Nonprofits  January 3, 2023

2023 call to arms: Opportunity, responsibility

As a call to arms for actions in 2023, I offer that Boulder has the opportunity to creatively tackle some of society’s most challenging issues and the responsibility to develop model solutions that recognize our own contributing behaviors.

When I talk about “opportunity,” I begin with the creativity, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit that is unique to Boulder. Everything, from our wealth of research laboratories, startup business, artistic talent and progressive nature, points to qualities that allow us to test promising approaches to long-term challenges. We also have enviable access to financial resources — from research funding to tax revenue — to invest in experimentation.

When I speak of “responsibility,” I paraphrase the observations of a friend who disparaged the seeming hypocrisy of Boulder residents driving expensive Teslas and scapegoating supposed bad climate actors, yet failing to acknowledge our relatively high per capita greenhouse gas emissions rates. The solutions that Boulder pursues to any issue must entail commitments we are personally prepared to make in response to our own contributing behaviors, while also being in reach of individuals and communities with more limited means.

So how do these opportunity and responsibility principles apply to some of the most vexing issues our community must confront, head-on, in 2023?  

Homelessness: Boulder, along with many metropolitan areas, is facing a steep increase in our homeless population. Concern for the needs of the unhoused, coupled with the troubling negative impacts of rising homelessness — from trash and personal safety to criminal behavior — force us to act. Yet we must begin by acknowledging that homelessness is a complex challenge with no single magic solution, while also resisting the urge to scapegoat our unhoused population. 

As a recent Atlantic magazine report articulated, “The places people needed to move for good jobs stopped building the housing necessary to accommodate economic growth.” Boulder’s own strong economy is a magnet for a workforce that struggles to find housing, leaving some of our residents literally out in the cold. So, housing is a critical element of the solution. Additional social services to meet the needs of our unhoused population, while providing our law enforcement officials with the tools to combat misbehavior, also will make a difference. At the same time, we must be willing to take risks and experiment with innovative measures, like a day shelter and less confrontational approaches to engaging our unhoused population. 

Housing: The barriers to housing access are having tremendous negative impacts on business operations, community character, and as discussed above, the opportunity for individuals and families to meet their basic need for shelter. Without more housing, businesses will continue to struggle in their search for a talent pipeline. Further, a community without affordable housing does not offer a welcoming environment to the full diversity of our workforce. 

We won’t turn the corner on meeting our housing needs, though, until we tackle our history of barriers to affordable housing development. Extensive review and permitting periods, along with outright zoning and regulatory limits on housing development, borne of a general disdain for a more compact and populous community, all contribute to the problem. Let’s root out these obvious hurdles, while also giving license to our creative development professionals to experiment in the pursuit of innovative workforce housing solutions.

Climate Protection: A recent New York Times report shared data finding that “[h]igher-income households generate more greenhouse gases” because of the stuff we buy and the trips we take. I offer this not as a basis for shame, but simply to acknowledge the very personal dilemma we face in the search for solutions, particularly as they pertain to our own comforts. Additionally, as the recent UN Climate Summit recognized, it is elitist to focus on greenhouse gas emitting activities in developing countries, when our lifestyles are by far the greatest contributor to global warming. 

Fortunately, Boulder also is in a strong position to offer solutions to the climate crisis that stretch far beyond our borders. According to a recent analysis, Boulder has more “green” startups per capita than any other U.S. city. We’ve also taxed ourselves to invest in these technologies and are home to a business community that is eager to collaborate. Let’s put those resources and innovations to work in helping our businesses and residents serve as models for attainable climate protection solutions. 

There may be other top issues of concern on your list. Regardless, for 2023, let’s seize the opportunity and responsibility in generating model solutions for an even happier New Year and beyond. 

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.

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