Stopping Growth: Development Politics in Boulder, Colorado


By Dom Nozzi

December 15, 2014

In my humble opinion, it is mostly a waste of time to talk about stopping population growth — particularly in a city — where for legal and other reasons, no American city has deliberately stopped growth.


I’m not even sure it makes sense in America, as all cities or regions can benefit from more compactness. Nearly all American cities (such as Boulder) have PLENTY of space to absorb more population, given how much land is wasted or otherwise underused by short-term storage of big metal boxes (that on rare occasions – a few times a day — transport overweight Americans).

When done right, absorbing more population can make nearly all American cities (including Boulder) BETTER.

Yes, some places have seen growth end (or actually lost population) — not by design, but because people are fleeing a downward spiral. And yes, I often make the point in writings and speeches that even in places where population is declining, we are seeing an on-going (growing?) consumption of land. It is very important to remember this, as many no-growth advocates are motivated by a fervent belief that one of the few ways to end land consumption in outlying areas is to end population growth in their town.

Nearly all Americans fail to understand simple economics and transportation principles. I don’t know if we will ever see most citizens understanding such principles. Many Americans fail for example, to understand (or may never admit) that even if they don’t like it, some car trips are more valuable than others.

Americans have also failed to learn from long Soviet bread lines. In that infamous case, the solution to long lines was NOT, as the Soviets thought, to make more free bread. The Carmageddon highwaysolution is to charge people a proper price for the bread. Americans almost all fail to learn from that experience, as we ignore it when we think providing MORE free parking or WIDER free roads will eliminate parking and road congestion. Shamefully, many relatively well-educated Boulder folks don’t understand this simple lesson, and continue to delude themselves into thinking that stopping population growth will keep roads free-flowing (the be-all and end-all of quality of life for too many, when it reality, free-flowing car travel is ruinous for a city).

Many Americans simply dislike cities and prefer to make cars happy rather than people, as best I can tell from comments I’ve seen over the years. Many attack ideas that would deliver better cities and happier people (which is achieved powerfully by making cars less happy). Many, in other words, see with the eyes of a motorist. In part, this means the only acceptable town design such people consider acceptable is low-density suburban. This is unfortunate and tragic, as a large and growing number of us want compact, walkable lifestyles.

By looking at problems with the eyes of a motorist, those who seek to minimize population growth (or density) are joining hands with the sprawl, strip commercial, road-building, and oil industries. I’m sure such people tend not to realize that.

Many Boulder residents continue to believe that transportation is a win-win game. That we can make cars and people happy at the same time.

Nope. Zero-sum, folks…





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Filed under Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design

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