Tag Archives: climate change

Is Boulder, Colorado in Danger of Becoming Too Dense?

By Dom Nozzi

March 9, 2017

I hear it all the time as a resident of Boulder, Colorado: “Boulder is too dense!”

I beg to differ.

I support Boulder’s long-standing objectives, such as reducing the city carbon footprint (to ease global warming), reducing noise pollution, improving affordability, increasing the number of trips made by foot or bike or transit, slowing tax increases, ensuring the City has the fiscal capacity to engage in needed/ongoing maintenance of our infrastructure, protecting environmentally sensitive outlying areas from suburban development, reducing traffic injuries and deaths (in part by designing streets to be slower speed and obligate motorists to be more attentive), promoting small retail shops and discouraging large retail shops, encouraging diversity and creativity, improving public health, and retaining a lovable character rather than an Anywhere USA character.

Each of these worthy objectives are furthered by more compact (dense) development.

Unfortunately, despite the conventional wisdom, Boulder is actually quite dispersed. Shockingly so.

Indeed, Boulder is so extremely low-density suburban that if we don’t become more compact and add a lot more housing, we will continue to undermine each of the objectives I list here.

Besides the low density and short-statured nature of development I have observed in Boulder, there is another element that strongly signals that Boulder is suburban in character. sprawl
Christopher Leinberger has pointed out that in compact, walkable neighborhoods, “more is better.” That is, new, more compact development tends to be welcomed because it typically improves the quality of life of those living a walkable lifestyle (more things to walk to, for example). By contrast, says Leinberger, in a drivable suburban neighborhood, “more is less.” In such a setting, new and more compact development tends to be detrimental to the drivable quality of life of residents (roads are more congested and parking is more scarce, for example).

For decades, Boulder has had a near consensus that “more is less,” which is a strong signal that Boulder is a drivable suburban community. Indeed, stopping development – or, if not possible, at least minimizing the density of new development — tends to be the be all and end all of protecting or improving quality of life in Boulder.

Our very low-density, dispersed suburban character means that Boulder’s per capita environmental impact is, ironically, very large (being “green” means far more than engaging in curbside recycling or driving a Prius). Dispersed land use patterns found in Boulder are unsustainable, very environmentally destructive, and ensure that nearly all trips in Boulder will be made by motor vehicle.

There is a growing desire for compact, walkable, town center housing — particularly with the Millennial generation — yet Boulder provides very little if any of that sort of housing. Demand for such housing is substantially higher than the supply of it. Which severely amplifies the affordable housing crisis in Boulder.

Sustainability is far out of reach for Boulder unless we provide a lot more compact, walkable housing.

In sum, I think Boulder is quite far from being “too dense.” So far that a “too dense” Boulder will not happen in our lifetimes — if ever. Indeed, it seems to me that Boulder’s biggest concern should be that we are too dispersed.

I previously wrote about why I believe so many people in Boulder (like in so many other American communities) believe their community is “too dense,” despite the obvious signs I cite above.

It is enormously ironic that a great many Boulder residents — not to mention the millions worldwide — love the great historic cities and towns of Europe so much that they happily spend huge sums of money to visit such towns on a regular basis. Nearly all of us love Copenhagen. We adore Amsterdam. We are charmed by Perugia. We are delighted by Dubrovnik. We cannot get enough of Granada.

Yet each of these celebrated cities are far more compact – far more dense – than Boulder.

Why this disconnect?

I believe there are three important reasons. First, the contemporary modernist architectural paradigm we have been saddled with for several decades has thrown the inherently lovable 315-0722092524-NSA-building-and-parking-lotand timeless traditional building design into the waste can in favor of repellent, “innovative,” look-at-me design. Citizens are thereby conditioned to equate new compact development with hideous buildings. Second, local zoning regulations in cities such as Boulder have made lovable, human-scaled design illegal by requiring excessive setbacks, excessive car parking, and excessive private open space. Third, nearly all citizens live car-dependent lifestyles. And because their cars consume such an enormous amount of space, motorists are compelled to fear and oppose town design that they otherwise love as tourists. They have, in essence, become their own enemies by striving to improve their life as motorists (equating quality of life with easy parking and free-flowing traffic), not realizing that doing so is ruinous to a healthy city and a lovable quality of life.

