Montrose, CO — Residents of the Tortilla Flats neighborhood who participated in a months-long photography project to document daily life in their community voiced concerns to City Councilors this week with a goal of improving public safety and addressing blight in their neighborhood.
Last year the City of Montrose, in partnership with the Hispanic Affairs Project (HAP), co-produced the Tortilla Flats Neighborhood Photovoice Project; a collection of photographs produced by residents in the Tortilla Flats neighborhood.
Photovoice is a widely used process in which people combine photographs and words to capture aspects of their environment and life experiences and share them with the public and local officials to spur positive change in their community. Tortilla Flats, as the area is identified by its residents, is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Montrose.
Residents visited with the council during the February 3 work session. Public safety with regard to sidewalks and street crossings was addressed, along with beautification of the neighborhood and improvements to La Raza Park. Residents also addressed efforts to preserve remnants of a historic religious site from future development in the area.
Children of the neighborhood who attend public school must cross Townsend Avenue twice daily to get to and from Northside Elementary. Residents would like to see pedestrian safety improvements like better crossing signals and traffic enforcement along the busy roadway.
Residents also addressed the condition of railroad tracks running through the neighborhood that date back to the founding of the city. They have sat abandoned for years and have not been maintained. Overgrown weeds and neglected railroad intersections on city streets have been a growing concern for neighborhood residents.
One of the photographers from the project, Monique Olson, who has family ties to the neighborhood dating back generations, told councilors she hopes the Photovoice project was the start of many positive conversations moving forward.
Mayor Dave Bowman said since the city's 2020 budget was already complete, issues raised during the project could be addressed in the 2021 budget.
Karen Sherman Perez, the civic engagement and development coordinator for HAP, said the five-month-long project helped to identify areas for improvement in the neighborhood and reported the project is now entering the action phase.
“It’s been a really good first step, but we know it takes ongoing cultivation,” Perez said.
In 2018 the city launched the “Bridging the Gap” project focused on cultivating communication around community projects and impacted neighborhoods as part of the construction of the Connect River Trail Project. HAP partnered with the city and helped organize a series of community meetings with Tortilla Flats residents beginning in June 2018 to provide updates and solicit feedback on the Connect River Trail Project, La Raza Park improvements, and housing repair and neighborhood improvement projects.
Many residents showed up to these events, but the city received feedback that the conversations seemed structured to provide information on projects the city felt were important and that there was a missed opportunity to learn from residents regarding their preferences about the future of their community. It was clear that residents were interested in being part of something that would improve their neighborhood. HAP came up with the idea of using Photovoice to engage with residents and hear about their experiences in the neighborhood.
Participants in the project live in the Tortilla Flats neighborhood and gathered for a series of meetings to discuss topics they wanted to photograph.
Participants were asked: When you think of your neighborhood, what is important to you?
Participants had two weeks to take photos using cell phones, personal cameras or disposable film cameras. Participants selected photographs that best represented the group’s important topics and collectively wrote narrative descriptions for each photograph in preparation for an exhibit. This was a collective process with full input and participation from the project participants. Photographs from ten community members were included in the exhibit.
The collection of photographs was displayed in a large gallery inside the Montrose Regional Library for two months beginning in December. Over a hundred local residents, elected officials and residents of the Tortilla Flats neighborhood attended a public opening held on December 4.
Following Monday's work session, members of the Photovoice project met to determine where the gallery would be displayed moving forward. Project contributors decided that the collection would be broken up into two galleries and displayed in separate locations around the city.
To view the entire Photovoice project and learn more about the photographers, visit the HAP website at: hapgj.org/media/tortilla-flats-neighborhood-photovoice-project/
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