The cure to your frustration: A ‘City of Opportunity’

Does this conversation sound familiar: “Both my kids grew up in Boulder. They now have good jobs, but neither of them can afford to live here. That really frustrates me.” That lack of housing opportunity frustrates me, too, and I don’t even have kids.

Historically, Boulder offered housing opportunities for a diversity of residents. Everyone from artists and teachers to budding entrepreneurs and business executives could find a home in our community. This diversity was our strength, instigating the creative collisions that are the root of our innovative spirit, and generating the eclectic vibe that attracted many a Volkswagen Microbus driver. Unfortunately, we’re at risk of losing this special community character due to misguided policymaking.

We need to reclaim our heritage as a City of Opportunity for all, creating possibilities to foster upward economic mobility, promote a more vibrant economy, and address important environmental sustainability issues.

One of the best predictors of social mobility and opportunity for success is where children grow up. A group called “Opportunity Insights,” formed at Harvard University to analyze data and promote policies that support local decision making, recently reported that children’s chances of earning more than their parents have generally declined due to the increasing economic stratification of neighborhoods across communities. The result is less access to safe neighborhoods that have better schools, other opportunity-building support and higher paying jobs.

Research from the International Monetary Fund on intercity mobility across the U.S. bolsters the Harvard finding by showing that cities that offer good job opportunities also tend to have higher housing costs. These costs discourage intercity migration for better employment. As a recent article in The Atlantic echoed, “Americans are having more and more trouble finding homes and apartments they can afford in the parts of the country where well-paid jobs are being created.”

We know Boulder needs to do better at creating a welcoming environment. Surveys showed that non-white residents perceive fewer employment options here than whites. Studies also disclosed a “small but persistent” lack of inclusion reported by under-represented community members and newcomers. Some of this attitude was attributed to the high cost of housing and access to basic living supplies — a condition that created a more homogenous, wealthy community.

But building more inclusive communities is not just a matter of social justice. It also creates opportunities to improve overall economic vitality. The Center for American Progress has cited a number of ways in which diversity contributes to successful outcomes in the business world, from broadening the employee base to driving more creative solutions to consumer needs. That’s in line with Boulder’s renowned culture of collaboration, driving innovation through productive collisions of creative people and ideas.

Similarly, creating a City of Opportunity also expands the options for more inclusive approaches to addressing environmental concerns that can yield scalable and systemic sustainability solutions. In particular, a new report by the Boulder-based Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, entitled “Growing Greener,” showed that creating opportunities for a more “compact and connected Boulder,” in large part by adjusting the policies of exclusion, will “help to address global warming, improve the quality of our air and water, and protect Colorado’s undeveloped areas from sprawling development.” Though some of the Growing Greener report’s conclusions would be a heavy lift for even the most staunch urbanist advocate, the central tenet —  that smart, compact growth promotes environmental goals —  is undeniable.

In light of the previously mentioned social and environmental realities, I find it ironic that a community that fancies itself to be “progressive” on so many issues promotes a number of exclusionary policies that inhibit diversity and social mobility. In the process, we also threaten our future economic vitality. I’m referring to policies such as restrictive zoning, high development fees that limit nonprofit and small business expansion and onerous regulations that preclude budding entrepreneurs from moving their ideas into action. Driving up prices in this manner creates artificial barriers for those with lower financial means to access our community. In this way, we’ve stifled our children’s future and made it harder for diverse groups to live in this wonderful place and enrich our society. 

I hope that doesn’t happen. We need to eschew exclusionism, often driven by fear of change. In the process, we can create better systemic solutions that secure a vibrant economy, a more socially equitable culture and a healthy environment. Let’s end the frustration by creating a true “City of Opportunity.”

John Tayer is president and CEO of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at 303- 442-1044, ext 110 or john.tayer@boulderchamber.com.

Does this conversation sound familiar: “Both my kids grew up in Boulder. They now have good jobs, but neither of them can afford to live here. That really frustrates me.” That lack of housing opportunity frustrates me, too, and I don’t even have kids.

Historically, Boulder offered housing opportunities for a diversity of residents. Everyone from artists and teachers to budding entrepreneurs and business executives could find a home in our community. This diversity was our strength, instigating the creative collisions that are the root of our innovative spirit, and generating the eclectic vibe that attracted many a Volkswagen Microbus driver. Unfortunately, we’re at risk of losing this special community character due to misguided policymaking.

We need to reclaim our heritage as a City of Opportunity for all, creating possibilities to foster upward economic mobility, promote a more vibrant economy, and address important environmental sustainability issues.

One of the best predictors of social mobility and opportunity for success is where children grow up. A group called “Opportunity Insights,” formed at Harvard University to analyze data and promote policies that support local decision making, recently reported that children’s chances of earning more than their parents have generally declined due to the increasing economic stratification of neighborhoods across communities. The result is less access to safe neighborhoods that have better schools, other opportunity-building support and higher paying jobs.

Research from the International Monetary Fund on intercity mobility across the U.S. bolsters the…