Does Dense Make Sense

Sean KendallDevelopment

DoesDenseMakeSense  (<<== Click here for PLAN Boulder paper)

Boulder has a residential population density greater than Denver – and is 40% more dense than peer cities like Palo Alto, California and Madison, Wisconsin. Still, there are calls by some for much greater density in Boulder. The public debate about increasing Boulder’s density has been emotional and rife with misinformation. A comprehensive analysis of the facts surrounding density and growth in Boulder is desperately needed. This PLAN-Boulder County report examines density and growth from four important aspects: regional transportation, greenhouse gas generation, adequate public services, and affordable housing. It reaches the following conclusions:

1. Transportation problems require transportation solutions. Transportation, especially commuting, is a regional issue. Dual-worker households, housing choice, frequent job changes, and the artificially low price of commuting all influence where people choose to live. More density would have little effect on the volume of commuting to and from Boulder and could exacerbate the problem.

2. We cannot build our way out of climate change. Adding population to Boulder will add to our total carbon footprint. New, dense, residential development in appropriate areas would consume less operational energy than detached residential units of similar size and construction, but these reductions are partially offset by the embodied energy in the new buildings and in buildings demolished to make way for new construction. Even if all of Boulder’s growth were in dense, multifamily, attached housing, doubling Boulder’s population would still increase our GHG emissions 150 to 170%.

3. Growth must pay its own way. Data show that density has caused a degradation of public services and facilities. Without an Adequate Public Facilities ordinance or similar measures, more erosion of public services and facilities can be expected.

4. Density does not equal affordability. Aggressive government intervention is required to ensure that increasing density provides affordable housing. Increases in development intensity by upzoning have historically resulted in windfalls to developers rather than greater housing affordability.