Last week, we received a letter from Steve Pomerance urging us to vote for ballot measures 300 and 301, which we will not do. The letter began by building a scary (to Steve) scenario of Boulder growing into a “city of huge buildings” with “the isolation that is common to almost all big cities.” It made us wonder if Mr. Pomerance had recently visited a bigger city or even wandered down U.S. 36 to check out our thriving and very community-oriented neighbor, Denver.
Boulder does not need to and indeed can’t grow into a big city because of our growth boundaries, 55-foot height limit, and zoning, all of which rule out big-city development. Boulder has in fact been a city for more than 150 years, and continues to evolve. We think a reasoned approach to growth that will allow us to create a sustainable Boulder with flexibility for the future means we must reject 300 and 301. We view a sustainable community as a place of economic and social diversity, as well as a place that protects the natural environment.
Boulder can maintain its charm and livability even with some additional well-planned and appropriately scaled urban growth in the right places, like the Boulder Community Hospital site, which the city is committing $40 million to redevelop. Here and in other select locations, the right kind of development could help us accomplish community goals to reduce our carbon footprint, provide housing for low- and middle-income workers and families, encourage millennials to help build our future, offer downsizing options for baby boomers, ensure greater community diversity and vitality, support local businesses, and make better use of public transportation. Carefully designed and located infill development that provides housing that is more affordable, from homes with accessory-dwelling apartments in residential neighborhoods to more mixed-use development on transit corridors, can help us reach those goals.
The Sierra Club, among other environmental groups, advocates for compact, mixed-use, transit and pedestrian-oriented development and says that urban living “conserves the earth’s resources–energy, materials, land, habitat–and reduces pollution and global warming. Urban development saves taxpayers money by using already existing water, sewage, energy and road infrastructure.” Compared to suburban sprawl, compact urban neighborhoods (like the one we now live in) are significantly better for the environment, with less per-capita energy used and vehicle miles traveled. Truly “livable” communities are designed and built for people, not cars. Research shows these places also are healthier: People who regularly use public transportation and walk or bike to get to school, work, and do errands are less likely to suffer from serious chronic health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and depression.
Walkable urban places are drawing car-free and community-minded millennials to Boulder and cities all over the U.S., bringing energy, enthusiasm, and innovation. Walkable and universally designed places close to services also are allowing people to age in place, a big issue as Boulder’s population ages. And we are aging: Boulder County’s 65+ population will grow six times faster than the general population in the next decade, according to the Community Foundation’s recent Trends report.
Charter amendments 300 and 301 are thinly-veiled attempts to stop, not to shape, all future development, and they will be permanently binding, affecting every household. Amendment supporters like Cindy Carlisle are honest in stating their goal of no — zero — further development in Boulder. We suspect that passage of 300 and 301 will freeze Boulder in a time warp, with plenty of asphalt parking lots, outdated commercial strips, and underused industrial areas. We need some flexibility to grow wisely in these places as land becomes even less available and more costly in the future.
Boulder is an amazing place, where we chose to live and have been privileged to raise a family, start a business, co-found a neighborhood association, participate in community activities, and enjoy our natural and cultural environments. We’d like our kids to have at least a shot at living here as adults, which seems less and less likely because of escalating housing costs.
We can preserve our neighborhoods while leaving room for more diverse and environmentally responsible redevelopment in Boulder. For all these reasons and more, we’re voting against 300 and 301 and hoping for a more positive, balanced, and, yes, somewhat more urban future to help achieve the community goals we think are important to Boulder’s future. Please consider doing the same.
Michael Leccese and Kathleen McCormick live in Boulder.