In defense of Boulder

Posted in Society at 23:05 by RjZ

Toy Boulder

If you’ve spent any time in or near Boulder, Colorado, you’ve probably heard all the jokes. Most of them center around the idea that Boulder is so liberal that the people are out of touch. In mostly conservative Colorado they say Boulder is surrounded on all sides by reality.

If you actually live here, though, you quickly get the idea, that Boulderites rather enjoy their reputation but that they’re not doing a great job earning it. Boulder citizens are proud of being liberal, environmentally aware, athletic, and spiritually tolerant. The disappointing reality is that amongst the Subarus, there is no shortage of giant SUVs and gas-guzzling trucks. Boulder’s authorities recently published a statistic that 20% of the city rides bicycles to work, but that laughable claim is easily discredited on any morning. There just aren’t four cars for every bike on the road. Maybe more like forty! I saw many more bikes in Santa Cruz than here.

Boulderites are pretty well-off and many have traveled far and seen a bit of the world. There are more tibetan prayer flags here than I ever saw in Nepal. And they’re proud of this reputation for worldliness and tolerance, but I’ve heard wiccans sneer curses at secularists and atheists during a coffeehouse poetry reading and noticed all the heads turn when a black face walks on stage because one really only rarely sees black people in Boulder.

Today, though, I realized something. I noticed for almost hundredth time that there are quite a few panhandlers in this small city. Most every corner downtown has a man or a woman, some clean cut, some in dreads, some with packs just a few feet behind, and some with dogs wagging tails and looking up affectionately at their sign holder/providor. How can a city of under 100,000 people support so many panhandlers? Denver is not far away; don’t your odds of cars actually stopping to hand over lunch money seem a lot better when there are more people around?

The truth is, for all the contradictions, Boulderites really are handing out enough spare change to keep these folks from moving on to greener pastures. Clearly, well above an average amount of people are reaching into their change holders and handing over money, because otherwise there would be no way to support this number of people.

Boulder may not know what to do with real minorities, but there are book and curio stores representing most every continent and gender preference there is. Of course nearly every vehicle here has ski racks all year round and it sure looks like bikes spend more times on car racks than on the road, and yet it sure is easy to find cheap climbing/hiking/biking gear and so many people on the trails wearing that gear that at least some people really aren’t just for show. Once more, there’s a reason that it’s easy to compare Ann Arbor, Michigan; Austin, Texas; Lawrence, Kansas; and Berkley, California along with many more to Boulder (or Boulder to them.) For all the false bravado these liberal bastions of America share, they’re all college towns full of smarter-than-average, really sincere people, a surprising range of restaurants, plenty of interesting things to do, which are really all the sorts of things that just make them charming pleasant towns, even for a libertarian like me.


  1. Nelbot said,

    May 15, 2007 at 14:30

    did someone throw water on Falwel? the wicked bastard’s dead!!!

  2. boulder barb said,

    May 20, 2007 at 9:04

    In regards to the statistic that 20% of Boulder bikes to work – if one counts the number of people who both live and work in Boulder and then look at the number of those who bike to work, then this statistic is not only realistic – it might even be low! All of the working class cannot afford Boulder – they must come from so far away that bicycles, even if they believe in alternate transportation, are not feasible.

  3. HC said,

    May 28, 2007 at 23:07

    If the Boulder PD would only step up their enforcement of unpaid $30 tickets, the number of bikers and RTD riders would certainly increase. Thanks to the Boulder PD losing 17% of it’s budget in 2007 (or so I heard), I was lucky enough to be arrested over a $30 ticket (which I was never warned about), and to get some free Oprah TV time (yay), meet a lovely man with one missing eyebrow (yep), and to inhale the beautiful eau de jailette (ahhh). The funny part is, I really enjoyed biking in from Gunbarrel and riding the bus. I realized that the bus schedules were pretty accomodating… as long as I didn’t miss the last one. Which I usually did. Still, it was nice to walk along 28th Street late at night and discover that I was relatively safe. Not that I would choose to do it all the time, but I feel lucky to live in a place where you can walk alone at night. And find tattoos, sex shops, yoga studios, climbing gyms, window tinting shops, and vegan burgers all in a 4-block radius. It’s almost like a big city that you never notice when you’re driving through it just to get to your home that you can afford, in Topeka. Thank you Boulder PD, for proactively removing bananas from our pockets, and for keeping derelicts like me off the street! We all sleep better. In Boulder, Colorado.

  4. HC said,

    May 28, 2007 at 23:17

    PS – I should note that I did not keep riding the bus as much once I did get my license back. And that’s really too bad. I had good intentions to keep it up. I have a plan to ride my bike to work more often. But as of now, it’s just a plan. Now I join the other multi-millionaire commuters from Niwot to Boulder. (I drive in front of them). I find comfort in my excuse for not riding the bus… which is that there are no safe places to stand on the Diagonal to wait for the bus. And that I’m afraid someone will pick me up and mistake me for an IBM hitchhiker, and drop me off there for the day. Sometimes I do sleep at the office in Boulder though (err, to help save the environment), and I have a lot of black friends and gay friends and poor friends and really weird blogging friends. So those are my reality points on my “keeping it real” card. In Boulder, we all must do our part. What’s on your KIR card?

  5. ashley said,

    July 24, 2007 at 17:01

    your statement and assumption about people that are pan handling in boulder is elitist. it also displays ignorance. boulder has few jobs if you are not self employed.

    how would you like to be homeless? would you really choose begging on the street over steady work?

  6. RjZ said,

    July 25, 2007 at 7:53

    Hmmm. I see your point. I assume you’re referring to this quote ” handing out enough spare change to keep these folks from moving on to greener pastures.” OK, that’s probably a bit of an oversight, for I didn’t really intend any elitism. But I don’t retract it. If there aren’t jobs in Boulder, can’t people move to where there are jobs? There are significant city services that people can avail themselves of as well.

    I’ll sign up to my comment being insensitive…it wasn’t intended that way. But I still hold that the proportion of panhandlers in Boulder is much higher than in large cities like Denver, and I propose that’s because it’s more effective here.

    Finally, who is the elitist here? I never mentioned anything about homeless. You read panhandlers and immediately assumed homeless. I submit that when you ask the question “would you really choose begging on the street over steady work?” you would personally answer “no,” and that you might even go so far as saying no one would do such a thing if they could avoid it. However, you have no idea what others would do. You imagine, perhaps, that you would never base yourself to panhandle. That doesn’t mean others wouldn’t or that there is necessarily anything wrong with it. Do you really sneer at the poor unfortunate panhandlers, assuming that they do this because they have no choice at all? (It’s true that some do, just not all.)

    I have personally spoken with some panhandlers on Pearl who were not homeless, but rather travelers, making their way across our great nation, on handouts. Would they really choose to beg when they could work? Sure looks like it to me.

    It seems that you think this is a bad thing, something that society must never allow. I didn’t presume by my greener pastures comment that they would go find work, I assumed they’d go somewhere where the panhandling was better. You assumed that they were homeless and unable to find work. Of course, for some this may be true, I just don’t feel like applying this bias to everyone I see.

    Thanks very much for your comments! I really appreciate them. I further appreciate your pointing out that I was insensitive, as again, that wasn’t my intention.

Leave a Comment