Tag Archives: NIMBY

Boulder’s Outdated Progressive-ism on Transportation and Land Use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have come to realize that many of these 1970s tactics that are held so firmly by so many Boulderites are terribly outdated and quite counterproductive.

These 1970s tactics are outdated because they are pro-car, which makes them anti-city, anti-environment, anti-walkability, anti-transit, anti-bicycling, unsustainable, anti-affordability,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Why are so many in Boulder so stubbornly holding on to these outdated ideas?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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Affordable Housing in Boulder, Colorado

By Dom Nozzi

February 20, 2017

I posted a quote on Facebook meant for the many people I know in Boulder who believe that as much as possible must be done to stop growth and development:

“The opposite to bad development is good development, not no development.” – Padriac Steinschneider

Someone replied by stating that “[n]o one said anything about no development and growth. This is discussion about affordability which is a separate issue. We can grow a lot and build mostly unaffordable housing, or we can grow less and preserve the affordable housing that we have and build mostly affordable new housing. Those are 2 very different affordability outcomes unrelated to growth.”

My response:

The underlying hope — and often the quite outspoken belief — for a great many in Boulder is no growth. I’ve lost track of how many times I see people in Boulder fight to raise development fees or call for more meetings for a proposed development plan (mostly for added opportunities to stop the development).

Or state that population growth is our number one threat.

Since fees are so very high in Boulder already ($11 million in fees paid by Solana, for example), and since added time is very expensive for developers, higher fees and more meetings is, for many who call for such things (if they are honest), an effort to prevent development.

For many in Boulder, Al Bartlett is a patron saint. Over and over again, he sounded the alarm that population growth is a huge threat (and implicitly, for many who hear his message, that population growth must be stopped in Boulder).

Since there is no humane or practical or constitutional way for Boulder to stop population growth, the next best thing has been to fight to slow it down as much as possible (while hoping that such efforts will eventually stop growth or at least push it to towns outside of Boulder).

One way to clearly see how stopping growth is the underlying objective is the extreme opposition to density increases in Boulder. Since Boulder cannot grow outwards beyond city limits (without great difficulty), or upwards due to severe height limits, fighting against density increases is another way to stop growth in the near future.

I don’t see how growing less preserves affordable housing, or how growing more removes affordable housing. Most people I know who support more compact, walkable growth and more housing are, like me, supporting the idea of making it easier to build such things as backyard cottages (or other forms of ADUs), co-ops, smaller houses/apartments, and converting some industrial and surface parking land to housing. Each of those tactics inherently provide more affordable housing.

By contrast, those pushing for slower growth or no growth often strongly oppose each of these options for more affordable housing.

It must be noted that growth in Boulder is already very slow when one considers how very desirable the quality of life is here, and the fact that we have had a very low maximum annual residential growth cap — I think that cap still exists.

Instead of supporting the affordable housing tactics I note above, many slower growth advocates call for heavy-handed local government market interventions, which I believe is unsustainable — in part because it leads to many unintended consequences. Slow growthers are forced to adopt such a “command economy” tactic because the idea of creating the new and relatively affordable housing I mention a few sentences back would mean more people, and for too many of the slower growthers, that is not in any way acceptable. Al Bartlett, after all.NIMBY-protest-Toronto-Boston-SanFrancisco-neighbourhood-airport-housing-preservation-Condo.ca_-512x341

I would love to see the slower growthers support building new housing that is affordable, as you say above, but all I see is opposition to such new housing. I see opposition to:

1. ADUs.
2. Co-ops.
3. Loss of parking – often as a way to create more housing.
4. Providing less parking for housing or unbundling the price of parking from housing (both of these are powerful ways to create more affordable housing because parking is extremely expensive).
5. Reducing the amount of parking that a developer must provide.
6. Smaller lots or smaller houses.
7. Buildings taller than 1-2 stories.
8. Adding smaller shops or offices into residential areas or incorporated into the same building.
9. Smaller building setbacks and smaller open space or landscaping requirements for new developments.

Personally, I would love to see in Boulder a big increase in smaller homes, without parking, that are an easy walk to shops and offices. I would love to buy such housing, as I’m sure a great many in Boulder would want to as well. But the supply of such walkable housing in Boulder is vanishingly small. And the demand is huge (and growing due to the fact that many Millennials seek such housing). That bids up the price of such inherently affordable housing artificially. Given the very loud opposition I hear from so many of the slower growthers (which I increasingly call the anti-city, anti-environment folks), I’m not optimistic that the supply of such greener, more sustainable, more affordable housing will grow much at all.

