When we recently compiled a list of the Best College Towns, based on 10 other lists, the towns that came out tops were Charlottesville, VA and Boulder, CO. Looking at Boulder, what does it have that makes it such a great place to live?
Boulder is a bigger town than Princeton, with a population of 97,385 compared to Princeton’s 28,572. However, these two figures tell something of a misleading story. Princeton has kept about the same population since 1970, by pushing new development into surrounding townships. Boulder has grown substantially in the same time period, but took the exact opposite approach to development by making it difficult to build suburban sprawl outside of the downtown area. In 1959, Boulder passed an ordinance called the ‘Blue Line’, which represented the boundary beyond which no water lines would be extended. This made it more difficult to develop the surrounding mountainsides, and protected the scenic beauty of the town’s Rocky Mountain backdrop.
Over 60,000 people have moved to Boulder since 1960. The town has a density of 3,947 people/sq mile– more than double the overall density of consolidated Princeton. These people don’t live in skyscrapers- a height limit restricted buildings to 55ft, and more recently to 35ft (with the possibility of up to 55ft when, for example affordable units are present).
In Boulder many measures have been enacted that make the town extremely livable. At the heart of the downtown, the Pearl Street Mall contains four blocks of stores and restaurants entirely dedicated to pedestrians. Cycling infrastructure has been prioritized to the extent that Boulder has the second-highest rate of bike commuting in the country. Boulder can boast 159 miles of on-street bike lanes and multi-use paths. Regarding the Boulder Creek trail, (pictured below) USA Today wrote: “bisecting this mountain town from East to West, the paved, 7.5-mile Boulder Creek Path epitomizes what makes Boulder one of the most active, outdoorsy cities in the country.”
Finally, Boulder has made substantive investments in transit, to the extent that getting around without a car is seen as a viable option. Perhaps as a consequence of low-density development, Princeton struggles to make buses work for the majority of people. Our FreeB service tends to drive around more-than-half empty.
In summary, many of the things that make Boulder great are associated with favoring walkability. Nobody wants to turn Princeton into Boulder, but it doesn’t hurt to look at policies that have worked well elsewhere and ask why we couldn’t implement them here.
Ever been to Boulder? Let us know in the comments!