Vail, Boulder and Bend

One thing that Bend has going for it is that it has grown relatively recently compared to a lot of places.  It can pick and choose from a lot of ideas that have already been tested in other cities.  It’s worth a look to see how other cities relate to Bend and our housing crisis.

Occasionally, I read comparisons in the Bulletin to ski resorts like Aspen or Vail, Colorado or Jackson, Wyoming.  But I don’t think these are accurate: Bend is on track to have 100,000 people in short order, whereas Vail has a bit more than 5,000 people, and Jackson has around 10,000.  These towns are an order of magnitude smaller than Bend, and are almost exclusively centered around tourism, with little to no local industry, and are extremely economically imbalanced in terms of wealthy visitors and residents, on one hand, and people who work in the local service industry on the other.  Due to the geography of where they’re located, they’re also very constrained in terms of land for new construction.  Besides having a lot of tourists, they don’t resemble Bend much, and I don’t think they provide a good example: we shouldn’t just throw our hands in the air and say that it’s inevitable that Bend will be extremely expensive and unaffordable.

Boulder is one of the cities that Bend most resembles: it’s around 100,000 people, is at the edge of the mountains, and physically has a fair amount of room to grow easily, were the political will there.  It’s also got a university – a much bigger one than Bend – and a thriving tech industry with a lot of “good jobs”, something that Bend is working to build.  Sadly, it is also a haven for “I’ve got mine, now get lost” NIMBYism.  This article in the New York Times is illustrative: – with a former city councilman stating that “We don’t need one more job in Boulder”.  Having been through more than one recession in Oregon, the concept that a place does not want any more of those “pesky jobs” is mind boggling.

Boulder is like Bend in that it has mountains and National Forest land to the west, so building there is out of the question.  Like Bend, it has a lot of flat land to the east that could easily be built on, but in order to prevent urban sprawl, the city has created a “green belt”, akin to Bend’s “Urban Growth Boundary”.  I’m not much of a fan of sprawl either, but the effect this boundary has is to force sprawl further out of town, outside the green belt, to neighboring cities like Louisville and Lafayette.  This has the perverse effect of forcing people to drive even more than if they had simply been on an expanded periphery of Boulder itself!  Of course, Boulder could also build taller buildings, and fill in some of the relatively empty space it already has, but people refuse to do so, via extremely strict zoning laws.

The consequence is that the average house price in Boulder is north of 600,000 dollars!  And you thought prices in Bend were bad…  Naturally, this is pricing out people like teachers, firefighters, and police.

Boulder is a pretty close fit for where Bend may be headed if we do not do things differently.

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