For Lauren Folkerts, community is the magic ingredient

Photo by Kylie Fitts

Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021

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It wasn’t the buildings that drove Lauren Folkerts to become an architect. It was the people who would eventually fill them. 

Now, as much of her platform is focused on Boulder’s built environment, she’s still thinking not of height or design or materials (though she does have opinions on those) but of the ways housing, workplaces, stores and streets impact the lives of those who live here — and of those who can’t.

“It plays a big role in who can live here and hits so many other things that I care about,” Folkerts said. “We have a lot of opportunity to make our community more welcoming, inclusive and sustainable.”

For Folkerts, every challenge Boulder faces right now is interconnected. She can’t see a way to make housing more affordable without also making sure people are better paid (she suggests a higher city minimum wage to start). We can’t tackle homelessness, she said, without more housing, and the city can’t meaningfully reduce pollution from cars if we don’t also think about housing prices that force people into long commutes and zoning laws that keep them driving to the grocery store. 

As such, many of Folkerts’ preferred solutions also pull double-duty. Like the need for physical places where residents can escape worsening air pollution, rising temperatures and increasing natural disasters. Facilities we build today as cultural centers or homeless service hubs could become the “climate resilience” spaces of the future, she said.

Climate, like housing, is woven throughout nearly everything — the other reason Folkerts got into architecture. She is pleased with the “really great” direction the city is heading in its updated Climate Mobilization Action Plan and hopes the community has the will to act on it.

“A lot of the goals that it sets forth will be very difficult to achieve,” she said. “We need to be working on outreach for that yesterday, trying to coalesce the community to really tackle those things. If we wait until they’re enforced, it’s going to be really hard to make it happen.”

In typical Folkerts fashion, she has an idea for that, too, one that touches on another of her priorities: improving public engagement and community participation. 

Folkerts would like to see city funding of innovative, resident-led endeavors that address the climate crisis, similar to the way arts projects are funded. Boulder even has a group, the Environmental Advisory Board, that could oversee the grant process the way its Arts Commision does with city dollars.

“I think of that Jim Leech quote about community being the magic ingredient in sustainability,” she said. “I really believe that to be true. 

“The more that we can do things together, it is not only better for our lives, but it is better for our world.”

Priorities

  • Affordable housing
  • Fill gaps in social services
  • Expand transportation options
  • Increase government efficiency
  • Ensure open space is protected and maintained

Endorsed by

  • The Coalition (Boulder Progressives, Better Boulder, Open Boulder, South Boulder Creek Action Group, United Campus Workers, Boulder is For People)
  • Sierra Club
  • Boulder Weekly

Why you might want to vote for Folkerts

Of all the candidates, Folkerts stood out for her innovative proposals that go beyond mere talking points. She views the city’s challenges holistically, which is reflected in her suggestions for how to address them. She weighs solutions based on their merit rather than their source and is not afraid to adopt positions from the “other side” such as subcommunity planning (see Housing, below).

Her proposals are rooted in deep knowledge of how the city actually works. She revels in the boring, in-the-weeds work that may not make for rousing campaign speeches but reflects the reality of day-to-day governance. 

Some of that is no doubt born of her time leading the city’s Design Advisory Board, experience that will lend itself well on a relatively new city council.

Why you might not want to vote for Folkerts

A working architect, Folkerts may be conflicted out of some development decisions. “Not very many,” she said.

“I don’t do a lot of projects that have a discretionary review component, which is where a conflict of interest would arise.” Not having an ownership stake in the company also reduces potential conflicts. “The number of projects you have to recuse yourself from are significantly greater” for business owners.

In the event a conflict does arise, Folkerts said, “I would recuse myself from projects as appropriate.”

Folkerts on the issues

Housing

Folkerts may be the only candidate who has ever expressed excitement about updating Boulder’s use tables — rules for what types of businesses, homes, offices, etc., can be located where within the city.  For Folkerts, it’s an excellent chance to have an impact on the housing and climate crises by creating walkable neighborhoods, a city goal. 

“We should go through (use tables) line by line and say, ‘How does this support or keep us from achieving 15-minute neighborhoods?” she said. “We need to be looking through a lens of sustainable and affordable development.”

Folkerts has also suggested an overhaul of building codes to make review processes faster and less expensive, particularly for affordable housing. 

