Tag Archives: development regulations

Should We Fear Niwot’s Curse?

By Dom Nozzi

In Boulder CO, according to local lore, Chief Niwot said, “People seeing the beauty of this valley will want to stay, and their staying will be the undoing of the beauty.”

This is known as Niwot’s Curse.

One of my Boulder friends wholeheartedly subscribes to this adage, and regularly laments the nearly monthly ranking of Boulder as the city with the highest quality of life in the nation. She worries that Boulder being top-ranked for quality of life on a regular basis will mean evermore people will move to Boulder and ruin its stellar beauty.

I chide her by letting her know that it appears her dream is to have Boulder regularly ranked as having the LOWEST quality of life in the nation.

The fact is, I inform her, that to this day, Boulder is nearly always ranked number one for being the best city. This is exemplified by the rankings and the crazy high housing prices – which happens to be a very reliable indicator that Boulder is experiencing anything BUT “destruction.”

After all the “destructive” growth over the past 20 or 30 years, Boulder is a much more pleasant city today than it was 20 or 30 years ago: More and better restaurants, more and better retail, more and better trails and paths, better urbanism, more people on sidewalks and bicycling, and more and better cultural events.

In its misguided obsession with stopping “growth” or “density” or “tall buildings” and easing car travel (thinking, wrongly, that doing that is the key to protecting quality of life), what Boulder is failing to do to protect itself is to guard against the REAL threats: enlarged roads and intersections, and land development regulations that continue to allow various and sundry modernist crapola (ie, hideous buildings that no one loves and everyone wants to see demolished as soon as possible).

And it is not just Boulder. All cities have failed to do this since about the 1940s.

If Boulder Council gained the wisdom and leadership to do the effective things I cite above, it would put those protections in place. By doing so, it would not matter one bit that top rankings were inducing more and more to move to Boulder. Indeed, a lot more in-migration would dramatically improve the city quality of life when coupled with such development regulations.

I’d go even further. Having more and more moving to Boulder would actually help Boulder quality even WITHOUT those protections, as we know from city growth around the nation. All cities that become more compact due to growth see less per capita car trips, more small and locally owned shops and restaurants, more intellectual firepower, better transit, and better culture. This has not only been shown throughout the US, but much more clearly in countless European cities – cities that are FAR more dense — and yet have far higher quality of life.

A common worry: people not liking the idea of Boulder “losing its small town feel” and seeming more like a “congested big city” if its population doubled or tripled? I and millions of others agree that “small town” is better than “big city.” But losing “small town feel” and feeling like a “big city” does NOT come from population growth. It comes from the consensus in Boulder and nearly all other cities that we must widen our roads, enlarge our intersections and replace historic charm with butt-ugly modernism.

In sum, if Boulder put its many big, oversized roads and parking lots on a diet; shrank its oversized intersections; eliminated the requirement that requires new developments to provide parking; used remote, electronic parking meters to price nearly all free parking in Boulder – particularly on-street parking; kept new residential and commercial growth in human-scaled, compact, mixed-use patterns; and replaced its blighting modernist buildings with lovable traditional design (not to mention adding a requirement that all new buildings must use traditional design); it could have four or five times more people and still be loved by the entire community because it is thereby able to retain its small town feel. It’s traditional charm. It’s romantic human scale.

This is not rocket science. All we need is the political will. Which, tragically, is likely to only come from a HUGE crisis like a staggering economic depression, a massive housing affordability crisis, a crushing medical obesity epidemic, or a major roadway death epidemic.

Sadly, none of these will likely be significant enough to give Boulder a huge, much-needed kick in the ass in our lifetimes.

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My Town Is Being Ruined Because Too Many People Are Moving Here!

By Dom Nozzi

One of the most common fears I hear expressed by friends and family about the state of affairs in their community is that “there are too many people moving here!”

The seemingly self-evident assumption that underlies this all-too-common lament is that “too many people” will destroy quality of life.

But the influx of more people is not the problem in these places.

The problem in nearly all cases is the influx of more people into a place with development regulations that deliver car dependency.

Therefore, the solution is not to stop the influx of people. Indeed, most all cities – particularly in America — can benefit from a big influx of people. The solution is to adopt development requirements that produce compact, lovable community design that meaningfully reduces car use.

The good news is that we already know the development (and transportation) regulations that effectively bring us a lot less car use. The Dover-Kohl urban design firm has shown the way for many years.

This is not rocket science.

While I agree an influx of people can negatively affect economic issues such as affordable housing — particularly if we design for walking — the problem of affordable housing is manageable with proper urban design. So manageable that the substantial benefits of a larger number of residents to a community far outweigh the downsides of a loss of affordable housing.

