The Irony of Open Space

A letter writer to Boulder’s Daily Camera pointed out something that should be obvious but seems to escape many on the political left: preserving open space makes housing more expensive.  So if your priorities favor social justice over environmental preservation, you probably should be against purchases of open space.

It is unlikely that many (if any!) residents of Boulder regret decisions over the years to spend tax dollars buying open parcels of land.  It has enhanced the quality of life in Boulder.  But a clear side effect is to increase property values, both because Boulder is now that much nicer to live in and the amount of land available for housing is that much less.  If you are voting in your own self-interest, and if you are a property owner in Boulder, you should always be voting for the purchase of open space. Your property will gain value and the quality of life will stay about the same or improve.

Of course there are other options for lowering housing prices than building on open space: you can increase density within the existing built-up area. Here in Boulder one option might be for the University to build enough high-density housing (apartments and dorms) for the 30,000 students so there isn’t the pressure on surrounding neighborhood rentals.  You can remove height limits, you can remove limits on how many unrelated people can live in a house, etc.

A longer view, though, might suggest that the open space dilemma might be resolved when population starts to decline.  Although it is hard to imagine in growth-happy Colorado, but the demographics point to populations declining over time. When population pressures relax, how happy will the remaining residents of Boulder be there isn’t that open space remaining?  You could tear down abandoned buildings and replace them with something more useful, but built-over open space is unlikely to be restored to a more nearly natural condition.

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