The 303 ArtWay: A Trail for Walking, Biking, and Neighborhood Culture

It’s a common conundrum in cities across the country: As new transit stations attract new people and businesses to neighborhoods, rents and prices rise. The sidewalks, bikeways, and parks may improve, but longtime residents may no longer be able to afford to stay and enjoy the safe streets and walkability.

With the RTD station at 40th and Colorado set to open next year, some people in neighborhoods like Northeast Park Hill — one of the city’s lower-income neighborhoods and about 50 percent black — are concerned that as the area changes, so will its culture.

“We’re concerned about losing our diverse identity in northeast Denver,” said Tony Pickett, vice president of development with the Urban Land Conservancy, an organization that invests in Colorado real estate “to preserve community assets for future generations.”

“We want to see the people that live here today experience the benefits of tomorrow,” Pickett said.

To do that, ULC has a two-fold approach: Build and maintain affordable housing on its parcels in the area (including 156 units at the 40th and Colorado station), and lead the push for the 303 ArtWay — a 5.5-mile loop of paved walkways and bike paths around northeast Denver.

The 303 ArtWay is a heritage trail (a la the Indianapolis Cultural Trail) that recognizes Park Hill’s unique history. When complete, it will connect the 40th and Colorado Station with Greater Park Hill, City Park, the zoo, and the Museum of Nature and Science, teaching people about community activists, artists, and other leaders along the way.

“From the community, what we heard over and over again was, ‘It’s great that we’re going to build something wonderful here at the station, but we literally can’t bike or walk there from our homes,'” Pickett said, adding that the trail will connect people to local businesses and grocery stores in what’s now a food desert.

The project is in its conceptual stage, with partial funding from a grant from ArtPlace America. Northeast Transportation Connections, Mile High Connects, and PlatteForum are helping as well. But Pickett says what the 303 ArtWay really needs is community support, so “it’s not imposed,” and to show potential funders and city agencies that the neighborhood wants it.

Kristin Cardenas lives in northeast Denver and volunteered to handle community outreach. She’s been going door to door, gaining input from would-be users of the ArtWay.

“The majority of the people, I think they are somewhat intimidated at first — like changing their neighborhood is scary,” Cardenas said. “But at the same time they’re embracing it. And I think the 303 project is trying to get the perspective of everybody.”

Housing prices are already increasing, but crime is going up, not down, Cardenas says. She hopes that the project will change that.

“I think the 303 ArtWay will bring some sense of community and put things into perspective for all different classes of people,” said Cardenas. “We’re targeting all of northeast Denver community members, artists and the youth — putting all of their perspectives and desires into this project. So in a way it builds a sense of community. Eventually they’ll see this trail network and know that what they wanted mattered.”

This article was updated at 4:02 p.m. on November 24 to reflect correct source of the grant for 303 ArtWay, which is ArtPlace America, not Artspace.