Boulder’s Outdated Progressive-ism on Transportation and Land Use

By Dom Nozzi

February 28, 2018

Something occurred to me recently about Boulder, Colorado’s growth and development strategies.

It struck me that in the 1970s, many Boulder residents came to decide that the popular growth and development tactics of that time were so commonsensical and so progressive and effective that such tactics would forever be necessary. They had drunk the Koolaide of the 1970s, in other words, and had become hard headed zealots who would forever crusade for all eternity to “save” Boulder by holding fast to these strategies. Not holding tight to them would be an unforgivable compromise that would ruin Boulder.

The problem, though, is that today in the 21st Century, an overwhelming number of scholars and professional practitioners have come to realize that many of these 1970s tactics that are held so firmly by so many Boulderites are terribly outdated and quite counterproductive.

These 1970s tactics are outdated because they are pro-car, which makes them anti-city, anti-environment, anti-walkability, anti-transit, anti-bicycling, unsustainable, anti-affordability, anti-sociable, bad for city character, and bad for quality of life.

Here is a listing of such failed ideas that too many in Boulder fiercely and stubbornly continue to hold on to with all their allegedly progressive, enlightened, heroic might:

  • Support for large building setbacks.
  • Support for very low densities.
  • Support for large lot single-family (residential-only) zoning for neighborhoods.
  • Support for free-flowing car traffic.
  • Support for zero population growth.
  • Opposition to small lot sizes.
  • Opposition to small homes.
  • Opposition to buildings taller than 1-2 stories.
  • Opposition to large numbers of people living in the same home.
  • Support for requiring developers to provide abundant off-street parking.
  • Support for using speed humps and stop signs.
  • Support for one-way streets.

Each of these tactics have now been thoroughly discredited in recent decades.

Why are so many in Boulder so stubbornly holding on to these outdated ideas? My guess, at least in part, is that the 55,000 acre greenbelt the citizens taxed themselves to buy since the 1960s has been so successful in promoting quality of life that a lot of folks wrongly concluded that the entire bundle of growth and development strategies from that era remain valuable.

I’m sorry, but while the greenbelt idea remains as powerfully effective in the 1970s as it is today, the list of other 1970s strategies I mention above must be tossed out as failuresdi that are inhibiting Boulder’s ability to retain and continue advancing toward a better future.

Another possible reason comes from Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions (citing Max Planck). Kuhn would note that many Boulderites who continue to cling to the outmoded 1970s tactics had invested so much of their lives and their efforts into those ideas that they are now unable to discard them despite overwhelming evidence. Such people, Kuhn would point out, are simply not able to accept the idea that they wasted so much of their lives and efforts promoting concepts that are now known to be wrong-headed. Many such people will go to their graves continuing to believe in the 1970s tactics (regardless of how overwhelming the counter-evidence grows), because it is too much of a terrible blow to admit they were so wrong on topics they had grown to accept as eternal iron laws.

Under this grim Kuhn scenario, Boulder’s best hope is that the Old Guard will, through attrition, grow smaller and smaller as they move from Boulder. Or die off.

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Filed under Politics, Transportation, Urban Design

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