Time to Think about Boulder for a Moment


Tim O'Shea asked my thoughts about Boulder and the upcoming election. It boils down to this:

  1. Elect people who listen, engage with the community, and want to make things better
  2. Change is going to happen. Be thoughtful. Make the change about "how can we improve [x]," and not about "how can we stop [x]."

the long memoir version

My earliest memory is of living in Boulder. (We moved here when I was two, and except for a couple of years, I've lived here throughout my entire life). When you've lived in one place for most of your life, you get used to the inevitable fact that things change. With luck all this time also brings with it some empaty about its impacts on the community. So when Tim O'Shea asked my thoughts on the upcoming municipal ballot (via Twitter!) I decided the answer deserved more than 140 characters.

Before we begin, I should warn you that our political views aren't going to align. I'm very unique (but then again, you probably are, too!) and I don't fit into any of the "political party" checkboxes. I can't think of a single issue about which I can describe myself as "for" or "against." My answer is always "it's complicated." Well, if you're thinking about these issues, it's probably complicated for you, too. I'm pretty sure we aren't that different, even though we might have different philosophies.

My views are (necessarily) biased based on my experiences. They're based on what it was like to be an 8 year-old in Boulder in the 1970s, and what it's like to have an 8 year-old here now - with an appreciation of how different those things are. I've started 6 companies (3 before "startup" was a term -- or a community here), with results ranging from very successful to phenomenal failure, but between (and often overlapping) these, I also worked at or near minimum wage as: a 9-1-1 dispatcher, a paramedic, and firefighter. I've run a 9-1-1 center, worked in a 2,000 person company, and spent more than a decade as an undergraduate at CU. Throughout this journey, I've been friends with many different people who live (or work, but can't afford to live) in Boulder.

I've seen a huge number of elections, decisions, initiatives, ideas, etc. over the past few decades, and I don't think I can point to any of them and call them "good" or "bad." But for the sake of delivering some sort of response to Tim, I'll take a swing at what I think would make Boulder "better."

I think that government can do amazingly wonderful and productive things, and also disastrous and hurtful things. If there's any single idea that differentiates the two, I think it's the difference between "how can we improve [x]" and "how can we stop [x]." When we tell our neighbors, the people of our communities, and people outside of our communities what they can't do, because we need to stop something, the results are usually negative. (I'm not saying we shouldn't have laws against assault or drunk driving, of course, but I think people of the "stop" mentality are more often trying to stop others from doing something of which they disapprove, rather than because it causes harm.) 

This "improve vs. stop" mentality also manifests in the personality of the politicians themselves. I'm never going to find candidates who agree with me on everything (or even most things). It turns out, that's ok with me. But in any relationship (and governing one's peers is certainly a relationship!) it's tremendously important to be heard. I would rather elect people with whom I disagree, but who are willing to hear, empathize, and consider my point of view over people with whom I might be more aligned, but who are distant. Especially in our small town, there's no reason why our local government can't be one of open communication and consensus or compromise. So who do I vote for? I'm not exactly sure, nor am I here to endorse anyone directly today, but I'll give you a hint: the ones who have engaged with me by e-mail, in person, or via Twitter will get my votes. I get five votes, and I still have two openings. If more than 5 candidates have engaged with me, I'll look more deeply into their platforms. Ultimately, engagement is more important to me than agreement.

Given that you've gotten this far, I feel like I owe you at least one concrete position on an issue. It's the easy, low-hanging fruit issue, but I'll pick it anyway. I'm opposed to 300. More than any other issue, this is so clearly and obviously a case of the "stop people from [x]" side of government. I might have mentioned before that Boulder has changed a lot. In preparation for writing this, I rode my bike around a little extra today and visited some of my old homes from growing up. A couple of them had "Yes on 300" signs. The houses were also unrecognizable as they've been enlarged or remodeled or scraped dramatically since I lived there. So you want to power to keep your neighbors from doing the very thing from which you've already benefitted? That doesn't seem compassionate at all. I'm not saying we should (or can) build everywhere. But we as a city should decide what kind of city we want. That's already contentious enough without fighting about it block-by-block.

So what that this really mean? For me, it means that we should accept that change is inevitable, and that Boulder can't be the city it was in 1970. Or 1984. Or 1997. Or any other point in time. It's a living organism, made up of all of us, and we should work together to make the change thoughful.

By the way, you probably got here after I did. Welcome! I'm glad you're here! Let's make some more people feel welcome. Especially people who are different from us.