October 13, 2009

How to Save the Planet, One Boulder at a Time. ~ via Fenno Hoffman

Boulder City Council Candidate, Fenno Hoffman, Discusses Boulder’s Regional Impact.

Boulder’s per capita carbon footprint is above the national average.

Despite our internal efforts to be Green, we export the majority of our 97,000 workers to affordable housing that’s scattered all over the region. We refuse to house most working families, preferring to protect our small town character, mountain views and easy motoring. Those are all valid choices to make; Boulder has some beautiful neighborhoods and great views, but all that driving and suburban living has huge impacts on our city, our region and our daily lives. 95% of us drive everywhere, all the time (average 2.5 hrs/day/family). That makes Boulder about as Green as most American cities, and much less Green than most other cities on Earth. We can do better.

Note that European cities, in the middle of graph below, balance quality of life with efficient use of energy. For centuries, European cities, towns, villages and hamlets have survived without oil, or anything like suburban sprawl. They are still less dependent on cars, trucks and driving than American cities, which makes them more “sustainable” in a post peak-oil world. As cheap oil gets expensive and scarce, American cities will begin restructuring our post-war, oil dependent settlement patterns. The suburban mortgage crisis is the beginning of this change, correcting an inefficient market.

Some people call the last hundred years: “The Age of Stupid.” We have become addicted to oil, are rapidly depleting that resource and causing Global Warming, all at once. Climate scientists say we must cap global warming at +2° C by 2015 and reduce American consumption by 90% by 2060, to avoid tipping points that could spiral Global Warming out of control. What the hell are we doing?

We must change the character of the neighborhood. When we imagine our future in the post peak oil world, we can study European settlement patterns for examples of compact, efficient and beautiful precedents. Boulder can redefine itself, transforming inefficient, exclusive, suburban, sprawl, into a collection of efficient, inclusive, compact neighborhoods with thriving economies, healthy environments and a higher quality of life than we have today.

Repairing sprawl is the greatest endeavor mankind has ever undertaken. Cheap oil made a big mess fast. Restoring our communities can begin in our neighborhoods, by introducing compact, affordable, walkable, mixed-use development, along transit routes, to bring people and destinations closer together, ideally within walking distance, just like traditional European settlements have done for centuries.

Repairing sprawl means adding “density” to specific places in existing suburban development to change places designed for cars, into places designed for people. “Density” isn’t a fad. (Suburban sprawl is a fad.) “Density” began when humans came out of the trees. “Density” is one result of people sharing scarce resources to live efficiently and well. Density varies to establish the character of neighborhoods, hamlets, villages, towns and cities. Today, “Density” means bringing people and their daily destinations closer together, so we can walk to what we need and visit friends and family, by foot, bike, bus or train – or by driving. “Density” provides more choices, in housing, transportation, social life and work. “Density” can improve our quality of life, but only if it’s done just right.

Changing the character of some parts of our neighborhoods allows us to bring extended families and friends closer to schools, shops, parks, jobs and each other. When people & destinations are within a five minute walk, people can choose to be healthy, social and more physically fit, as part of everyday life. It used to be that way.

The “character” of our neighborhoods isn’t just about house sizes, it’s also about how welcoming we are to all the people in our daily lives. “Inclusiveness” and “diversity” start at home. Density brings different incomes and lifestyles together because there is more choice, for more people, to find places where they fit. Boulder can be more inclusive, more affordable, more beautiful and more fun, but we have to change the character of our neighborhoods and ourselves, to provide more housing choice and welcome a wider range of lifestyles than we welcome today. It’s a choice.

Generally compacting ourselves into walkable hamlets, villages, towns and cities, instead of monocultural sprawl, will use our limited and expensive global and local resources more efficiently, reducing the cost of every “lifestyle” and increasing the quality of everyone’s life. Boulder can redefine itself for the next several hundred years and become an innovative model that exports true sustainability, to our region and our planet.

Fenno Hoffman is a candidate for Boulder City Council pursuing practical, long term solutions for the persistent structural problems and impacts of suburban sprawl that the Boulder region can no longer afford to subsidize. For more information, please visit Fenno Hoffman’s campaign website.

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