Boulder City Council driven by fear

Op-ed originally printed in the Boulder Daily Camera on 12/16/2018.

Several times in recent months, the Boulder City Council has proposed far-reaching building moratoriums with little evidence of need and with very little public process.

A moratorium on building large homes on residential lots. A moratorium on building new housing in business zones after a rumored redevelopment of the partly-empty Base-Mar Shopping Center. A moratorium on redevelopment of an “opportunity zone” that includes the long-distressed Diagonal Plaza.

Rather than setting a vision for local policy to help Boulder adjust to change and economic conditions, the City Council’s actions show a reactive group that fears a changing city.

After scheduling an emergency vote to limit large houses in Boulder, City Council backed off from its original proposal after significant community pushback. The measure would have disallowed new homes greater than 3,500 square feet, without any plan to address the root problems of large homes or affordable housing shortages in Boulder’s neighborhoods. Rather, our city leaders need to bring proactive ideas to address our problems. For instance, council members Jill Adler Grano and Bob Yates countered with a proposal to require large homes to contribute to Boulder’s affordable housing fund.

The newly-updated accessory dwelling unit ordinance should be used as a tool to create incentives for smaller homes affordable to a wider range of potential owners in our community. We should allow homeowners with larger lots to split the lot and build a smaller, additional home. Council should embrace ideas like duplexes and triplexes, which are not legal in most of Boulder’s residential areas, to serve younger families or older couples wishing to downsize and still afford to live in town. The fear of change in our neighborhoods drives a policy that doesn’t plan for a future of diverse housing needs.

On Tuesday, City Council will consider an updated proposal for changes to business zoning districts that would have banned any use of housing on first-floor properties. As the Camera reported, the proposal was “brought forward by city councilwomen Cindy Carlisle and Mirabai Nagle, who were concerned about the possibility of student housing being built at Base-Mar Shopping Center.” The moratorium was a reaction to make a particular project unviable rather than proactively planning for change that the neighborhood and city might want. We could take the opportunity to create more 15-minute neighborhoods and a better bikeable and walkable community, and establish permanently affordable retail space. Instead, members of City Council moved to preserve still-vacant buildings occupied just 12 months ago by Whole Foods, The Egg & I, Everyone’s Hair, and Beau Jo’s Pizza. While the new proposal has since become less extreme, the council still lacks a vision to move our city forward in a rapidly changing retail environment. The fear of change in neighborhood retail drives a policy that clings onto shopping centers that no longer meet the needs of the community.

City Council will also make policy regulating the opportunity zone, a status meant to encourage investment in lower-income areas. Boulder applied for an opportunity zone that includes Diagonal Plaza, a strip mall in serious disrepair. City Council pushed to halt possible redevelopment. From Councilman Sam Weaver’s council Hotline email, he proposes a development moratorium until “each zone district in the OZ has been reviewed under the current Use Table Review project” and no office space be allowed until “a sub-community plan is in place.” If you have visited Diagonal Plaza recently, you may agree it is an area in great need of redevelopment. The massive, empty parking lot along with a number of vacant businesses could serve as a terrific place for a mix of housing, retail and office space, creating a modern walkable community. The North Boulder Subcommunity Plan took 10 years to complete — how long must our city wait to make progress on desperately needed priorities outlined in the Comprehensive Plan? Instead, council members criticized the city manager for accepting opportunity zone status which would bring federal subsidies into Boulder — a move that is in the best interest of the city. The fear that tax incentives will aid redevelopment drives Council to tighten regulations and resist needed change.

Our city government has enormous control over the way that Boulder will change over the long-term. We need a council that will be looking forward instead of fighting change that is inevitable.

Eric Budd is a former candidate for City Council and former chair of the Boulder Landmarks Board. He is a current member of the Better Boulder Executive Committee. Twitter: @ericmbudd.

What I learned from six months of wearing a Twitter-handle nametag

For the past six months, I’ve consistently worn a nametag with my Twitter handle @ericmbudd proudly displayed next to the cerulean blue Larry Twitter bird, running a live experiment on social circles and network effects.

Screenshot 2016-01-12 00.45.58

I sent artwork to Nametag Ninja, who for $13.38 shipped me a permanent magnetic nametag that I planned to wear everywhere.

My experiment seems like a proper follow-up to my previous view that “Facebook is the suburbs while Twitter is the city,” and now gives me an opportunity to build on some of Twitter’s advantages in a dense, urban, and creative-filled environment like Boulder, ColoradoInitially I had skepticism and nervousness about changing a social norm but realized I must embrace the decision for a proper test.

Places I have worn the nametag: public events like meetups and Ignite Boulder, larger private events, public meetings (Boulder city council), job interviews, coffee shops, and even my fifteen-year high school reunion (@MattSebek was impressed, which is cool because he’s way more Twitter famous than I am). I chose not to wear the nametag at work, for political and company-policy reasons, and at smaller gatherings meant to be private or semi-private, which are more focused on intimate relationships than public dialogue, or where I might call undue attention to myself. [edit 2017-01-27: I’ve been wearing my Twitter nametag at my new jobs since February 1st 2016. Definitely a mixing of public and private life that I’ve come to embrace]

Breakdown of responses:

  • “Do you work for twitter?” (“no”) – most common question
  • “What is that?” (usually followed by me asking the person “are you on Twitter?” with a common response of “no”)
  • “Why the nametag?” (“it’s a bit of a social experiment”)
  • “Do you wear that thing everywhere?” (“yes”)
  • “Nice to meet you @ericmbudd
  • “Oh you totally follow me on Twitter”
  • “Oh we met at…”
  • “Oh I think you favorited my tweet”
  • “I think I know you from Twitter. You’re always blowing up my feed.”