This is true as long as community development regulations obligate much of the new housing that may be needed for such new residents be designed in compact, walkable patterns.

 The problem and tragedy is that for the past century, we’ve thrown away the timeless tradition of designing our communities for happy people. Instead, for that past century, we have conducted a ruinous experiment (increasingly out of obligation): designing to make cars happy.

Since cars and people have different – in many ways opposite — needs and objectives, we inevitably foul our own nest by focusing on accommodating cars.

That means pretty much all our cities are dying from gigantism, being spread too thin, being infested with massive roads and parking, suffering from increased transportation-related danger, a loss of a sense of community or sense of place, a loss of beauty, a loss of affordability, a loss of human scale, a loss of civic pride, a loss of sustainability, and a loss of travel independence for those who cannot drive (mostly seniors, disabled, kids).

Nearly every city (particularly post-1940 sections of cities) is a dreadful place that no one can love (except, perhaps, inside our privatopian house and motor vehicle cocoons).

We COULD have spent the past century building compact, walkable communities that humans have always loved (old Siena, old Paris, old Key West, old San Francisco, old Florence, old Venice, old Frankfurt, old Assissi, old Innsbruck, old Bologna, old Milano, old Barcelona, old Croatia, old Zurich, old Bonn, old Amsterdam, etc.).

Instead we are left with cities that should mostly be demolished so that we can rebuild them the way we did prior to about 1940. We have left the worst legacy of any generation in world history.

Even though we are the most wealthy generation in history.

Someday I hope we regain our sanity.

But for the past century we have lost our minds. And as Kunstler says, we have wasted trillions of dollars engaged in building the catastrophically-failed car-dependent experiment.

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Is Growth and Development Killing Our Cities?

By Dom Nozzi

Boulder Colorado is one of the hottest of the hotbeds of NIMYism – the misguided belief that trying to stop development is the best path to protecting quality of life.

But Boulder has been degraded NOT by new residents moving to Boulder, but by land development codes that do not require lovable, timelessly classical, people-oriented design. Instead, the codes are ANYTHING GOES.

There is no desire to force the traffic engineers to design for happy people rather than happy cars, which means the motorists have been having a field day in Boulder for several decades, and nearly all citizens are firmly convinced that a car-happy transport system is essential for a better life.

Boulder could have a large percentage of wonderful, much-loved buildings in its city, but gets unlovable, hideous modernist buildings because residents and elected officials are distracted by thinking that all efforts must be devoted to punishing and stopping growth. Forgotten in this rush to NIMBYism on steroids is the pressing need to obligate the inevitable growth to be lovable.

Boulder makes the tragic mistake of thinking that happy cars equals happy people.

The reverse is true.

Growth and development DESIGNED BY MODERNISTS AND TRAFFIC ENGINEERS is what is killing our cities. NOT growth and development, per se.

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Stopping Growth in Boulder, Colorado

 

By Dom Nozzi

December 18, 2018

I will always remember a planning professor I had back in college who was enraged by the common thought many residents have in US cities: “I moved to this town. You can pull up the ladder now!”

In these sorts of conversations, I notice how common it is for many to not understand basic economic and development issues.

In the American legal and economic system, elected council members (and their professional staff) are almost entirely reactive. Council members almost never (if ever) proactively “invite” a business to move to town (particularly in Boulder).

Instead, it is the business that makes the decision about whether it is sufficiently desirable to locate a business in the town (such a decision is based on the quality of the workforce and the quality of life — both of which are very high in Boulder).

That business decision can also be influenced by taxes, fees, and development regulations, but if the quality of life and workforce is high enough, those things are unlikely to dissuade a business.

Therefore, to be somewhat proactive in reducing jobs (or slowing “growth”), Boulder should lower its quality of life and urge well-educated residents to leave (does anyone want to use that strategy?). I for one enjoy living in a community that has such a high quality of life and quality workforce that many quality businesses seek to be here (despite rather high fees and taxes, and strong regulations). Their wanting to be here is a strong sign that it is wonderful to live here. And that we have quality people living here.

It also needs to be pointed out that due to such things as the US Constitution, communities have little or no legal ability to stop growth. That may be why no US city has EVER stopped growth (a great many US citizens — not just in Boulder — would like their city to stop growth).

Given all of this, it seems unfair to blame city council members for inviting businesses to locate in Boulder (they don’t) or to blame them for not stopping population growth (they don’t have a legal means to do so).

