Category Archives: Regionalism

State of the City of Boulder

February 18, 2012

Boulder’s great, but it could be better. Drive through most older neighborhoods in Boulder and one can’t help but wonder why we don’t have “affordable” housing. More than 50% of Boulder’s dwelling units are for rent. Many owners have little incentive to upgrade while their tenants slowly buy their properties for them. Selling the lot as a scrape-off yields a reliable return.
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Need for a Longer Planning Horizon (2012 City Council Retreat)

January 14, 2012

It’s time to dramatically extend our planning horizon to anticipate a future where carbon-based energy resources become so expensive that market-based assumptions are irrevocably altered and to protect ourselves and our beloved community from the negative consequences resulting therefrom. This means more renewable energy sources, better energy storage technologies, more robust year-round agricultural productivity, and strategic primary resource planning.
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Municipilization Election Stand-Off – Carpe Diem

December 31, 2011

50.4% – 49.6% (13,353 – 13,141): the margin of “victory” in Boulder’s municipalization referendum (occupation tax extension) on November 1st was 2011’s top Boulder story. We’re a progressive and well-educated town, but consensus on the way forward eluded us, even as more violent weather events occur world-wide and rapidly warming polar regions scream out for aggressive climate change-slowing solutions. I’d wager greater than 85% of Boulder’s voters agree on the City’s climate action goals. Our debate is about means and methods, and how to get the most bang for our bucks, sooner than later.
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2011 Boulder Election Results

2011 Boulder Election Results
November 5, 2011

More than 26,000 people voted, 48% of those receiving ballots. During our last off-year election (2009), only 18,353 (29%) city residents voted. Direct mail worked this time. Give PLAN-Boulder, the Sierra Club, New Era, and Renewables: Yes credit for turning out their supporters, winning a close fight over 2B and 2C, while also electing their preferred city council candidates: Suzanne Jones (ran a near-perfect race for a newcomer), Lisa Morzel (best showing by an incumbent) and Tim Plass.
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Open Space Fees: Pay to Play?

June 18, 2011

The irony is that Boulder’s open space and mountain parks (OS&MP) were purchased, for the most part, twenty or more years ago, back when the City of Boulder was the northwest metro area’s regional shopping center. The sales taxes came from the pockets of many people, not simply the residents of Boulder. In fact, during the past couple of decades, many residents of Boulder moved further east, so their former sales tax dollars also contributed to the acquisition of Boulder’s OS&MP. If a determination of who owns Boulder’s park lands is based upon who paid for it, the answer is decidedly complex.

There is, however, the question of ongoing maintenance and operational expenses. They are substantial enough that non-resident parking fees, presuming they are paid, and can, in fact, be collected for a “profit,” pale by comparison. Protecting Boulder’s OS&MP from the teeming masses who love them is not cheap.

Our “wilderness” interface is a resource protection nightmare, a behavioral challenge, and an educational opportunity. Colorado’s ski industry has learned to harden the first couple of miles of trails leading from the top of their chairlifts, and they’ve installed interactive educational exhibits, so that summer visitors won’t inadvertently, irrevocably harm the fragile alpine ecosystems they’ve often traveled thousands of miles to see. Boulder must do the same. User fees should flow directly to OS&MP operational expenses. If earmarked, everyone should pay them (including residents, voluntarily). Wisely used, the future of OS&MP may depend on them. “Pay to play” makes sense.

Economic Resiliency: A Do or Die Proposition

March 26, 2011

“Economic resiliency” is a term we’re hearing more often of late. Auto manufacturers in the midwest are shutting down and laying off workers because the earthquake in Japan disrupted the supply of engine parts. Semiconductor chip prices are jumping for the same reason. The Middle East’s “Jasmine Revolution” is increasing oil prices and driving ethanol production, which competes for fields of corn — raising food prices.

Some of the challenges Boulder must address to achieve economic resiliency include a shortage of workforce housing, the need for more year round local agricultural production, and the ability to withstand temporary manufacturing supply disruptions, which may become permanent. When the price of oil rises high enough, “outsourcing” goes away, because the price of transport exceeds the savings realized from less expensive labor and less restrictive environmental regulations overseas.

Boulder would be well-advised to examine our local economy for vulnerability to supply disruptions. “Just-in-time” inventories work great until the flow stops. What raw materials, parts or products do we depend upon now that may become unavailable or unaffordable when predictable, probable disruptions occur? What is Boulder’s back-up plan? It is unwise to ignore the warnings current events are firing across our bow.

The essence of effective long range planning is anticipation of probabilities and preservation of options. If we assume we will always be able to afford what we need to survive after it has traveled half-way around the world to return to us, we may find that our “resiliency” was an illusion.

Hickenlooper’s Inaugural Challenge

January 15, 2011

Governor Ritter chose to step down instead of running for a second term. Who can blame him? Has any prior governor of Colorado had to make tougher choices among lousier options than he faced, simply because our state’s current system of governance requires the fiscal balancing of irreconcilable constitutional mandates? Would you rather spend more time with your family, or with Colorado’s divided state legislature?

