Daily Camera guest opinion: Guest Mark Gelband: Our past wasn't all good

·4 min read

Sep. 28—By Mark Gelband

It's 1968 in Boulder all over again. I can hear Mary Hopkins on KBOL 1490 AM, imagine her cute little overbite (that would've been OK to say in 1968, right?):

Those were the days my friend

We thought they'd never end

We'd sing and dance forever and a day

We'd live the life we choose

We'd fight and never lose

For we were young and sure to have our way.

Between Opinion Editor Julie Marshall's "homage" to Al Bartlett and Ruth Wright in her recent column, Guest Opinions by octogenarian Dr. Oakleigh Thorne, II and 58-year Boulder resident Sue Larson, and the continued presence of Steve Pomerance, his conflicts of interest and electioneering on the opinion pages, while married to Allyn Feinberg — PLAN-Boulder board president, and funding and endorsing candidates and issues, it's like a murky rearview mirror is the clearest way to see the dangers ahead.

Before we move ahead, can we PLEASE agree that challenging the status quo today is NOT a lack of reverence for groundbreaking change 50 years ago. Yes, we love Open Space and the Blue Line, and citizens voted on a 55-foot height limit despite that some of our most beloved buildings exceed 55 feet — The Boulderado, Shambala Center, Church on 14th, Sentinel Building, etc.

Maybe we're not taking down Robert E. Lee's statue here, but let's be clear: Boulder was a bastion for the KKK, and when we passed our Open Space sales tax in 1969: Black people weren't allowed to buy homes in ANY of Boulder's post-war affordable housing developments — Martin Acres, Park East, Aurora 7, Table Mesa; our familial based occupancy rule DIDN'T allow domestic partners; and, Black/Brown people unequivocally DID NOT have access to the educational, social/cultural, and economic opportunities the venerable Al, Ruth, Oakleigh, Sue, and Steve had.

If you don't believe me, listen to Ruth Cave Flowers two-part lecture to Boulder High students in 1972 (Carnegie Library Oral History). If we're looking backwards to see the future, let's at least not erase critical race theory and pay attention. Let's thoughtfully consider the voices that were kept out of the conversation then — AND NOW. Is that okay?

The generations that arrived in the 50s through late 80s drove the greatest growth period in Boulder —13,000 people in 1940 and nearly 84,000 by 1990. Their response: build a wall (open space); thoroughly downzone the city in 1981 and make flag lots, split lots, plexes, ADUs, etc. illegal; tighten up political control; and watch their equity and housing costs skyrocket. Their response to that? Downzone even more.

Over the ensuing 40-plus years, white single-family homeowners have made out like bandits, and the consequent problems almost everyone agrees on — increased traffic, congestion, VMTs, and GHGs, parking challenges, soaring housing prices, diminishing middle class, homelessness have one scientifically accepted culprit — the nexus of "exclusionary zoning," a dearth of housing/housing options, and the "minority" political control of privileged single-family homeowners.

We know what that minority believes — it's a "quality of life," "neighborhood character," "love affordable housing just not here and now" broken record. I'm interested in the marginalized voices, the ones Out Boulder County and EFAA are endorsing, the ones Ruth Cave Flowers spoke for in 1972, the ones still left out of the conversations. Wish my Boulder neighbors were as curious as well.

"The hypocrisy of eagerly inviting low-income individuals into communities to provide vital child and elderly care, or work in jobs from landscapers to waitresses to checkout clerks — while effectively zoning them out from living anywhere in the community — should be more broadly exposed and reconciled." An Economic Fair Housing Act, The Century Foundation, Richard Kahlenberg.

Mark Gelband is a 31 year Boulder resident currently on sabbatical in the United States Virgin Islands. He's working on a large-scale community art project centered on sustainability. He supports eliminating single-family zoning, building way more compact dense housing and protected bike infrastructure, Bedrooms Are For People, housing the unhoused, and the CU South Agreement as baby steps toward the common good and fighting climate change.

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