One tragic aspect of the obsessive efforts in Boulder to STOP GROWTH, or failing that, to at least MINMIZE DENSITY, is that there is very strong evidence that higher densities catalyze higher levels of innovation in the community (not to mention the many significant benefits that higher density, more compact development delivers with regard to transportation, social health, public health, environmental health, and economic health). What this means, in essence, is that those in Boulder who have succeeded in putting a brake on innovation, reducing population growth, and minimizing development density have made innovation, transportation, social and public health, environmental health, and financial health much worse in Boulder.

As an aside, Boulder does slow growth rather effectively. But not because anything the City does directly. Growth is slower than it would be because relatively few people can now afford to live in Boulder.

As has been suggested previously, I have to wonder how many of those who complain about the 60,000 car commuters each day are themselves car commuters? And how many realize that lifestyle and travel choices allows one to be much less bothered by those 60,000 car commuters? (because in-town, car-lite living is much more affordable than remote suburban, car-heavy living)

How many realize that because the City Council has little if any ability to control which businesses move here or how many people move here, time is much better spent by citizens and City Council to work on adopting or revising existing development and transportation regulations and policies so that when the nearly inevitable growth of people and businesses comes to Boulder in the coming decades, we will have controls in place that will ensure the growth occurs in ways that enhance Boulder rather than degrade it.

In my opinion, Boulder has been so single-mindedly focused on trying to stop growth that it has been too distracted to work on adopting needed regulations and policies.

Which, by the way, are rather out of date.

 

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Should We Stop Growth or Promote Quality Development in Boulder?

By Dom Nozzi

September 10, 2017

In Boulder, Colorado, it is quite common to hear the suggestion that we must stop growth in our community to protect our quality of life.

In response, I point out that there are no realistic, humane, ethical, or constitutional ways to “stop growth.”

Given that, the key to our avoiding wasting time and energy is to ensure that the growth that does come to our community is quality growth. Growth that is sustainable and promotes human happiness.

As an aside, it needs to be pointed out that in very expensive cities such as Boulder, Colorado, there has long been an effective way to slow population growth. Slow growth in expensive cities occurs because of the extreme expense of living in the expensive city. Many cannot move to the expensive city because they cannot afford to.

The problem is the form of growth we allow, not the growth itself.

The car-oriented growth so many American cities have mandated in our land use plans, zoning regulations, and transportation spending for the past century cannot sustain growth and strongly undermines a quality human habitat.

Boulder, were I live, can accommodate more development, but Boulder’s plans and regulations are not crafted to ensure that future growth be done in a way that is sustainable or in a way that promotes quality community design (in part because there has been too much focus on trying to stop the growth rather than ensure that it is done well).

And in part because too much of what Boulder’s plans and regulations strive to achieve is happy motoring, rather than happy people. Big city vs small town ambiance

 

In most instances, the perception that places such as Boulder have “too much growth” is based on a motorist perception that the roads or parking lots are too crowded. The ruinous solution for too many has been to almost single-mindedly fight to stop growth, and to fight for “sufficient” road and parking capacity. In other words, free-flowing car traffic and easy parking have tragically been equated with much of our quality of life.

In my opinion and that of many of my colleagues, happy car design is a recipe for destroying quality of life and sustainability. This is in large part due to the fact that happy car design leads to a problem experienced by all US cities over the past century: the problem of gigantism: roads and intersections and parking lots and commercial buildings too big, and communities and neighborhoods and destinations too dispersed.

We must instead return to the timeless tradition of designing for walkable, human scaled dimensions. Boulder (and other American communities) must end its decades-long fight to promote happy car design in its roads, intersections and parking if it expects to stop being its own worst enemy, and instead have a quality, sustainable future.

A future of happy people rather than happy cars.

 

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On-Street Parking Should be Calibrated Based on Community Location

 

By Dom Nozzi

February 10, 2010

Town centers are fundamentally different in character, purpose, and objectives. Distances and setbacks are smaller. Speeds are more modest. There is more walking and less driving.

Therefore, design and development regulations should be calibrated so that town centers do not see the application of inappropriate suburban design.

For example, in town centers, in nearly all cases, residential single-family, residential multi-family, commercial and civic uses should all have on-street parking.

In a healthy town center, there are three design imperatives:

  1. Pedestrians.
  2. Low speeds.
  3. Modest dimensions for streets, destination distances and building setbacks.

One of the most effective, low-cost ways to do that is to provide as much on-street parking in a town center as possible, for all land use categories.asheville

As one moves out of the town center, design starts incrementally changing. In the first few rings outside of the town center, transit and bicycling become the imperative. Speeds increase and dimensions, distances, and setbacks are larger. Bike lanes become more appropriate and on-street parking becomes less appropriate.

In the more drivable outer suburban rings, cars become the design imperative. Speeds are relatively high, as are sizes. On-street parking is largely non-existent, and bike lanes become rather important and appropriate.

 

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