By Dom Nozzi
December 23, 2018
A friend of mine recently told me that she thought the city of Boulder, Colorado used to be “enlightened” in the past. That is, more wise, progressive, and problem-solving than the average city.
But I don’t know that I agree that Boulder used to be enlightened.
While Boulder has a national reputation for being on the cutting edge of city and transportation innovation – and a wellspring of progressivism, that reputation turns out to be far from accurate.
For example, since at least the 1960s, many (most?) in Boulder have held the quite misguided, ruinous view that car travel needs to be made as easy as possible, and the way to do that was to slow growth and minimize density.
Better yet would be to stop growth.
Doing this would allow the city to achieve the “nirvana” of happy cars (free-flowing traffic and abundant free parking). The reason why that ruinous belief has been a near consensus in Boulder for so long is that both politically conservative wealthy folks AND political liberals were more than happy to agree to it. In America, both conservatives and liberals put happy cars at or near the top of their quality of life priority list.
This belief has poisoned Boulder thinking since at least the 1960s. The city has fooled many in America into thinking that it was “enlightened” because of an accident of geography. Boulder is very fortunate to be in a location that is so spectacular that it attracts wealthy, intelligent people. Such wealth and intelligence gave the city the ability to admirably tax itself to buy a greenbelt, which provides enduring quality of life for the city, and creates the illusion that the city is “enlightened” generally.
However, accomplishing “enlightened” objectives requires far more than being wealthy enough to buy a greenbelt or build a multi-million dollar bike path system.
It also requires the wisdom to adopt enlightened parking, roadway, land use, and urban design guidelines, to name just a very few significant urban design tactics.
And in those areas, Boulder has been in the Dark Ages since the 1960s – largely because of the political consensus that buying a greenbelt, and stopping/slowing growth to keep cars happy was enough.
It is not.
Nor is it even possible. Or desirable.