10.09.2017 | Close to Home

Owning a home — that most lyrical of American symbols — has become the great divide among citizens: some of the older have done handsomely in the housing bazaar; many of the younger are face-to-face with harsh economic realities. Yet it is through the youth that we reimagine America. 

Member Monday (10/9) will focus on the push-pull dynamics underlying housing e.g. affordability, building regulation, gentrification, sustainability and, for that matter, growth itself. So many factors so little time, perhaps like trying to solve for four unknowns with only three simultaneous equations in your algebra class. Can’t be done but we’ll go crazy just trying.

Club member Joe de Raimes will be here to help us through it as our alpha-participant. You know Joe, Boulder’s former highly-esteemed City Attorney for twenty-four years, having since moved to and returned from Paris  (France, not Texas). He thus has street cred with some European seasoning.

Our discussion piece, “On the Bay Area Housing Crisis — how it happened and what we can do about it" (Link:

 On the Bay Area's housing crisis – how it happened and ... - Daily Kos)

is a kind of meditation on the San Francisco experience, yet the same sentiments could be applied to New York, Boston, Miami, and Denver. And Boulder. These “expensive” cities reflect the chokehold on growth since the 1970s through application of aggressive land use planning and building regulations. Others, the “expansive” cities, have managed to keep housing costs more in line as they benefit from newly-acquired relatively inexpensive peripheral land. There is a trade-off, of course. It's called urban sprawl. 

The author makes his “progressive” case from the outset, stating “we must build more housing, all kinds of housing, particularly affordable housing in urban and inner suburban neighborhoods even if existing residents do not welcome the change.” Fair enough. Such concentrated development does address many of the macro issues such as affordability, economic growth and equality, job mobility, and environmental impact.   

He bemoans the “hypocrisy” of the anti-growth progressives as they invoke maintenance of the neighborhood character in order to block development. He regards them as selfish. Such an exclusionary ideology, he suggests, seeks to prevent newcomers from enjoying a slice of the economic pie that existing residents enjoy. Is that it, really i.e. the desire to deny others? 

Maybe the issue should be reframed for what it really is -- the desire by owners to preserve what they (believe) they already own. So characterized, the discussion changes. It becomes one of ascertaining exactly what the private owner reasonably expects is possessed. That certainly goes beyond the tangible metes and bounds of the property. What about the intangibles? 

Does a city have a soul? Of course it does. It's what is slowly taken away each time new construction blocks another Flatiron view. Or a new wall emerges vertically from the ground in promise of a new city canyon. Or neighborhood infill that translates to hyperventilating traffic patterns. The soul may be intangible, perhaps, but no less real. It's part of the ownership package. To write it off as zero would itself be selfish. 

So how does one weigh that against the real and compelling demands of growth?

Steve SmithComment