Why ‘smart growth’ and ‘slow growth’ are oxymorons — Cosima Krueger-Cunningham

Daily Camera, Boulder, CO
POSTED:   01/17/2015 07:53:24 PM MST

Boulder City Manager Jane Brautigam has now granted public access to the controversial real estate developers’ group that has enjoyed 10 years’ worth of behind-closed-doors access to city planning and building services staff over the same time period that controversial growth and development has mushroomed apparently out of control in Boulder. Here in the Camera and elsewhere Boulder residents have recently expressed fear and outrage that growth in Boulder is now apparently beyond the control of both the Planning Board and the City Council, the two official bodies that should be exercising appropriate and needed restraints over growth to the benefit of the tax-paying Boulder residents who elected them and in deference to the growth-limiting parameters outlined in the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan.

Does Ms. Brautigam’s action end the controversy? More importantly, does her action solve either of the root problems expressed by Boulder residents here in the Camera concerning a) unwanted and out-of-control growth in Boulder and b) the apparent unwillingness or inability of the city to rein it in appropriately?

Why should population growth in Boulder matter? Why should the rate of population growth in Boulder matter? And why should there be any constraints at all on population growth in Boulder?

Over the past 60 years, Boulder’s population has doubled, not once but twice. It has, in fact, quadrupled over that period of time. Specifically, Boulder went from a population of 25,000 residents to 50,000 residents in one 30-year doubling time. It went from a population of 50,000 residents to over 100,000 residents in another 30-year doubling time. These doubling times occurred at the “modest” population growth rate of approximately 2.33 percent per year.

My guess is that during the past five to 10 years, Boulder’s population growth rate has accelerated beyond this historic 2.33 percent per year growth rate. If you include Boulder’s approximately 60,000 current daily in-commuters in Boulder’s daytime population, it certainly has. If you include the 1,500 new Google employees and their families, it certainly will. If Boulder’s effective daytime population is currently 160,000 people — leaving out the Google employees who haven’t moved here yet — the next doubling time will take Boulder to an effective daytime population of 320,000 people!

Will the next doubling of Boulder’s population take 30 years or will it happen sooner than that? I leave it to you to do the math based upon your best estimates of how fast the current real estate development frenzy and willy-nilly economic development booms are actually proceeding. If Boulder’s current growth rate is still only 2.33 percent per year, which is doubtful, Boulder’s effective daytime population can be predicted to double to 320,000 people in 30 years. If Boulder’s current growth rate is 3 percent per year you’re looking at a doubling time of 23 years. If Boulder’s current growth rate leaps by “only” one percentage point, to 3.33 percent per year, get ready for 320,000 people — 160,000 additional people — wedged into Boulder’s already over-crowded urban landscape in only 21 years from now.

Part of the outrage that Boulder residents should rightly feel about out-of-control growth and development stems from the way in which development proposals have been fast-tracked through the Planning Board while comprehensive development impact data has been denied to Boulder residents who, typically, only find out about such approvals and their negative impacts after the fact.

Another part of the outrage that Boulder residents should rightly feel comes from the fact that this development is not likely to pay more than a fraction of its own way. It will have unintended negative consequences — some foreseeable and some coming as unwelcome surprises. For example, we’ve been told that our water and sewer rates are going up, up, up. How much of these rate increases are actually tied to the costs of upgrading aging and flood-damaged infrastructure and how much are tied to hidden costs of accommodating new development? What about the cost-of-doing-business fees that real estate developers pay the city to obtain waivers from the public-safety and quality-of-life ordinances with which ordinary citizens must still comply? And what proof is there for the claim that increased population growth — masquerading behind euphemisms such as “density” and “infill” or, more accurately, “over-crowding” — will somehow magically solve traffic congestion in a city in which the majority of residents aren’t ready to give up their cars (electric, hybrid or otherwise) anytime soon?

The population numbers and negative impacts of over-development speak for themselves.

Cosima Krueger-Cunningham is a Boulder native.