Boulder a techie mecca – and we’re chopped liver

Fri, May 14, 2010


If you want to understand why it’s in our own self-interest to spend public dollars on parks, bike trails and open space; to leave the marijuana dispensaries alone; to preserve, restore and renovate historic buildings; to transform our neglected watercourses into public amenities; to discourage, rather than encourage, formless sprawl; to build our arts community; to expand, encourage, treasure and respect public and private education; and to take the message on the door of Fannie Mae Duncan’s famous Cotton Club, (“Everybody Welcome!”) as our city’s formal motto…then read this piece in the New York Times.

It’s about Boulder. Yeah, that Boulder, the one full of the anti-business lib’ruls that run the city and spend their time passing nonsensical ordinances making the city a nuclear-free zone or requiring that pets be referred to as “animal companions.” There’s nothing to learn from those aging gray-ponytailed hippies…or is there?

While we weren’t paying attention, the very people whom we’ve been trying to attract to Colorado Springs have been pouring into Boulder. Here are the first two paragraphs from the story.

“Sixty engineers, entrepreneurs and financiers were sipping yerba mate tea at a coffee shop down the street from a bong-and-lingerie store on a recent sunny Tuesday in Boulder, and discussing how Boulder — usually seen as an enclave of hippies, marijuana dispensaries and rock climbers — has become a hotbed of capitalism.

“Experienced tech entrepreneurs and investors sat alongside people who had just moved to Boulder hoping to start a company in this small city, which is breeding tech start-ups at an attention-grabbing rate. In the first three months of the year, 11 Colorado tech start-ups raised $57 million in venture capital, solidifying Boulder’s place among the country’s up-and-coming tech centers.”

And why is Boulder a preferred destination for young techies?

Because of CU, because of the culture, because of the mountains, because of the arts scene, because of the bike trails, because it’s cool place to live if you’re smart, young  and ambitious.

Back in the 60’s, there was a little town in California that was a lot like Boulder. It was open, accepting, uncrowded and full of bright 20-somethings with outsized dreams. It was close to the ocean, and home to a major research university.

It was called Palo Alto, and today its “institutionalized tech scene” is less attractive to the kids who are creating a new world. They’re making their own scenes.

Can we compete? Sure.

We need an attitude adjustment. We need to realize that the “creative class,” as Richard Florida calls them, doesn’t care about the stuff that dominates our debates. They don’t care about deficits, about property taxes, about the cost of streetlights, about subsidizing some super-regional mega-mall, or about the USOC. They care about the fabric and texture of their own lives and the business/social environment that they live in.

If they’re trying to fund a start-up, they need investors, colleagues and competitors. They might love Colorado Springs, but they look at our national image. They can’t imagine that Colorado Springs is easier to live in and more conducive to business formation than Boulder. If they think about us at all, it’s as a laboratory for testing bizarre right-wing social theories, a dysfunctional dystopia that only Ayn Rand could love.

It’s an image as inaccurate as that of Boulder as a community of indolent dopers. We need to change. We need to do cool, fun things – and we can’t just leave it up to brave souls like Lauren Ciborowski and Brett Andrus.

Next week: a proposal.

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15 Comments For This Post

  1. Buddy Gilmore Says:

    Great Article!

  2. Etienne Says:

    Way to go, John! Let’s do it. If Boulder can become a startup mecca, so can we. But you’re right: it takes folks blogging/tweeting/talking/writing about why we’re so cool and it takes us focusing on the things that will attract young innovative people. Looking forward to your proposal.

  3. Christopher Colvin Says:

    “And why is Boulder a preferred destination for young techies?

    Because of CU, because of the culture, because of the mountains, because of the arts scene, because of the bike trails, because it’s cool place to live if you’re smart, young and ambitious.”

    Not to mention an idealist who basks in the glow of a collective society who will cast judgements on others without their own self examination.

  4. ESM Says:

    I could not agree more with Hazlehurst. My kids are about to go to college and my husband and I both know there is nothing for them here when they finish – this is now the town of no future for young professional unless you mission is faith based. We plan to relocate out of the Springs to retire to a place where the community is willing to invest in themselves and their future.

  5. Green Flash Says:

    I like the track you’re on, John. We really do need an attitude adjustment. We are old, stuffy, stilted and stupid. This could be a great place to live if we had wider, more vibrant and attractive cultural, entertainment and economic scenes. Our community is imploding. Time for a change or two.

  6. Like it'll matter ..... Says:

    >> we can’t just leave it up to brave souls like Lauren Ciborowski and Brett Andrus.

    ………. who ?

  7. Rick Wehner Says:

    Excellent, thought provoking article.

    When will a copy be posted to the front doors of 105 Nevada and 27 E. Vermijo and Focus on the Family?

  8. jocko Says:

    Bizarre right wing social ‘theories’? You mean traditional Americanisms that this country was founded on and which turned us into the strongest and most generous country the world has known?
    Well, we were, until we were undermined by the Marxisms of the 60s and with today’s left wing extremist climate dominating politics and Washington, what we have left won’t be lasting long. I am just glad I don’t have a subscription to your rag any longer.

  9. Professoran Says:

    Mr. Hazelnut:

    When I get homesick for California, I can always go to Boulder as I did this weekend.

