The GrowHaus is located in Elyria-Swansea, a historic working-class community first developed in the 1880s. For its first half-century, the area was home to residents of Eastern European origin. Elyria-Swansea’s location near downtown, the Platte River, and the railroad made it an attractive site for warehouses and factories, and as a result the residences in the neighborhood eventually became surrounded by manufacturing and transportation infrastructure.
In the 1960s, the area began to shift to being predominantly Latino, which it remains today. At around the same time, the construction of I-70 placed a imposing barrier directly through the community, adding to the mounting pollution from sites such as the nearby Asarco smelter and water treatment plant. By the 1990s, the neighborhood had earned the dubious distinction of being the most polluted zip code in the state of Colorado, and was used as a textbook example of environmental injustice.
Elyria-Swansea today is a neighborhood of contrasts, with both significant opportunities and challenges. The lack of services and geographic isolation has created a tight-knit community, with many neighbors attending the same church and looking after each other’s children. At the same time, air and soil pollution remain pervasive problems despite decades of activism and cleanup efforts, and neglect from the city has lead to a dearth of public amenities, unpaved alleyways and sidewalks badly in need of repair.
Finally, Elyria-Swansea lies in the middle of a large “food desert” in Northeast Denver, where access to fresh, healthy produce is limited or nonexistent. The nearest full-service grocery store is over 2 miles away, and sells poor quality food at higher-than-market prices. Within the neighborhood itself there are several corner stores, some of which carry small selections of produce, meat, dairy, and dry goods. Although these stores help serve the neighborhood grocery demand, most residents travel outside of the neighborhood for their day-to-day grocery needs.