For much of our history up until the 20th Century, citizens welcomed and celebrated new development in their communities because they knew that almost invariably, the new development would improve the quality of life in their community.  Steve Belmont has informed us that a densifying city is a sign of city health. But that welcoming of new development has been understandably inverted into a widespread opposition to new modern-architecture-Ronchamp-Chapeldevelopment, largely due to the modernist architectural paradigm, local car-friendly development regulations, and car-dependent citizens who have become cheerleaders for their cars rather than for themselves, their family, and their neighbors.

Boulder can comfortably house a great many more newcomers, and if our land development regulations are properly crafted to insist that new development be walkable, our community will be greatly improved in each of the ways I list above.

For the record, I generally dislike buildings taller than 5 stories (the limit set by city charter), but know that the city can be much better and provide a lot more housing by allowing buildings to be 3-5 stories in appropriate locations.

Note, too, that I do not believe that EVERYONE should be obligated to live in more compact, walkable housing. A community should always provide sufficient housing for the full range of lifestyle choices: walkable town center, drivable suburban, and rural.

Unfortunately, drivable suburban is about the only lifestyle option offered in Boulder. Because we have made the cities we love impossible to build.

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The Carbon Tax and the Poor

By Dom Nozzi

A great many intelligent people have pointed out the obvious in recent years about our climate change – a change driven by carbon emissions – and our fiscal crisis: It is screamingly obvious that an extremely effective, fair way to reduce carbon emissions (and raise desperately needed govt revenue) is to enact a carbon tax. Increasing the price of Global-Climate-Change3carbon sends a much-needed price signal to people that products, actions and services that directly or indirectly use carbon have an embedded carbon cost. That cost is the climate change and environmental/societal woes hidden by a lack of a carbon tax.

Underpriced carbon is rapidly destroying our world and the future of our species.

An important reason why a carbon tax is equitable is that people using more carbon pay more tax. Such a tax would raise much-needed government revenue by charging people for societally unsustainable behavior.

One would therefore think that political liberals and environmentalists would be 100 percent in favor of a carbon tax. Such people, one would expect, would find such a tax a no-brainer.

But as I often point out, a very large number of desperately needed societal actions are squelched because of the red flag too often raised by liberals and environmentalists: “WE CAN’T DO THAT BECAUSE IT WILL HURT POOR PEOPLE!!!!”

We can’t raise the gas tax…because it will hurt poor people.

We can’t put this four-lane monster highway destroying our downtown on a road diet (taking it from four lanes to three, for example)…because poor people won’t be able to get to jobs.

We can’t ease our parking woes, make our town centers more compactly walkable, and substantially reduce the amount of off-street, gap-tooth dead zone parking lots…because charging people money for parking will hurt poor people.

We can’t raise the tax on cigarettes to reduce excessive smoking…because it will hurt poor people who smoke.

We can’t adjust electricity prices to promote energy conservation…because it will hurt poor people.

We can’t charge a tax on sugar…because poor people won’t be able to afford to buy a Pepsi.

We can’t charge a fee for a background check…because poor people won’t be able to afford to buy a gun.

We can’t charge an impact fee on sprawl residential development…because it will hurt poor people who buy sprawl homes.

[I’ve heard all of the above complaints more than once.]

At the Conference on World Affairs in Boulder Colorado yesterday, I attended a session on how we need to learn to live with global warming because we have passed the tipping point and there is no way we can avoid catastrophic warming in our lifetimes no matter what we do (session title: “Climate Change: Get Used To It”). A question came from someone in the audience: “If we establish a federal tax [like has been admirably done in Boulder and a few European nations] on carbon, won’t it be a very bad idea because the carbon tax would be unaffordable for poor people??”

As you can imagine, the question made my blood boil.

I wanted to leap to my feet and scream to her: “We are driving a car at a high rate of speed towards a fiscal and environmental cliff (given our huge government fiscal woes and our huge climate change woes). Do you mean to say that we should not step on the brakes?? That we instead go over the cliff because poor people cannot afford to brake?????”

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Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

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