Other city leaders’ advice to Boulder: Confront ‘affordability,’ better relations with CU

| Sep 29, 2009


ADVICE FOR BOULDER. Left to right on panel: Madison Mayor Dave Cielewicz; Chris Wilson, professor of Cultural Landscape Studies at University of New Mexico; Phil Keisling, former Oregon secretary of state; and Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland

BOULDER — Affordable housing, transportation, town and gown relations and economic worries. Familiar issues to most of us in Colorado, and certainly here in Boulder. And on a recent evening, four leaders from cities with a “kindred” relation to Boulder came here to share their own political experiences and offer up a bit of advice.

Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz (it’s easier to just call him Mayor Dave than try to pronounce his name – chess LEV ich); Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland; former Oregon Secretary of State Phil Keisling, discussing Portland; and Chris Wilson, a professor of Cultural Landscape Studies at the University of New Mexico with views on Santa Fe joined a public forum on “Insights from Kindred Communities” as part of Boulder’s Sesquicentennial celebration.

At the end of an engaging hour and a half discussion, several points stood out in my mind:

* Portland, in ways Boulder sometimes tries to emulate, has a national reputation of being a “green” city. Its urban landscape is easy to navigate with public transportation, and that attracts a young, mobile population, Keisling said. Unfortunately, many come looking for jobs. And since the recession hit, the city has had to question its efforts for economic growth. “Green” has not yet translated to “jobs,” and Oregon’s unemployment has soared to nearly 12 percent, the second highest in the U.S. after Michigan. Metro Portand’s jobless ranks have swelled faster than most major cities.

* Madison, home to the University of Wisconsin, often draws comparisons to Boulder, home to the University of Colorado. Also similar to Boulder, Madison is sometimes called “55 square miles surrounded by reality.” Today, Madison has expanded to 77 square miles. “Madison is growing, reality is shrinking,” he said.

* Aspen Mayor Ireland talked about how many of his city’s wealthy residents “come from a lot of achievement,” and with his short two-year mayoral term, “It’s difficult to govern.” How many people does it take to change a light bulb in Aspen? he asked. 10. One to change the bulb, and nine to reminisce about how good of a bulb it was.

* Santa Fe’s devotion to cultivating its identity of historic preservation and maintaining a strong tourism base with museums and art do have drawbacks, Wilson noted. He said there is an overriding “ambivalence” to other business development and ideas that could attract jobs.

At the end of the evening, all four leaders reluctantly offered up words of caution to the city that has celebrated its 150th birthday this past year. Panel moderator Patty Limerick, faculty director for the Center of the American West, asked the panelists for what advice they could leave. All seemed impressed by Boulder’s scenic foothills beauty and devotion to open space policies.

“Respect how important the university is to you,” Madison Mayor Cieslewicz told the audience. Much like Madison, he said, “You wouldn’t be Boulder if you didn’t have the university.”

Wilson urged people to consider that “green” may not be the only factor in “sustainability.” New urban designs, perhaps more dense but keeping amenities close and allowing residents to get around without a car, will start to make a lot of sense in the age of “peak oil.”

The most urgent opinion came from Aspen’s Ireland.

“There’s no Western fantasy,” he said. No one will ride to a city’s rescue for affordable housing. Developers, he said, are not going to buy $500,000 lots and put in affordable duplexes for schoolteachers.

If a city does not have a place for people to live with median incomes of $40,000, it runs a great danger. “You will have a university, but will you be a community?”

“Where is the vitality? Where is the heart?” he said. “You need to confront that.”

And speaking from what is Colorado’s most expensive city to live, he probably should know.