One cynical form of optimism on the affordable housing front is that since cities such as Boulder now have way more drivable suburban housing than the demand for such housing, we can expect that such housing will be relatively affordable in future decades, because supply will far exceed demand.

Most of Boulder was built during an era that put low-density, single-use-zoning, drivable suburbia on a pedestal (in part by adopted zoning regulations that make compact development illegal). In the coming decades, it will be the cities that are able to incrementally make such unsustainable places more walkable (and create new neighborhoods with such housing) that will have a future. That inevitably means more compact housing, which means a more affordable and greener lifestyle (because the huge expense of paying for car travel will decline and the huge per capita environmental impact of car travel will diminish). It also means more people living in neighborhoods, which is anathema to those who seek to retain a drivable lifestyle.

Christopher B. Leinberger, on Dec. 20th, 2006, had this to say on the topic (he is the author of The Option of Urbanism):

“…walkable urbanity is entirely different than drivable suburbanism. The underlying financial and market principle of drivable development, aka sprawl, is that “more is less”; more development reduces the quality of life and financial returns, leading developers and their customers to perpetually go further and further to the fringe in a fruitless search for very things (open space, drivable convenience, perceived safety, etc.) this development promises. It is a downward spiral.

Walkable urbanity works under financial and market principles that “more is better”; as more dense development takes place with mixed-uses within walking distance and multiple transportation options to get there, the place gets better. Hence the environmental, fiscal (government tax base), community building AND project financial elements all become better. It is an upward spiral.”

And Vince Graham:

“If what you sell is the perception of privacy and exclusivity, then every new house is a degradation of the amenity. However, if what you sell is community, then every new house is an enhancement of the asset.”

 

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Phoenix or Siena? Do We Reduce Environmental Impact by Stopping Growth? Or Ensuring Growth is Better?

By Dom Nozzi

February 13, 2018

Someone posted a rebuttal to the excellent guest opinion in the Boulder, Colorado newspaper by Zane Selvan’s about the environmental impacts of low density development in Boulder:

“There it is again: ‘per capita carbon footprint’. I’m concerned with Boulder’s ‘net’ carbon footprint. Density and infill proponents want to increase the population and increase the net carbon footprint in order to achieve a decrease in per capita carbon footprint. It’s the only way they can do it. It’s oxymoronic. Boulder will become a bigger, dirtier more crowded city overall in order to become slightly cleaner per individual. It’s a self defeating policy.”

My response: If Boulder’s 108,000 people were spread out over a lower density, more dispersed and car dependent pattern, the impact on the environment would be much more brutal and unsustainable. As it stands now, Boulder’s low-density pattern already fuels a huge amount of car travel and carbon emissions — way more than if that 108,000 people were in a more compact, human-scaled pattern.

For those, like me, who prefer a “small town character,” Boulder would feel much more like a small town if the city was much more compact, rather than dispersed. If our parking lots were smaller and more rare. If our roads and intersections were less massive. For me and many others, “small town ambiance” is much better achieved when we have a compact, human-scaled dimensioning of our neighborhoods and town centers and road infrastructure.

Small town character, for me, has far less to do with the number of people who live in Boulder.

There are hundreds of cities and towns in Europe that demonstrate this.

When I am at a monster huge Boulder intersection with a double-left turn lane and six or so through lanes, I feel like I am in Houston or Phoenix. I feel uncomfortable, exposed, unsafe, anxious to leave, and disappointed about what has been done. There is no sense of place whatsoever, and it feels “big city” even though I would often be about the only human at that intersection. By contrast, I can be in, say, Pearl Street Mall with hundreds of people, but the human-scaled dimensions create a small town sense of place and comfort and pride.

It is sometimes claimed that the only reason certain cities are compact and walkable is that they have convenient public transportation (and “my city does not have convenient transit”). But having convenient transit service is not simply a matter of citizens asking for it or elected officials providing it. Places like Phoenix and Houston and many neighborhoods in Boulder don’t have convenient transit because citizens have spent decades demanding…

  • Low density
  • Short suburban buildings
  • A huge amount of free parking
  • Wide, free-flowing, and free-to-use roads

Each of those elements make it extremely difficult if not impossible to provide convenient transit in a city. The fact that Siena and NYC and much of Boston and DC have convenient transit is that they opted to build densely and did not go hog wild in making cars happy. Why is transit not convenient in much of Boulder? Why is it so convenient in bigger US cities? Is it because they are smart and Boulder is stupid? I think not.

