Living in the car

Reprinted from the Daily Camera.

Councilman Bob Yates posted on the city council Hotline that he was concerned about the vehicles housing people parked at the Diagonal Plaza. He found the conditions deplorable, unsafe and unsanitary. He said, "I do not believe that these encampments reflect Boulder community values." He then set the wheels in motion for the encampment to be shut down and the residents forced out.

That got me thinking, what are Boulder's community values? Clearly we value success. Entrepreneurs and technology companies are encouraged to make Boulder home. We respect scientists, realtors, bankers and professional athletes. They are smart, high-achieving community role models.

We value physical beauty. We spend millions buying and caring for our open space, parks and recreational places. The Pearl Street Mall is filled with flowers in the summer and lights in the winter.

We value health. Smoking is illegal in most of downtown. Sugar-sweetened beverages are heavily taxed to discourage their use. We have amazing recreation centers, gyms, yoga studios, chiropractors, herbalists, massage therapists and more.

We claim to value diversity, inclusiveness and compassion. If that were actually true, maybe we would have responded differently to the encampment at Diagonal Plaza. There are plenty of empty parking spaces. The property owners hadn't taken any action. Instead of calling the police and issuing tickets, we could have left well enough alone. We could have brought them a dumpster and some portable toilets and let them stay — at least until the center is redeveloped. Or we could have suggested another empty parking lot, like the old Boulder Community Hospital.

City officials routed a group of citizens living on the margins and told them to get the hell out. Their encampment was ugly, they don't have any money, and living like that can't be healthy. Yates is right that this impromptu community doesn't reflect our values. Maybe we need to rethink our values.