    A few minutes of Pearl Street was quite enough.

    I say let the dope smoking, socialist, big government and high tax loving people move there, including you!

    Here in CS, we like small businesses more than the above captioned crowd as you can see from this article in the Gazette:

  10. John Sawyer Says:

    Interesting to compare the comments on this posting to the comments posted on the “A threat of rate hikes, service cuts.”

    As a relative newcomer to the Springs, the loudest voices in this city seem to be those screaming about taxes, illegal immigrants, and individual rights. It’s a hard to love a city with such a culture of hate and individualism. I do like it here – magnificent mountains, beautiful open space – but to love it, I’d have to get a warmer feeling from the people of Colorado Springs. And, it’s just not there.

    Where are the people who care about other people, even for those in need and those who don’t have the wherewithal? Let’s get out and be visible, speak out (not scream).

    I, too, am looking forward to your proposal, John. A proposal is a step in the right direction. Leadership is a mandatory requirement for changing culture, though. Where are the leaders?

  11. Glen Meyers Says:

    Ah, John, you’re revealing that you long for a Boulderized Colorado Springs, that you are at heart, despite your occasional denials, a Boulder-type liberal.

    I spent a decade in Boulder and, believe me, I have never lived in a more stifling place — where any diversity (other than that of skin pigmentation) is ridiculed, if not crushed.

    I find it hard to believe that free-spirited young entrepreneurs would find themselves welcome in Boulder, the city that never saw a regulation it didn’t love.

    I understand the longing among young people, whose frontal lobes have not yet developed, to be “hip and cool.” (hence, their overwhelming vote for hip and cool Barack Obama). But after they mature, after they spend a little time in Boulder, trust me, they will grow weary of the politically-correct regime so firmly entrenched there.

  12. Professoran Says:

    Corrected link for Colorado Springs story above:

  13. John Hazlehurst Says:

    Me, a Boulder – type liberal? Only if wanting a lively downtown, a thriving arts scene, and lots of ambitious, interesting young people makes me a Boulder-type liberal. On the other hand, if the streets were full of talented young people, I’d be long since out of a job-but then my house would be worth a ton of money, and I could sell it and move to a stodgy low-cost community, and start the process all over again!

    Actually, Glen, I’d hate it in Boulder, where they’d accuse me of being a cold, heartless, Colorado Springs-style conservative.

  14. Sarah Says:


    I think it’s funny that the premise of this article seems so opposite from another article you wrote about a year ago dismissing the Dream City 2020 effort. In that article you offered snarky defenses against efforts to change the community’s vision and culture. The very ideas and visions of vibrant downtowns, green infrastructure and thriving art communities that came from the Dream City 2020 effort are pretty much the exact same things you’re calling for now. Funny.

    Anyway, you’re right in recognizing Brett Andrus and Lauren Ciborowski. This city is lucky to have them. They aren’t the only innovative and creative young people in this town. There are many more young creative thinkers who deserve equal recognition. The more we recognize and support the assets we currently have, like COPPeR and the Modbo and Rubish galleries, the more likely we’ll develop an arts community that can attract outside attention.

    That being said, I don’t think we should try to be like Boulder. We’ll never be Boulder. Any effort to change our culture exclusively for economic development reasons will be too contrived and disingenuous to our uniqueness, even as unfortunate and embarrassing as that uniqueness is sometimes.

    An effort to attract outside young creative folks will be as flimsy as the USOC deal. Instead, if we recognize and enjoy the talent and assets we already have and stop envying other cultures, we may then be able to start developing a cohesive and thriving culture that may be alluring to young people and businesses. The bottom line is that the culture we create will be the by-product of our pride and love for the city and not an economic development gimmick.

    And to John Sawyer, I’m glad you’ve come to Colorado Springs. Really it’s not as bad as the media likes to portray. The political and philosophical divisiveness that seems to define the climate here clouds the realty of this place as a very beautiful community with many wonderful people. To judge the community’s character based on bad press and bumper stickers is callous. Please base your judgment of this place and its people on the friendly smiles you see walking down the street, your neighbor who always waves to you, the weekly pilgrimage of nature enthusiasts seeking the quiet sanctity of the mountains and the hardy artists who manage to produce beautiful works in the little nooks and crannies of this culturally arid town.

  15. Mike Says:

    Sarah…. where do you live?

    1. Your neighbor who always waves to you. (Never happens. They are all deployed or just straight up never home. Maybe at church? I don’t know.

    2. Friendly smiles you see walking down the street. (Never. People are mean. I have never had so many people flip me off on i-25 while they are riding my tail because I am only going 70 in a 65. Some guy also wanted to fight me while I was running the Jack Quinn’s 5K since my dog cut him off.)

    3. The weekly pilgrimage of nature enthusiasts seeking the quiet sanctity of the mountains and the hardy artists who manage to produce beautiful works in the little nooks and crannies of this culturally arid town. (I ride my bike every day in Cheyenne Canyon, etc. and I never even see anyone up there. Sometimes I wonder if people just drive around with bikes on their Subarus to look cool when in fact they are complete losers. I think your nature enthusiasts are in the Citadel Mall… man what a dump.)