"Smart Growth" and "New Urbanism" Compared with "Large Lot Zoning" (Tom Lane) [ Home Page – Click Here]

(May 17, 2017) – Traditional "Large Lot Zoning" is "Greener" than "Smart Growth" within Urban Growth Boundaries . . . Copyright 2009 – 2017 . . . Tom Lane . . . Photographing California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington.

(Jan. 17, 2011) Boulder Smart Growth: What Went Wrong? Can It Be Fixed?

The reality of Smart Growth in Boulder, exposed by Frosty Woolridge here.


Mr. Woolridge quotes Dr. Albert Bartlett of the University of Colorado-Boulder, who discusses the deterioration in Boulder’s quality of life, due to Smart Growth policies from increasing density under the Urban Growth Boundary established in the early 1970’s:

“As a young math and science teacher, I moved to Boulder in 1973 with 40,000 residents. Quiet town, no traffic, clean air, houses at $35,000.00, nickel for one hour parking meters and peaceful vistas-and great sunrises on the eastern plains dotted with cows! Nearly 40 years later, over 100,000 residents, horribly costly homes, brown cloud, choked highways, .25 gets you 10 minutes on parking meter, and you cannot see bucolic sunrises because the plains suffer housing all the way to Brighton 25 miles away. Not to mention a monster of a mountain of trash from the landfill that grows higher and fatter daily!”

Yes indeed, and the library even charges for parking in this supposedly “pristine” mountain town.  Below is Dr. Bartlett’s web site.  Note: I do not agree with everything that Woolridge and Bartlett say, however, I think Bartlett’s observations on Boulder’s smart growth / quality of life issues are correct.

When visiting Boulder, I developed sinusitis after about a week. It was horrible.  The view of the Front Range (Rocky Mountains) was constantly obscured by haze. The same thing happened when I visited Eugene, Oregon, which also has an urban growth boundary and smart growth.

Having toured much of the state, I can name perhaps a dozen quiet, pristine, charming small mountain towns I’d rather live than Boulder.  Let’s see….Durango, Bayfield, Pagosa Springs, Alamosa, Salida, Breckenridge, Fairplay, Frisco, Lyons, Ft. Collins, and Vail.  Haven’t been to Glenwood Springs, but I’ve heard it’s very nice, as is Gunnison.

Durango is my favorite, although they have smart growth plans underway.  People that love Durango usually hate Boulder, and vice versa…they are “rival” liberal college towns competing for newbies to the Rocky Mountain lifestyle.  However, in Durango (and in many of the other Colorado mountain towns above), one can live in the countryside.  Land costs are reasonable in SW Colorado, for those who prefer privacy and acreage.  The amenities of Durango are worth it even if one hates smart growth, since one can still live close by to the City in the countryside.

Here’s the web site for UC-Boulder’s Dr. Bartlett: http://www.albartlett.org/

So Much Land for Homes, and Ridiculous Density

Unfortunately, Denver faces similar problems with increasing density, as Wendell Cox wrote 10 years ago at Demographia. The brown cloud over Denver-Boulder is proof that urban growth boundaries around Denver and Boulder have caused excessive traffic, resulting in high air pollution.  With so much land on the Eastern plains, and the Rocky Mountains, why not cancel the boundaries, and give everyone a small one acre permaculture farm?


Intensify Traffic Congestion, Air Pollution and the

Housing Affordability Crisis

Presentation by Wendell Cox to the Apartment Association of Metro Denver Economic Conference, 23 January 2001: http://www.demographia.com/db-denapt010123.htm

What Went Wrong?

First, Boulder’s Urban Growth Boundary and resulting smart growth infill policies allowed for ridiculously high density in the City.  With the density came horrible traffic.  And, with the highly educated workforce came numerous entrepreneural firms. However, eventually the available housing “filled up,” as Boulder became a Superstar City (see my post about Dr. Joe Gyourko). Boulder traffic is just as bad as L.A. or Phoenix, with many complaining or sinusitis.  Air pollution has nowhere to go when it’s stuck against the Front Range.

Homeownership became out of reach for many, who despite an abundance or apartments, moved to nearby low cost suburbs around Boulder.  And, due to the City of Boulder and Boulder County’s open space and zoning, these commutes are several miles long on primitive 2 and 4 lane boulevards, with stop lights.  For example, it is about 15 miles northeast to Longmont.  Traffic is often horrible, and it can take an hour or more.  It can take up to 2 hours between Denver and Boulder.

So much for the idyllic paradise that Dr. Bartlett found when he became a Professor at UC.  However, certain nearby towns do maintain a peaceful setting, such as Lyons.  Overall, Boulder, provides the rest of us with a warning of what can happen when smart growth is taken to extremes. In fact, the City says it will not expand its urban growth boundary, and instead, will increase infilling within city limits (Reference needed).  In addition, the number of commuters commuting into the City exceeds those who live in the City by about 10% (Reference needed).