Governor Hickenlooper must be asking himself the same question that surely occurred to President Obama in November of 2008, “tell me again why I worked so hard to win this job?” I like Hick’s early observation in his inaugural speech, “We (Coloradans) don’t shrink from high passes or hard work.” Plenty of both lie ahead.

We are blessed with talented residents who share a passion for, as our new Governor put it, “the natural beauty that helps define Colorado.” We can also care for one another as individuals, while we reset our economy’s job-creating foundations, but the need for government to be both “effective and efficient” cannot be understated. Governor Hickenlooper has challenged his bi-partisan Cabinet to deliver on this promise.

Only time will tell whether Colorado can beat the odds in this regard. Can we learn to get along? No one has a firm grip on the Absolute Truth, but each of us experiences moments when we catch a glimpse of It. Why don’t we compare notes? To his credit, at the Governor’s “kitchen table,” all such perspectives are apparently welcome. Chime in!

New Year’s Resolutions, circa 2011

January 2, 2011

Let’s take ourselves less seriously, set aside our historic community feuds, extend our planning horizon, and begin the process of saving our species. Mother Nature doesn’t care about us all that much. At this point, Mother Earth can support microbes and cockroaches more easily than humans. Where is Plan(et) B? The dinosaurs had it done to them, but we’re doing it to ourselves; and we think we’re the intelligent ones?

We hope we can save ourselves by tinkering around the margins (i.e., buy a Prius, install solar panels, insulate, grow your own vegetables, install low flow shower faucets [been there, done that]), but what we really need to do is restore turn of the last century streetscapes. You know,: the walk to work, bike to school, say “hi” to the neighbors at the corner grocery store, take a train to the big city once in a while world that is the definition of nostalgia now, but was all we needed to survive without cheap oil in its day.

We need modernity’s antibiotics, birth control and Internet, but we also need to wean ourselves off of outsourced manufactured goods and 3,000-mile salads in favor of home-grown food and home-made stuff that isn’t dependent upon $50/barrel oil for its creation or $3.00/gallon gasoline for its transport. We can expect those prices to double or even triple in the next 5 years, but so what if they don’t? What makes you happy? Less driving? Shopping closer to home? Follow your bliss in 2011.

End Boulder’s Auto-Dependency

December 18, 2010

In 1994, the City began its first “subcommunity” plan in North Boulder. The notion was that the best way to unwind Boulder’s auto-dependent, post-WWII human settlement pattern was to focus on discrete areas of Boulder that could become “primarily self-sufficient” – places where residents would be able to work, shop and play closer to where they sleep without having to drive their car everywhere to do almost everything. Sixteen years later, the automobile still reigns supreme.

We keep kicking the tough decisions down the road (literally). How can we establish walkable neighborhoods? The City should inventory and map residential rental housing. Unlike owner-occupied homes, these investor-owned dwelling units are “in play” for land assembly purposes — an essential first step in the neighborhood and subcommunity center development process.

Transferable residential development rights (TDRs) need to be re-calibrated so that a development right in the County can be traded for 5-7 affordable dwelling units in Boulder. TDRs can then be used to support development of walkable mixed use (WAMU) centers within our existing, sprawling residential areas. The TDR concept should be evolved further to include transferable commercial development rights. This would allow commercial development potential existing in remote areas to be concentrated along transit corridors, nodes, and neighborhood and subcommunity centers. Ultimately, zoning maps need to be created with water colors, not highlighters and sharpies. Interface areas should “bleed” into each other. Large tracts of homogeneous single use zones are inherently auto dependent, the cartographic antithesis of a truly sustainable future.

BVCP Misses Opportunity to Embrace Positive Change

December 4, 2010

Our economy and quality of life are dependent on cheap energy. However, people in China and India want what we enjoy, too. Congress will now ignore this competition for resources. Therefore, the ongoing BVCP 5-year update ought to have special significance and a sense of urgency. Instead, staff’s time and resources are being used to tweak land uses around the margins of only those areas within the City likely to develop in the next five years.

The BVCP identifies the need to reconfigure sprawl by adding mixed-use neighborhood and subcommunity centers along transit corridors and at transit nodes, but then yields to political expediency by embracing “areas of stability” and “areas of change” concepts that leave most of Boulder’s residential neighborhoods off the table. It is high time we acknowledged that much of the residential development added to Boulder since the 1950s is neither walkable nor primarily self-sufficient, and has only limited, inconvenient access to transit.

The BVCP’s current geographical focus needs to be expanded to include the North Metro region’s commuter-shed. We need to make local planning decisions in a regional context and create a forum where regional stakeholders can meet regularly to better anticipate and coordinate them. Our human settlement patterns must be adapted to nurture greater social and economic resiliency, particularly with respect to workforce housing and local agricultural and manufacturing capability. Held captive by past zoning decisions and philosophies, we are squandering an important opportunity to stretch our vision into the future and embrace positive change.