I prefer convenient transit and “small town ambiance,” which is why I regularly advocate compact, 2-5 story neighborhoods and town centers with scarce, priced parking and human-scaled streets. The fact that so many in Boulder fight to the death for low density, one-story subdivisions with abundant parking and wide roads largely explains why Boulder is losing its “small town ambiance.”Big city vs small town ambiance

How ironic.

Notice in the photo set that in the “small town ambiance” places in Siena and Boulder, we are looking at places that have a relatively compact collection of people living, working, shopping, and playing. In other words, “small town ambiance” is often found when we have a relatively large population size. Also notice the taller buildings in the two “small town ambiance” images compared to the two “big city ambiance” images. In other words, “tall” buildings do not necessarily create a “big city ambiance.” Indeed, the opposite is often true.

Some people say that a larger number of people have a larger carbon footprint than a smaller number of people. Well yes, that is obviously true. But is there a practical way for us to halt population growth? After working academically and professionally in environmental science and town planning for 40 years, I know of no humane or constitutional way for us to stop population growth.

What some would like us to do is to nudge the growth toward other communities, but that does not reduce the carbon footprint. It just shifts it to less politically powerful or more affordable places. Such an effort also disperses human settlement rather than having human settlement be more compact, and that ramps up the overall carbon footprint.

The effective way to reduce overall carbon footprint, then, is to not waste our time trying to do the impossible (stopping human population increases) or being NIMBYs (by shunting the growth to politically weaker places).

The key is to work to have development occur in a more compact, sustainable way that promotes a healthy, happy city. When we do that, people are less likely to want to live in low-density, car-dependent places (because town center living is more enjoyable and enticing).

Boulder’s dispersed, low-density development pattern means we have plenty of infill development opportunities so that we can become more compact, safe, sociable, and walkable.

With compact, relatively gentle, context-sensitive infill (small condos, compact apartments, mixed use, small houses, row houses, small lot sizes, small or no setbacks, 2-5 story buildings, accessory dwelling units, co-ops, replacement of surface parking and suburban setbacks and sprawling industrial/warehouse areas with urban buildings) — not to mention the elimination of required parking — we substantially increase affordable housing opportunities. That would mean we’d have less people being forced — for financial reasons — to move to outlying, car-dependent places. Again, the overall carbon footprint would go down.

Despite the conventional wisdom we still hear too often in Boulder, it turns out that being pro-city is to be pro-environment. To be anti-city is to be anti-environment. Compactness is the new green.

Phoenix or Siena? I prefer the compactness of a Siena over the low-density Phoenix (or Orlando)…

 

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Problems Associated with Car Happy Community Design

By Dom Nozzi

May 14, 2001

As a general point, low density locks everyone into extremely high levels of car dependency. Transit, walking, bicycling and carpools become nearly impossible.

A sense of community is non-existent. Auto-dependent communities suffer because there is no “there there.”large lot subdivision

Seniors and kids lose their independence because they are forced to rely on others to get around.

Suburbs are more dangerous than walkable in-town locations because the risk of a car crash is much higher than “stranger crimes” like murder, mugging, rape, etc.

Car dependent designs are not only unaffordable for all levels of government. They are also unaffordable for households, since the average car costs the equivalent of a $50,000 home mortgage, and nearly every family must now own more than one car.

Low-density, disconnected street patterns create congestion even at very, very low levels of car trips because all trips are forced onto one or two major roads. Disconnected roads therefore create the misperception that things are “too crowded,” even when we are talking about “cow town” numbers.

The naive, misguided knee-jerk “solution” is to fight for lower densities, which, of course, simply makes things worse. Note that increasingly what this means is that people who should know better (liberals, intellectuals, greens) are urging “no growth” and “no change”, and fighting against smart growth tactics — thereby unintentionally aligning themselves with the black hat sprawl developers.

 

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Generalists versus Specialists

By Dom Nozzi

August 12, 2000

An important reason why bureaucrats tend to drown in minutia, get caught up in jargon and details, and become specialists (rather than much-preferred Big Picture generalists) is that bureaucrats lack power, trust, credibility, and respect. And loss of those things, as Duany points out, is in many ways due to our flight from traditional neighborhood design principles.

