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Why Boulder, Colo., Is a Top 100 Best Place to Live

Wide open spaces, community involvement make Boulder thrive

By Matt Carmichael on September 15, 2014


Mother nature has proven again and again that she can both make a great place to live, and make a great place to live much less great – suddenly. In the plus column, few cities can top Boulder’s 70 square miles of open space and 60 urban parks – especially when that open space is filled with the nation’s most impressive mountains and the signature Boulder foothills, the Flatirons. Residents take advantage of the landscape year round with skiing, a 40-acre bike park and foot trails – or just outdoor beer gardens and shopping on the Pearl Street Mall.

Then there’s the flipside of nature. In September 2013, Boulder flooded. Over eight days, the city was deluged with 17 inches of rain, more than half of which was dumped in just one day. Hundreds of homes were damaged or destroyed. It was a 100-year flood to say the least. Luckily, the city had been preparing. Decades of smart policy-making helped the city become, “resilient.†That’s a big buzz-word in livability circles these days, but it’s proving true in Boulder’s case. By focusing on the long term, making smart investments – bike underpasses that were also designed for flood control – and tackling climate change and energy policy head-on, Boulder has positioned itself to bounce back quickly from both natural and economic crisis.

“We’ve created a community that is not just livable but resilient,†Mayor Matthew Appelbaum says. “That’s been a lot of years at plugging away at comprehensive thinking and long-term thinking that not every city does, and frankly, not every city has the ability to do.”

They’ve also created a community that excels across the board. Few cities can match the range of Livability Top 10 lists that Boulder has appeared on from Best Farmers Markets, to Most Green Cities, to Most Pet-friendly Cities and Top Foodie Cities. The University of Colorado’s main campus has helped land Boulder on our Top College Towns list. It’s no wonder Boulder holds its place in the top 10 of our Top 100 Best Places to Live.

It wasn’t always that way. These things take time to build. The foodie culture needed a seed to get started, which came in the form of the well-known Italian restaurant on the Pearl Street Mall, Frasca. It grew from there until it reached a critical mass. Similarly, established brew pubs like the Mountain Sun paved the way for newer breweries and for the newly expanding Avery, which plans to open a huge new restaurant and brewing facility next year.

“You become a destination, and you can attract the best talent because they know there are many places they can go to,†Mayor Appelbaum says. “Did the city make that happen? Not directly, but I’d like to think we helped create the climate for it to happen.”

The same is true with Boulder’s mature-but-still-growing tech scene. It grew out of the presence of big tech companies like IBM and HP, but that talent helped spawn today’s startup culture and incubators like Tech Stars.

Boulder continues to take its challenges head-on from economic and environmental to meeting the needs of a changing population. Other cities look to Boulder as an example, and it rightly tries to lead the charge where it can.

“People want to be in places that are engaged in the issues of the day,†Mayor Appelbaum says.

You become a destination and you can attract the best talent because they know there are many places they can go to.

Matthew Appelbaum, Mayor
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