Curbing cruising: lowriding and the domestication of Denver’s Northside
The phrase “city streets” evokes thousands of images. Imagine one, a spring afternoon in North Denver in 1990. It’s a little warmer than yesterday and the sun is a touch higher in the sky. Brown lawns turn green and neighborly socializing warms once quiet, wintery streets. Just last week playground swings and jungle gyms sat idle, but today they are alive with enthusiastic play and peals of laughter. Teens have shed bulky parkas to reveal summer fashions. A ﬂash catches your eye. Reﬂecting intense afternoon sun from its buffed chrome bumpers and vivid paint job, a lowrider rolls leisurely down West 38th Avenue. Blaring Tejano hip-hop the car slips into a strip mall parking lot; the Latino at the wheel jokes with a group of youths gathered there. Back on the street, he nods knowingly toward a growing crowd at the entrance to the Elich’s Amusement Park. At stop lights, he bounces the front of his car to the rhythm of its booming subwoofers. Taking knowing notice of the lowrider’s showboating, a Denver Public Works crew is hard at work distributing traffic barriers at each intersection along West 38th. Each weekend, police erected these barriers as part of a concerted effort to order and rationalize North Denver streets, by straitjacketing cruising circuits. Constantly visible, the barriers serve as a reminder of municipal power. Despite, or perhaps in spite of the barriers, each weekend night Northsiders, their friends, rivals, and families converge along West 38th to partake in the slow, rhythmic, and loud appropriation of public space known as lowrider cruising.