March 24, 2010
By Ed Byrne
Robb’s Music may have been robbed, but that’s no reason to micromanage the south block face of Canyon Boulevard between 14th and 16th.. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Boulder’s land use staff is preparing an “area plan,” but their focus is on one thin slice of an area that really is worth a closer look: 14th to 17th from Canyon Boulevard to Arapahoe Avenue. This larger area is actually deserving of close scrutiny. The slice selected neither deserves the sobriquet, “South of Downtown Area (SoDA),” nor the special attention.
“Being Green,” no offense to Kermit, means carefully targeting future residential development to meet the needs of our 50,000 in-commuters, securing local food production for future generations in a $6.00/gallon world, and attracting sustainable businesses that will increase Boulder’s resiliency in the face of mounting Green House Gas and Post-Peak Oil challenges. That means mixed use, walkable subcommunity centers and cascading density along transit corridors. We need to say “yes” to every project that moves us closer to true sustainability – the sooner, the better.
This may finally be the tipping point. We can’t move closer to a sustainable future with a less is more approach. More is more – provided it is in the right place. Body count logic is no substitute for time-tested, community-enhancing, urban planning principles. Some want “planning” to be simple: fewer people = better plan. How could more people make things better? Well, if they’re housed in the right place for the right reasons, and it means they aren’t commuting into Boulder everyday to work, that’s an improvement, isn’t it? They’re already here, driving on our streets; they just don’t have a place to sleep close to where they work.
Yes, Boulder is a wonderful place, but it is not even close to sustainable in its current form. 50,000 in-commuters every day, doing jobs that must be done, are the most important part of Boulder’s most daunting future challenge: reducing our environmental impacts and carbon footprints. We can’t reduce either in any significant way unless we can create housing types our in-commuters desire, in places they want to live
Who will do our work when the price of gasoline heads over $4.00 per gallon and our workforce starts looking for jobs closer to where they sleep? And what about our aging Boomers? We are losing our wisdom and our youth. The elderly can’t afford their property taxes on a fixed income, so they’re looking to downsize. $1,000 per square foot units are not their answer either.
Who’s building the kind of multiple dwelling unit developments our sons and daughters are looking for, so they don’t have to live in eastern Boulder County and points beyond forever? The Baby Boomers (1946 – 1964) and their children, the Baby Boomlet (1978 – 1995), will drive housing markets for the next 20 years because there just aren’t enough Generation X’ers to purchase all the single family, detached homes the Boomers have already built (one of the reasons for the real estate crisis).
As gas prices rise, large carbon footprints empty wallets, and walkable neighborhoods gain traction in the marketplace; we’ll desperately need to build more of them. No-growthers, like Gulliver’s Lilliputians, are trying to tie this burgeoning demographic monster down with a thousand puny ropes, shrink-wrapping Boulder’s downtown neighborhoods. But you can’t fool Mother Nature. Our seniors want to simplify and our youth want to keep it simple. Young people and old people appreciate, need and are willing to buy smaller units for a fair price in a good location.
Other than the Wells Fargo parking lot (north of Walnut between Broadway and 13th), SoDA is Boulder’s next opportunity zone. You can certainly build affordable housing on the north east quarter of the 1300 block south of Canyon – the City already owns the land. The north side of Arapahoe between 13th and 17th should be rezoned to encourage redevelopment of more affordable units over retail and some office uses – the interior blocks in Goss Grove will benefit greatly from the buffer thus created between them and Boulder High School’s intense activity. The south side of Canyon between 14th and 17th (the City owns the rest up to Broadway) should frame the boulevard, which now features: a bank, office building, Robb’s, the Liquor Mart parking lot, a gas station, and another bank.
If you care about your parents, your children and the future, sitting still right now means Boulder is falling behind. We’re also diminishing our legacy as a forward-looking, visionary community that believes the way to secure a better future is to plan for it. We need to prepare for a future that is as close to carbon neutral as we can manage, and as protected from the negative effects of high-priced gasoline as we can imagine.