Monday, June 18, 2007

Unstoppable: Population Growth and Development

by Osman Parvez
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You've probably noticed that I often write about issues other than the typical residential real estate rah, rah. One area I pay attention to is development. I posted a new feature a couple of days ago: The Boulder Development Map. It shows the location of many new developments in Boulder as well as expected locations for future FasTracks transit stations.

Why is development so important? Simple. Take a look at the following chart showing historic and forecasted future population in Colorado.



Colorado is a state with very positive immigration trends. From 1990 to 2000, we were the third fastest growing state. Every year, Colorado attracts thousands to leave their home state and settle down here. The chart above does not include illegal immigrants. State demographers predict nearly 5.2 million people will call Colorado home by 2010, an increase of more than 21% from the last census.

Given the increasing mobility of the U.S. population and the massive, unstoppable wave of baby boomers entering retirement, I suspect the results of the upcoming 2010 census will show even higher population than predicted. Our area attracts the mobile, talented, and (often) wealthy people because of the extremely high quality of life. The mobility of talent and capital is a significant and often overlooked factor.

With so many new people, development is a core issue. How will Colorado cope with so many new residents? Like it or not, more housing, jobs, schools, retail stores, infrastructure, and sadly more congestion are in our future. That's why if you plan to live here, it's smart to pay close attention to what's happening so that you can have a say. Development impacts quality of life, changes traffic patterns, and can be positive or negative for the community.

Here's an example of the potential positive impact of a development project. Recently, we had dinner at a friend's house. Afterward, we walked over to 29th Street for dessert. They live at Gold Run, an established condominium development located along the Boulder Creek path just below the CU campus. 29th Street, bus stops, and sidewalk infrastructure changes have substantially improved the ease with which you can get around near Gold Run. In the past, it was easy to stroll over to the Millenium Hotel or Safeway plaza. Now pedestrians can also easily get to 29th street where there's more shopping and other amenities. In a few years, Transit Village will be just on the other side of that too, making it a breeze to get to Denver or to the airport using public transit. For buyers looking for easy access to services, a stellar "along the creek" location, and proximity to the university, Gold Run just got a big boost from development.

I could tell you negative stories about development as well but you've heard them before, particularly in communities where growth is relatively uncontrolled. Sprawl and blight are often consequences. Luckily, population growth and development issues are taken seriously in Boulder and most other communities on the front range. While heavily debated and sometimes contentious issues, the end results are usually quite good, adding to the overall quality of life.

Please leave a comment if you have any new developments to add to the development map, specific examples of positive development in our region, or other related thoughts.


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5 comments:

  1. In addition to the population of Colorado growing, the size of new houses is growing, the percentage of new houses purchased over "used" houses (I actually heard someone who'd been relocated use that word) is growing, and the number of people in a house is shrinking. So while development *is*, shouldn't it be balanced by questions about how it can best be balanced with quality of life issues -- like access to fresh, locally-grown food?

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  2. I agree with you completely Anne. Quality of life issues are impacted by development and population growth. Having meaningful dialogue on the issue is important. In my opinion, it ultimately boils down to sustainability. I'm glad to see it gaining traction in the popular press.

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  3. The percentage of new houses vs. existing, or "used", is simply a reflection of the population growth. If the population doubles in 30 years obviously the existing housing stock will not accommodate the influx. As for house size, well, look in the mirror everyone. The baby boomers and their rich kids want big, can afford big, and therefore they get big. Quality of life issues are important to everyone. However, issues of more definite immediacy, i.e. affordability and jobs, will always take precedence over issues of convenience and the greater good. You cannot blame people for living where they can afford to eat and pay the bills. I believe that thoughtfully designed, higher density housing in cities are a simple and time-proven way to combat the sprawl and resultant decline in quality of life improvement we all really desire. Concentrating people helps to reduce the energy expended in transport of all kinds - people, energy, food, etc. It is ironic that the same laws and policies that help to create higher quality of life for some ( see Boulder's Open Space Buffer and Height Limitations for example) end up forcing others (those that work here but cannot afford to live here) into the scenarios we openly despise (long commutes, tract housing far from jobs, etc.). This issue is incredibly complex and must be viewed from the perspective of the less-fortunate as well as the wealthy...

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  4. Interesting thoughts r mutt. I tend to agree on concentration of people having sustainability benefits. However, draw the line of reasoning out too far and quality of life starts to decline. I lived in NYC for a time where I worked for an investment bank and commuted from Brooklyn. Though some love that environment, I found the quality of life shockingly low.

    Thus, the emphasis on "thoughtfully designed" cities. To circle back to my original point, this is why development is so critical an issue for long term quality of life.

    From a blogging perspective, I see two distinct types of readers. (1) Those interested in the investment potential of new developments, not only in the development itself but along adjacent areas that have been ammenitized. (2) Readers concerned with maintaining a high quality of life and an interest in moving our community towards greater sustainability.

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  5. I also agree. I think this issue is going dangerously under the radar, and at the expense of our quality of life and more importantly our children and grand children's quality of life.

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