In the editorial column of the Daily Camera today, Boulder’s premier newspaper says “small is beautiful.” Our population dropped from 95,000 to 92,000. “We’re No. 11!” it proclaims, saying Boulder has dropped out of the list of the 10 largest cities in the state.
I used to agree with this idea that keeping Boulder small was desirable, but that was when the economy was going gangbusters in Colorado. Back then the growth was off-putting. It felt like too much, too fast. Now I think a more pro-growth policy is in order, but the prevailing politics here appears to be against that.
Boulder has long prided itself on being an exclusive club. Last year a prominent social worker in town said, when asked what the social atmosphere was like here, that when she brought guests to town, the “vibe” they got from the locals was, “Well, it was nice seeing you. Now please leave.” And it’s common that whenever somebody complains about Boulder, the response is dismissive: “If you don’t like it, then leave!” I saw some letters to the editor in the Camera to that effect this week. This is ironic given that Boulderites pride themselves on being inclusive–of gender, race/ethnicity, and sexual orientation. But again, these are abstractions to Boulderites. I think it does well in being inclusive of gender and sexual orientation, but not of race, and most definitely not socio-economic status. Boulder and C.U. have talked about increasing racial diversity for years and years, yet they’ve never really achieved it. It’s because in order for it to happen, Boulder cannot have its cake and eat it too, and it’s always a bit mystified that it can’t. It would have to value being inclusive over being exclusive. You would think that would go without saying, but I don’t know if any city leader has ever put it that way. I suspect this is because it’s an issue that people here would rather not admit to. Many pride themselves on being different from the rest of American culture. They even think they’re superior. Many see sprawl as an enemy and work to avoid it at all costs, largely because people here value the natural beauty. The problem is this restricts social change in the community, since it cannot grow at a sufficient pace to make living here affordable. The people who like being here are already here, and there’s little economic room for others to come and enjoy it as well.
Boulder is mostly a white community. Granted, anytime there’s a hate crime against someone of a different race here, it’s considered a big deal, and such actions are rightfully scorned. On the other hand, I could probably count on one hand the number of black people I’ve met in Boulder in all the years I’ve been here, though there is a sizeable Latino community.
Anytime there’s a proposal to build more affordable housing it often faces stiff opposition, because it’s thought that it will lower property values in the neighborhood. The lower rungs of the government workforce (in pay scale), like police and firefighters, have to commute in from out of town, because they can’t afford to live here.
There are always trade-offs in life. Boulder has a tranquil atmosphere usually. There are some nice places to shop. I went to public school here and I left with the impression that the schools were good. The crime rate is low as well. The downside is that many of the people here see the local economy as an abstraction, because they participate in it only as consumers.
Most Many of the jobs are funded by the government, which tends to explain its liberal politics–if you want to keep your job, vote Democrat. So the private sector is largely seen as a means for providing services, and revenue via. taxes, to government workers. Tax rate hikes tend to get approved by voters, with the exception of property tax mill levies. That’s the one issue where Boulderites really feel the pinch, because real estate is so valuable here.
The political consciousness is largely that of a professional, upscale community. If you’re not at least upper middle-class, you’re nobody. People in the lower socioeconomic classes have been getting squeezed out of town over the last 10 years. They can’t afford to live here, largely because of Boulder’s slow-growth policies.
So Boulder has gotten what it’s wished for. It will stay small while other cities grow. I hope we’re all happy for it.