The Parks, Trails, and Open Space Mess

While Boulder was the first City to establish an urban growth boundary in the 1960’s, what has emerged is chaotic.  Currently, maps of the City and surrounding areas of Boulder County shows many disconnected rectangular areas of preserved land.  The problem is that there are very few trails connecting these preserved lands.  And, of course, they are off limits to new housing, resulting in more long commutes as firms continue to grow in Boulder, and a cessation of UGB expansion.

The first map inclides 90% of the Boulder City limits, with orange indicating City parks, and purple indicating County parks. From this map, also notice the blue freeway leading traffic from Denver to within a mile of downtown, and the other diagonal to the northeast heading traffic to Longmont.  Additional 4, 6, and even 8 (!) lane boulevards are required in Boulder to handle the traffic within the City limits, just like Vegas, Phoenix, or L.A.  CLICK to enlarge, and then ZOOM:



In this second map along the front range between Boulder and Lyons (just off the edge of the map), again, note an even greater number of disconnected parcels of city and county owned open space, many w/o trails. Also note the hatched areas, that according to the legend are indicated as “no public access.” If they are public parks, why are they closed?

And, the road to Longmont is just off this map to the right. With so much open agricultural land, why not forget the increasing infill for Boulder, and build some nice homes on 1 acre lots and vegetable gardens and orchards in the country?  CLICK to enlarge, and then ZOOM:


What ashame to have this huge area off limits to development.  So much unnecessary air pollution, and so little thought given to aesthetics or human health. So little thought given to cyclists, runners, and other outdoors enthusiasts, and how they need hundreds of miles of interconnected trails.

Can Boulder’s problems be fixed. Of course. Build connecting trails, cancel the urban growth boundary, and watch housing prices stop rising, so that nobody has to commute from their affordable house in Longmont or Metro Denver.  Then, air pollution will decrease, and sunsets and the Front Range will be visible like it was when Dr. Bartlett arrived 40 years ago.

Destination Resorts: Another Solution

Clearly, the grid system in American cities is subject to increasing density with smart growth, since it’s easier to build multiple smart growth structures in such a system.  And, the grid system generally does not offer open significant space, and parks that are present tend to be rectangular or square in shape.  Again, the grid system with smart growth does not serve the needs of urban athletes.

Unfortunately, the grid system seems to be the favorite template for smart growth planners, such as Issaquah Highlands near Seattle (my photos here).

Many classic neighborhoods such as Bellevue, Washington offer curving streets, larger lots, and parks that follow the roads and natural features.  Destination resorts also follow a curving pattern, and  their features are often the opposite of smart growth.  Overall, destination resorts are marketing nature to prospective year round and temporary tenants. Therefore, they must retain elements of nature in order to sell and rent their  properties. A map of Sunriver near Bend, Oregon below shows many of the features of destination resorts:

1. Destination resorts (DR’s) offer trails and linear areas of open space, while smart growth may not.

2. DR’s maintain native vegetation, while timber companies who also serve as contractors clearcut timber before construction.

3. DR’s offer parks and golf courses as circular or other shapes with round edges, whereas smart growth may not.

4. DR’s offer more dead end streets, cul de sacs, medians with trees, and other features that homeowners prefer.

5. DR’s, per capita, offer more property designated for golf, skiing, birdwatching, hiking, biking, boating, and other outdoor activities.

Boulder could Build a Destination Resort and stop the commuting and air pollution

To solve the air pollution, heavy traffic, and long commutes, perhaps Boulder could build a destination resort on the edge of town.  This would help the economy and eliminate the ridiculous commutes to Boulder from Longmont, Superior, and other suburbs.

Overall, Boulder must make changes if it wants to stop going downhill and giving prospective residents sinusitis. By the way, I forgot to say that I had no sinusitis when I lived in Vegas, not once, but twice.

Here’s a map of the southern two thirds of Sunriver, Oregon. CLICK to ENLARGE and ZOOM:



2 comments on “(Jan. 17, 2011) Boulder Smart Growth: What Went Wrong? Can It Be Fixed?

  1. Jon

    Agree with you about Boulder and Denver, lots of air pollution and western Colorado is much nicer with less people and less pollution.I’m a student at Ft. Lewis College in Durango and that was an easy decision for me, coming from Manhattan. Boulder was too crowded and Durango was a pleasant surprise when my girlfriend and I took a road trip to Durango after visiting UC I changed my mind.

    • Tom Lane

      Durango is much nicer than Boulder. I wish that Ft. Lewis College had a graduate school, and I’d attend there in an instant!

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This entry was posted on 2010 by in Air Pollution, Boulder, Breckenridge, Durango and tagged .


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