The result for many bureaucrats is to delve into details and promote mystification (jargon, models, etc.) in a desperate effort to remain relevant or somehow needed. Of course, such an approach is merely a downward spiral for planners and designers.bu

Another obstacle to public town planners being more than just milquetoast bureaucrats — and again, this relates to the flight from traditionalism — is that the level of civility is at an all-time low and NIMBYism is at an all-time high. Part of the result is a widespread fear and paranoia on the part of elected officials, which leads the officials to lay down the law that bureaucrats (including planners) shall not have any opinions, and especially not say anything that might possibly make someone unhappy.

And of course, such an approach delivers lowest common denominator milquetoast and mediocrity in how we build our communities.

 

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Protecting “Neighborhood Character” through NIMBYism?

By Dom Nozzi

October 15, 2017

There are people in Boulder who regularly state that the City Council has turned a blind eye/ear to neighborhood concerns. That they are not concerned about “protecting neighborhood character” (which is a transparent euphemism for NIMBYism) in their allegedly corrupt rush as Council members to ruin Boulder with rapid, uncontrolled growth.nimby-web-2

The NIMBYs also make the bizarre claim that this “out of control” Council will lead to environmental degradation and loss of affordable housing.

But I utterly fail to see how the positions of the NIMBY people will achieve these worthy objectives if, as is clear to anyone paying attention, their positions result in a big jump in car travel and a perpetuation of rapidly rising housing costs.

If you oppose, as nearly all of these NIMBYs do:

Smaller homes

ADUs

Co-ops

Smaller lot sizes

Smaller setbacks

More neighborhood mixed use

Less parking (and the conversion of existing parking to housing)

More density

Priced parking

Buildings over one or two stories

Road diets

…you are thereby calling for more per capita car trips, more carbon/air emissions, much higher housing costs, a continuation of neighborhood character being changed by the in-migration of much more wealthy residents, and sprawl into outlying towns.

Oops.

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Leverage and “No Growthers”

by Dom Nozzi

December 20, 1999

There is a national epidemic of people, over the past few decades, who oppose all forms of development. There are not only NIMBYs = not in my back yard. There are also CAVEs = citizens against virtually everything, NIMTOOs = not in my term of office, BANANAs = build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything, and my personal favorite: NOPEs = not on planet earth.

Clearly, much of this opposition has arisen because, since approximately WWII, we’ve developed our neighborhoods and cities to make cars happy instead of people. Suburban sprawl is primarily fueled by our single-minded efforts to make cars happy. And sprawl gives us horrific government and household financial crises, massive environmental destruction and loss of farmland in our outlying areas, declining and unsafe “in-town” areas, visual blight, excessive dependency on our cars, loss of civic pride, distrust of (and anger towards) government and developers, hopelessness and despair. It is no wonder that we are a nation infested with a “no growth” attitude. And it is no surprise that our costly and ugly development patterns make such an attitude justifiable.

The problem is that a “no growth” attitude is ultimately unsustainable, since you cannot stop growth — you can merely push it into other areas.

Unfortunately, these “other areas” are usually the outlying natural areas and farms surrounding our cities. After all, outlying land is usually less costly and more abundant than in the city, and there are fewer NIMBYs in outlying areas. Perhaps most disturbing is that development of these outlying areas inevitably leads to the destruction of vast amounts of relatively sensitive natural areas, guarantee excessive dependency on the car, make walking and transit nearly impossible, destroy any sense of neighborliness, and give us unbearable service and household costs.nimby-web-2

Today, we seem to have a new problem emerging — or at least a problem becoming more sophisticated. Increasingly, “no growthers” have found potent new leverage to achieve their agenda. The new leverage is now primarily coming from environmentalists, and elected officials who lack the courage to be leaders in the face of emotional, angry NIMBYs.

Environmental Leverage

Environmentalists are understandably disturbed by the destruction of wildlife and habitat by most conventional development, and usually work to stop any development — no matter its design or location. But environmentalists must pick their battles. Is it wise to burn out the troops by fighting to save every single tree in every development proposal, especially when doing so encourages developers to find less contentious outlying areas, where development will harm more important and more sensitive natural areas? Shouldn’t environmentalists understand that excessive dependence on car travel is perhaps the most profound threat to the environment (air pollution, water pollution, sprawl, etc., are mostly due to the car), and that fighting in-town development will push more new development to areas where it is impossible to travel except by car?

