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Friday November 27th 2015

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That's what she said

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This Law Cannot Be Repealed


Panorama Heights Subdivision (center), 19th (left) to 26th (right), circa 1955. (Carnegie Library)

Recent news stories have told about the Boulder City Council acting to reduce speaking times from 3 minutes to 2 minutes for citizens wishing to address the Council at public meetings. This is a symptom of a deep illness, yet the reports indicated that the Council members addressed the symptom and not the illness. The illness is overpopulation; the symptom is the large number of people seeking to speak at meetings of the Council. The Council’s action is like prescribing aspirin for cancer.

In 1950 the population of Boulder was approximately 20,000 and there were 9 members of the Council. In 2011 Boulder’s population is approximately 100,000 and there are still just 9 members of the Council. Today there are five times as many constituents per member of the Council as there were 60 years ago. As a consequence, we have only one fifth of the democracy that we had 60 years ago. One can guess that today there are about 5 times as many people wanting to speak to Council on any given issue as there were 60 years ago. Today’s crowded Council agendas and reduced speaking time per citizen are the direct consequence of actions of past Councils promoting population growth in Boulder, yet there was no hint in the news stories that any member of the Council identified continued population growth as being the driving force behind the Council’s need to reduce democracy in Boulder.

As we look around Boulder we see new constructions of homes, apartments, condos and other buildings, all approved by the Council These constructions are intended to increase Boulder’s population, to move Boulder farther away from sustainability and to further reduce democracy in Boulder.

Ironically, the current Council has made sincere and earnest efforts to advance the cause of sustainability in Boulder, yet these new constructions that dilute democracy also move Boulder away from the goal of sustainability as is indicated by the First Law of Sustainability: “You cannot sustain population growth; you cannot sustain growth in the rates of consumption of resources.”

This Law cannot be repealed.

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2 Responses to “This Law Cannot Be Repealed”

  1. Zane Selvans says:

    I couldn’t agree more with you about the absurdity of “sustainable” growth in a global context, but that’s not the same thing as regional migration. It’s much less resource intensive to house the same number of people in good, human-scale, dense cities (like Boulder could be) vs. in McMansion Exurbs or rural communities. We aren’t creating new people to live in Boulder — they’re coming from elsewhere and therefore not living in those other places, so whatever impacts they have here are substituting for the impacts they would have had wherever they came from. We should do our best to minimize those impacts, by making Boulder dense, geographically compact, and unfriendly to additional motor vehicle traffic, while pleasant for pedestrians, bicycles, and mass transit.

    I’m also very skeptical of the notion that the “amount” of democracy one has is so intrinsically linked to the number of citizens per representative. I think it’s much more bound up in the structure and independence of the democratic institutions. I’ve been to plenty of public meetings, and the public comments seem always to be a farce. By the time you’re at the podium, the decision has already been made. If your democracy is functioning well, it’s been made through a process that did a good job of integrating community feedback. Public comments at the podium (whether it’s 60 or 90 seconds per person) are at best a last-ditch effort. You can punish council for a bad decision by keeping them up until 2am with comments, but I’ve never seen the substance of those comments really get integrated. And frankly, I have a hard time blaming elected representatives for largely ignoring that variety of public comment. Often it’s uninformed, sometimes to the point of crazy, and even when it’s not, it ends up being repetitive, and over-representing the people who have the luxury of taking time off from work or childcare to attend the meeting. Deliberative citizen juries, like the ones Vancouver uses seem to work well though. I wonder if Boulder would be open to exploring that option?

  2. […] Boulder Blue Line has a short post entitled This Law Cannot be Repealed by Albert Bartlett, who is an emeritus professor […]

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