Has Boulder changed for the better?
Boulder seems to be all over the news these days. Either because of something in reference to the housing market or yet another “best of..” list. As an on-again-off-again Boulderite, I thought I would offer up my spin on the subject of how Boulder has changed over the years.
Aside from childhood visits, I first spent any real time in the city when I attended graduate school at CU almost 10 years ago (yikes!).
In some ways, I suppose I’m a typical Boulderite. After all, I’ve raced an Ironman, I eat kale salads, and I have prayer flags in my apartment that I picked up in a far-off Himalayan nation. Compared to the Boulder of my school days, some things have remained the same while others have changed considerably.
Something that hasn’t changed much is the relative level of fitness of us Boulderites. As of 2014, Boulder has the lowest obesity rate in the nation at 12.4%. And walking around town you’d be tempted to say that that percentage seems high.
In addition, I’ve stopped counting the number of times I’ve seen Boulder listed as a “best of” place to live. It’s a recognition that I’m quite proud of, to be honest. Boulder really is a lovely place to live.
After all, there is plenty to like if you’re an active person. The foothills are at your doorstep with plenty of hiking and trail running available. Cyclists have several canyons and road rides from which to choose. Race opportunities abound from triathlons to foot races to the controversial Naked Pumpkin Run. There’s something for everyone.
Lately, what many of us have been hearing about is how the area’s housing market has changed. This is where things start to get interesting. In November of last year, the average list price for a four bedroom, two bathroom home in Boulder crossed the $1 million mark(1). This earned the city an exclusive spot in the top 1% of the nation’s housing markets. Compare this to the state average of $418,344 and you can begin to see the growing disparity. And a quick survey of rental prices confirms that Boulder is becoming an expensive place to live.
Fanning the flames of the housing market is the startup scene. According to Inc Magazine, “As recently as 2013, Boulder was found to have the highest density of tech startups nationwide, according to a report from the Kauffman Foundation. It even housed twice as many companies per capita as San Jose, Calif., the No. 2 hub.” With roughly 3/4 of the population claiming a college degree, a unique mix of federal and private laboratories nearby, and a healthy venture capital scene, it’s not hard to see why Boulder has become such an attractive place for would-be founders to set up shop.
Walking down Pearl Street offers up a unique dichotomy: There is the usual crowd of shoppers and tourists filing in and out of Snooze and Topo Designs, but scattered in between the trendy shops and cafes are countless office spaces filled with heads-down millennials busy building their empires.
Consequently, Boulder has become a very competitive place. The rhythm of life here is almost akin to a two-sided coin. One side is about working all day every day whereas the other side is about making sure you can still get out to hike before work or go for that 30 mile bike ride in the early evening.
So, what does all of this mean?
Well, if you’re looking to buy a home in the area, you’ll probably spend more than you want to.
Alternatively, if your aim is to build a business or build valuable professional connections, Boulder is a great place to be. There is an ever-growing mix of interesting people pouring into the area, each bringing with them their unique backgrounds and worldviews. I’ve met a lot of unique people in the area and everyone has a story. And of these transplants, they are all so happy to be here. I think that’s a great thing. However, Boulder still struggles with a lack of economic and racial diversity. As home prices continue to rise and the tech industry grows, the working class is being pushed out.
Remember those bumper stickers that said “Keep Boulder Weird” ?Today’s version of Boulder isn’t entirely unrecognizable from the old. You can still grab an excellent latte almost anywhere in town, you can wear workout clothes just about anywhere (not saying you should! 🙂 ), and the Pearl Street Mall continues to be the best place to people watch and see just how weird the town still is. Overall, the weirdness may look a bit different these days than it did in the early 2000s, but it’s still there.
Boulder has certainly changed a lot in just the past 5 years and it will continue to change in the future. Into what, I don’t know, but it will be fun to watch.
(1) Men’s Journal: Is Everything better in Boulder