in each community was determined by the predominant race and class of its residents. In fact, by 1960, 76% of the single family homes and neighborhoods in Denver had already been built (according to Professor Ken Schroeppel of Urban Planning at CU-Denver). Fair housing laws passed in 1968 made discrimination less-blatant, but the cast for the pattern of resource distribution had already been made and the damage done.
Racial bias in mortgage lending also meant that black and brown families had less access to homeownership in general, and quality homes in particular–leading to current BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) homeownership and wealth rates being 35% and 87.5% lower respectively than many white households. Housing instability, financial instability (tied to familial wealth), and an opportunity-poor environment can all lead to worse educational outcomes–which in turn, can lead to less opportunity in adulthood.
In short, children today in Denver inherited a patchwork of communities segregated by race and class with its best parks, schools, transportation networks, and jobs concentrated in higher-income majority-white neighborhoods. To add insult to injury, CO already comes in at 42nd-place nationally for K-12 spending.
The solution to these issues must be a multi-pronged coordinated strategy targeted along the following fronts:
- Increasing and improving education funding and programs
- Decreasing segregation by improving access to higher income higher-opportunity areas through:
- Improved transportation to amenities and opportunities from low-income neighborhoods
- Increased homeownership and housing opportunity for low-income households in affluent neighborhoods
- Reducing involuntary displacement by:
- Providing pathways for low-income families in gentrifying neighborhoods to be able to afford increased housing and living costs that follow the influx of wealthy households
- Maintaining affordable homeownership stock in those communities
The entrenched nature of the factors supporting this system can make change seem like a futile exercise. But if we as a society had the power to make this system, we too have the power to unmake it. Allan’s article and the students and community members who informed it are telling us in no uncertain terms that doing otherwise consigns both them and the young minds of the future to a cycle of injustice they did not make, did not ask for, and do not deserve.
Jonathan Cappelli is a resident of Colorado and the Executive Director of the Neighborhood Development Collaborative – a nonprofit housing organization serving Metro-Denver. Jonathan received his MA in Urban and Regional Planning from CU-Denver, and his BA in Political Science from St. Olaf College.