Most of our project-specific environmental battles have been won. We have strong water, air, and tree rules. The most important environmental, economic and quality of life threat is not the smokestack. It is car-oriented sprawl into our outlying areas.

It seems to me that the priority for environmentalists is to slow sprawl to outlying areas, and to create cities with a wealth of transportation choices and quality of life — a quality of life that reduces the desire to flee the city. An effective way to do that is to return to the age of designing our in-town locations to make people instead of cars happy.

Elected Officials Leverage

The second form of leverage is the elected official who lacks courage and leadership, which seems to be another epidemic in America. Here, the “no growther” can realize success because fearful elected officials are often anxious — in the face of angry citizens opposed to a development project — to find a rationale to deny development approval. A handy way to find such reasons without appearing to be lacking in courage, or appearing to be “caving in” to a hostile group of citizens, is to simply state that you would support the in-town development if only it was not going to remove trees. Or harm a wetland.

Ultimately, these are fertile times for the “no growther.” People understandably assume that any new development will be bad, given what has happened over the past several decades. Environmentalists are understandably enraged by environmental destruction. The level of anger and hysteria has reached such a fever pitch that we understandably find ourselves with elected officials who live in fear of such strong emotions. It is a vicious cycle that is contributing to sprawl and a decline of our quality of life.

These new forms of leverage allow the “no growther” to be increasingly successful in stopping in-town development. But to the extent that the “no growther” is successful, our fate will be to suffer a decline in quality of life and a loss of sustainability because outlying sprawl will accelerate and our in-town locations will continue to stagnate.

What is needed is the courage and will to incrementally move Back To The Future so that we again design for people instead of cars. Inevitably, such an approach will restore trust, confidence and respect for our elected officials and our developers.

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NIMBY Screamers Are Their Own Worst Enemies

By Dom Nozzi

September 16, 2017

Ironically, those people who scream the loudest that developers will not ever develop European charm are the very same people who ALSO scream that developers must (1) PROVIDE MORE PARKING!!!!!!! (2) PROVIDE MORE OPEN SPACE AND HUGE SETBACKS!!!! (3) ONLY ALLOW PROJECTS THAT HAVE VERY, VERY LOW SUBURBAN DENSITIES!!!!!!!!!!! (4) DON’T BUILD BUILDINGS TALLER THAN ONE STORY!!!!!

Each of those screaming demands make it impossible for a developer in Boulder to build European charm.

So what do such people want? European charm? If so, stop screaming for things that make that charm impossible.

There is zero reason why Boulder cannot require new development in Boulder to be built with European charm.

EXCEPT the reason that so many Boulder citizens apparently hate European charm even though they say otherwise.

Which is it, screamers? Do you want European charm or not?

Who needs enemies when we have ourselves?

Tremosine Italy

 

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The Fruits of NIMBYism, Part II

By Dom Nozzi

May 28, 2017

I have a friend here in Boulder who complained about how Boulder, Colorado would heavy-handedly not allow accessory kitchens such as hers at her upstairs apartments.nimby-web-2

My response:

Anti-density NIMBYism strikes again. This sort of iron hand is the City acting on behalf of RAGING no-growthers. And FURIOUS motorists who believe they have a god-given, constitutional right to free/easy parking and uncongested roads.

Every single time that a Boulderite screams about building heights being too high or density being too much or buildings being too big or growth being out of control or the development blocking my view of the Flatirons or a project will take away my on-street parking or a site plan delivering houses that are cheek and jowl too close to each other or a development not having enough open space or buildings having setbacks that are too small (and each  of these screams go into Council ears nearly every single day), the less likely it is that Boulder will allow or promote accessory units, granny flats, accessory kitchens, tiny houses, affordable housing, more walking, more bicycling, and more transit.

Oops.

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Fighting Against What Is Wanted

 

By Dom Nozzi

April 26, 2017

Many in Boulder CO hold contradictory views.

On the one hand, one hears a lot of folks saying they hate sprawl and cars (at least those driven by others) and the high cost of housing in Boulder.NIMBY-protest-Toronto-Boston-SanFrancisco-neighbourhood-airport-housing-preservation-Condo.ca_-512x341

On the other hand, many of these same people hate the things that would most cost-effectively reduce those problems: compact development, accessory dwellings, increasing the number of adults who can live in a home, buildings over one or two stories, smaller setbacks, less private open space, traffic calming, restricted/priced/managed parking, and shrinking oversized roads.

Oops.

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