She supports an “all-of-the-above” approach to housing: maintaining current government affordability requirements and programs while also “trying to incentivize” co-ops and ADUs and allowing types of housing (duplexes, townhomes, condos, etc.) that were prohibited from the vast majority of Boulder’s residential land decades ago. Any changes should be tied to permanent affordability or land trusts to keep home prices lower, she said. 

Neighbors should be making decisions about the future of their neighborhoods, Folkerts believes. She is a fan of subcommunity planning, wherein rules for future development are crafted for smaller portions of the city (East Boulder, North Boulder, Gunbarrel, etc.) rather than for the city as whole.

It’s a concept that, in Boulder, originated and is typically associated with slow-growth factions as a way to oppose development rather than facilitate it. Folkerts thinks it’s all in how the city approaches and presents it to residents.

The direction from the city needs to be that subcommunity planning is a way to “find the most appealing way to tackle some tricky issues,” not a chance for “people to just say no to everything.”

If used correctly, “it can be a very useful tool to help bring the community together,” she said. “No one knows their community better than the people who live there.”

Homelessness

“We don’t want people camping in our public spaces,” Folkerts said to begin her thoughts on homelessness. “I get it. But I think when we’re talking about public safety, we really need to be thinking about how we create safety for everyone. 

“Our community is safe when everyone in our community, when their needs are met.”

Folkerts would “prioritize prevention over enforcement,” she said. That means making sure the existing organizations serving unhoused people are fully supported and looking to fill gaps in the system.

Specifically, she would like to see a centralized hub where residents could charge phones, store belongings, take a shower, wash clothes and meet with service providers and case managers. More investment is needed in mental health and addiction services as well as regular medical care.

Folkerts supports the current Housing First focus, backed by research and expert opinion as the most effective and cost-effective way to reduce homelessness. Because Boulder’s affordability is relatively worse than other communities, our response to homelessness needs to be larger.

“The No. 1 predictor of homelessness in a community is the changing rate of affordability,” she said. “We are going to have to spend a lot of money to solve this problem because it’s a bigger problem here than it is in the surrounding communities.”

Budget

Folkerts would like to see the council and the community get involved earlier in the budget process, defining goals and priorities before a plan is drafted. That could then drive the budget process, rather than allowing spending to dictate what programs, policies and initiatives are pursued.

“I would really like to push for having kind of more of a visioning up front where you have a new or existing council really sort of dive into what they think the top issues that budget should be targeting this year,” Folkerts said.

She would like to see “preventative programs” be prioritized in city spending, things like investments in social services, housing and early childhood health that have been proven to reduce costs down the road. Plus, such expenditures sometimes have the benefit of being able to leverage state and federal dollars, effectively maximizing the city’s own dollars.

“Housing and human services, Boulder Housing Partners, those kinds of groups and departments are able to go after grants (that) allow them to do more with our tax dollars,” Folkerts said. The city should “make sure that we are using that money as effectively as we can.”

Folkerts also believes some “reallocation” of funds within the city are needed, mentioning police specifically, which accounts for one-quarter of Boulder’s discretionary spending. But that does not necessarily mean cutting that department’s budget, she said.

“Our sales tax revenue is coming in higher (than expected) this year, so it might not be taking money away from departments. It might just be figuring out where new resources should go.”

Transportation

“Transportation is largely a housing issue,” Folkerts believes.  “Having a very unaffordable place to live makes people live in other places, and then they commute.”

Here, Folkerts refers back to the need for 15-minute neighborhoods so that residents can walk or bike to most destinations. Not only is that more cost effective (zoning changes are free, except for paid staff time and/or consultants), but it’s better for the climate as well.

“We don’t want to be increasing our suburban footprint forever,” Folkerts said. “It’s not great for our community. It’s really terrible for our air quality.”

CU South

Folkerts supports the annexation agreement. “It is the result of more than a decade of smart people working really hard,” she said at an Aug. 25 candidate forum. It provides housing, open space, trail improvements and, most importantly, flood protection. 

“We cannot leave vulnerable residents unprotected.”

Library District

Folkerts supports efforts to form a district. 

“It is underfunded, and as we saw during the COVID crisis, things that don’t have specifically allocated budgets get cut,” she said. “Our library deserves better than that because of the services it provides for our community. 

“Boulder’s Public Library is one of the institutions in our community that really does live up to the high standards that we believe our community should be achieving.”

— Shay Castle, @shayshinecastle

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