After wearing the nametag a few weeks, I realized I wouldn’t see a large shift in my Twitter or in-person experiences. Since the most common response to the nametag was “do you work for Twitter?”, unfortunately people did not intuitively understand my intent. And while about 560 people followed me on Twitter during the trial period, only a single person followed me directly due to the nametag (which she did on her phone mid-conversation upon first meeting). However, five to twenty people followed me indirectly due to the nametag: either by starting or furthering a conversation, or clearly identifying that I used Twitter and could be followed.

What did I hope the nametag would accomplish?

Having people I met follow me was not itself a goal. I see Twitter as a network of people more related by interests rather than an explicit physical or geographical connection. My goal was to enhance Twitter as a tool to build networks. By wearing a nametag, I wanted to invite conversation. By wearing a Twitter nametag, I also wanted to invite online conversation, and signify that our discourse could be public, inclusive, and continuing. I wanted to connect in-person people with an online network of others talking about topics we found interesting. And on several occasions I met people in person after only having known them on Twitter. I benefited from having the nametag both online and in person.

But I also got the benefits of wearing a nametag in general (via @BrianLehman): people knowing my name, and not ever getting embarrassed if they had forgotten or couldn’t instantly recall it. During the time period I also saw people running for elected office wearing nametags to great effect, and thought how powerful it might be to instantly follow up with someone online after meeting.

Screenshot 2016-01-12 00.13.40.png
Online network effects magnify in-person networks.

So what else did I learn?

Can a Twitter nametag help replace a business card? Absolutely, if interests are aligned. A business card might be useful for connecting with a person for a specific intent, but following someone on Twitter can lead to future ideas, conversations, or projects.

It helps to be up front: “Cool, I’ll check out your profile and might give you a follow.” Some people guard their feeds closely and may resist following new people who don’t align with what they want to read regularly. But putting people on a Twitter list can be a great alternative; I suggest building lists either based around geographic location or centered on a subject matter, like my list of “urbanists.” I try to put as many people as possible on relevant lists that I read, even if I don’t have an immediate connection in mind.

Does the idea of Twitter nametags scale? Probably; I benefitted from the fame of being the only person using a Twitter nametag, in a similar way that REI did with its #OptOutside campaign rejecting Black Friday. But what would happen if every Twitter user had one? Would the effect of increased interactions scale for the typical person? I’m curious. Could Twitter make advantage of the fear of missing out‘, and drive more users to its service?

Is there a business case for Twitter mailing nametags to all of its users? (from @isaach). I’ll leave rigorous analysis of the question to another article, but I think possibly, given some caveats: the people who would benefit most would live in a dense city that has lots of engaged users, with lots of people interested in connecting and learning with others.

Downsides or concerns

A few caveats to think about if you decide to make your own Twitter nametag:

  1. The nametag may drive too much meta conversation about Twitter.
  2. Some people pick Twitter handles that are not ideal due to scarcity of name options, prompting a user to add their name or pseudonym to their nametag as well.
  3. The perception that you are trying to brand yourself. (Some people might be and others might not be)
  4. The potential to intimidate others, particularly if they know you have a large, engaged following that might bring unwanted attention.
  5. The idea that people can’t talk to you about private topics because you might be very focused on public conversations.

And perhaps most importantly, wearing a nametag requires complete comfort with a public presence anywhere and anyplace. To make public posts on the internet largely without recourse is a privilege that many (or most?) people do not have, or may not think they have. A Twitter nametag can magnify the fear of putting one’s self fully into the public eye. But hopefully more people will be willing to try an expanded digital public presence.

Continue this conversation by chatting with @ericmbudd on Twitter.

Occupancy Limit Enforcement Targets the Economically Vulnerable

On Tuesday September 15th, Boulder city council will review a proposed ordinance to increase enforcement on housing occupancy limit violations, adding two city staff and raising fines for violations. But increased enforcement of the occupancy laws only serves to displace at-risk members of the community and reduce a substantial amount of the city’s affordable housing.

As the Denver Post reported in April, Colorado’s housing prices increased 9.8% over the past year, the fastest pace in the nation, but wages have not risen nearly as quickly. Higher prices continue to put stress on Boulder residents at lower income levels. Living in housing over occupancy is often a solution to reduce monthly rents; this policy further punishes people living in this condition who will now have increased risk of eviction and costly fines. The proposed changes target the economically vulnerable and disproportionately targets renters.

The occupancy limits themselves are arbitrary, and do not apply to families related by blood, marriage, or legal adoption. Occupancy enforcement limits people’s way of living rather than punishing a particular behavior. The city should not concern itself with the makeup of a home or family, but specifically address actual concerns raised — the real issues are parking, traffic, noise or trash violations.

While Boulder has stated housing goals of increasing affordable housing and reducing the city’s carbon footprint, increasing occupancy enforcement works directly against those goals. By best estimates, several thousand people in the city live over-occupied, who would have significantly increased costs if displaced from their current housing. And more people occupying a house can reduce the carbon footprint per capita, factoring in food, transportation, and energy costs: all part of the city’s stated goals.

I ask the city council to reconsider changes that will harm lower-income members of our community.
Eric Budd
Boulder, Colorado


In July, I spoke on occupancy limits at Ignite Boulder.