By Corey Martz, Community-Engaged Fellow
Across Denver, the rising population and reinvestment in core urban neighborhoods often reverberates with traffic congestion and capital construction projects that directly impact the lives of local residents. In the face of urban growth and change, how can local governments and community organizations meaningfully engage residents to help raise their voices and influence actions that will directly impact their daily lives? Photovoice is one approach, a process that combines photography, documentary, and action for residents to reflect upon and record community strengths and concerns, document their relevant lived experience, and promote dialogue in a forum that reaches decision-makers. In the summer of 2018, an interdisciplinary team of researchers and students from the University of Denver partnered with The GrowHaus to lead a photovoice process to better understand how youth residents experience the immense changes occurring in North Denver, specifically the extensive ongoing construction projects in their community (to learn more about the project process click here). The youth’s photographs and narratives of their experiences of construction exhibited powerful evidence of the very real changes occurring in their community. At the 2018 photovoice project exhibit at the Wellington Webb building, the youth’s photos were displayed for community members and government officials to view and the youth sat down with Councilman Albus Brooks and Exec. Director of NDCC, Tim Sandos, to share their insights and calls to action informed by their photos.
The 2018 North Denver Photovoice Project arose through a partnership, beginning in 2017, between North Denver Cornerstone Collaborative (NDCC), an initiative of the City and County of Denver Mayor’s Office, The GrowHaus, an urban farm focused on providing the North Denver community with better access to and education about nutritious food, Center for Community Engagement to advance Scholarship and Learning (CCESL) at the University of Denver, and PCs for People which provided computers for the youth participating in the project. The partners coalesced around The GrowHaus’ aim to engage youth in enacting community change, NDCC’s desire to meaningfully include resident voices about change in their community, and CCESL’s vision of university-community collaboration and interest in researching photovoice as a process of community engagement. The 2017 North Denver Photovoice Project was the first effort by the partnership to explore photovoice as a meaningful community engagement process (click here to read about the 2017 project launch – p. 9, and here to read a DU student’s reflection on the project – p.9). Not only did the 2017 project bloom into a second iteration the following summer, but it branched into another partnership between the City and County of Denver Smart City Program, Vision Zero Coalition, and CCESL, which formed to better understand how residents experience traffic safety along Denver’s busy Federal Boulevard (click here to learn more about the 2018 Federal Boulevard Photovoice Project). The GrowHaus and interdisciplinary team at the University of Denver are committed to strengthening their partnership and are currently engaged in planning efforts for summer 2019 youth programming.