Apr 1, 2021 | NEWS | By Frances Thyer | Photo by Patil Khakhamian
In Colorado Springs’ southeast district, which encompasses one the most diverse zip codes in the state, the future of a park might say a lot about the future of the area.
Both candidates running to represent District 4 on the Colorado Springs City Council have talked about Panorama Park. The park will be a destination for the district, said Regina English, who is challenging incumbent Yolanda Avila. City leaders, Avila said, are “starting to invest in us and want to see us succeed.”
In a way, the park, located adjacent to Panorama Middle School and currently undergoing a $9 million renovation, is a testament to the city’s attention to a part of Colorado Springs that residents and representatives say is often neglected.
In separate interviews, both candidates brought up their excitement about Panorama Park without being prompted.
Anitra Gallegos, principal of Panorama Middle School, said that what’s happening with the park shows a positive trajectory for the southeast community. “Communities that have significant struggles often do not have a safe place for students and families to go and be outside,” she said, adding that she believes it will be a “real draw” for the community.
Improvements to the park will include a multi-use sports field and basketball courts, among other amenities.
The redevelopment will allow more residents to use and benefit from the park, and community leaders believe that the increased accessibility to Panorama Park is just one of many exciting initiatives being realized in the southeast.
For the two candidates vying to represent the southeast on City Council, it’s about time.
“Elected officials have not really focused on the southeast and looked at our needs,” Avila, a native of Colorado Springs and mother of two, said in a recent interview. “So when I initially got on and I’d asked for investments here, it would seem like a charity.”
In 2019, about 39% of the city’s Latino population and about half of the city’s Black population lived in southeast Colorado Springs, according to media, as well as 34% of all impoverished residents.
English, a mother of five and vice president of the Harrison School District, said the southeast doesn’t want any handouts.
“We have phenomenal, hardworking people here in this district,” she said. “Some of them, unfortunately, work paycheck to paycheck, and I want to change that narrative.”
To do so, English, who previously ran unsuccessfully for an at-large seat in 2019, will have to get on the City Council first.
In the race, both candidates say they agree on plenty of issues and their disagreements are more about style. The candidates do community work together, and neither say there is any animosity between them.
“It’s the difference of feeling that I’m a senior versus someone that’s just coming into it,” Avila said.
English, on the other hand, said that the district is calling for a stronger, collaborative, consistent and transparent voice. “I’m here,” she said, “to bring a breath of fresh air.”
The pandemic has amplified health disparities for minorities, and given the demographics of the district, both candidates are concerned about the rates of vaccination in their district. Avila and English are resident leaders for RISE, a coalition that has been instrumental in advocating for the vaccination of high-risk, primarily Latino individuals in the southeast.
“I plan to be a model,” Avila said. “I’ll be taking it for people that may have that vaccine hesitancy.”
The candidates also said that the Law Enforcement Transparency and Accountability Commission, a committee dedicated to improving the relationship between the city’s police department and the public through recommendations to City Council, has its problems as well. In the selection process for the new committee, the city was not as effective as they could’ve been, the candidates said.
The police treat the southeast differently than the rest of the city, English said, and they need to utilize better de-escalation tactics.
The candidates are both assured in their ability to lead District 4.
“I can’t see anybody else at this time being able to pick up the reins and run with it,” Avila said.
English, however, has a good feeling about the results of the City Council election on April 6.
Regardless of who wins, the two candidates are optimistic about the momentum in the district.
Both are excited about the southeast’s first Urban Renewal Projects, which include Zebulon Flats, an affordable housing project and a broader mixed-use space. The initiatives, Avila said, would not have been realized without her input on City Council.
Panorama Park is another initiative that reflects the positive movement in District 4, according to the candidates. The project is community led, with collaboration from local artists, a possible partnership with the Panorama Middle School, and involvement from both candidates. English is hopeful that the community will be able to gather at the revamped park within the next two years and is excited about the level of community engagement it promises.
Gallegos, the Panorama Middle School principal, hopes the restructuring of Panorama Park will support the southeast part of the city, creating “a more healthy and interactive community.”