Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Boulder envy

Students at the University of Colorado campus in Boulder face challenges students at many other universities do not, including my own. For example, last week a mountain lion was found on campus, forcing students to stand at some distance and snap cell-phone pictures until state wildlife officers could tranquilize it, put a tracking collar on it, and relocate it to the mountains. The problem is, you can walk to the mountains from campus, and so inevitably another lion will wander down. Indeed, a CU prof told me that they've got GPS collars on a number of mountain lions that frequent the edge of Boulder.

The mountains must themselves be a serious distraction for students. I was giving a graduate seminar today* in a room with a panormaic view of the Flatirons, and even though I was doing most of the talking, it was at times hard not to let my eyes drift off to the peaks. When my day was done, it was a quick walk along Boulder Creek to Settler's Park, past a sign warning about bears and lions, and on to trails that climb up over the city.

If easy access to trails isn't your thing, there are bicylce lanes and paths everywhere in this city - I can't imagine there is any other North American city with so many cyclists per capita. Boulder was rated the number one sports town in the US (that's participating in sports, not watching them), America's fittest city, one of the best cities for singles... it makes you wonder how anyone would have the time to do any studying here when they're having so much fun.

Boulder has a lot going for it in terms of its natural setting, but you have to give credit to the city planners as well. Beyond the bike paths, the city has given a lot of thought to quality of life issues. A long pedestrian-only stretch of Pearl Street is a central focus of the city, and it is lively, welcoming, and always busy. Ottawa's city planners should visit Pearl Street and reflect on our own city's sorry attempt at a pedestrian mall - the soulless and windy concrete canyon called Sparks Street. There is greenspace all over Boulder, with the banks of Boulder Creek having cycleways and paths. There are even ponds along Boulder Creek stocked with rainbow trout so that kids under 13 can practice fishing - talk about making sure there's something for everyone to do.

In all, it's no surprise that Boulder has also been ranked as America's happiest city. It's not all due to environment and planning - Boulder also happens to be a very wealthy and well-educated community, the university being the biggest employer. Just the same, I've visited a number of university towns that are unattractive and unappealing (no need to name them). All this to say, Boulder serves as an interesting model of the possibilities of what a well-planned city could be like. Urban planning students from other cities would be well-counselled to make a trip here and see for themselves.

*Many thanks to CU's Institute for Behavioral Studies for making my visit to Boulder possible.

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