Welcome to Colorado. We are not “full.”
Though the Colorado Limits on Housing Growth Initiative (Initiative 122) failed to make its way to the ballot in November 2020, the motivations that brought the initiative into existence and propelled it into our public conscience have not disappeared. Opinion pieces recently published in the Boulder Daily Camera and The Rocky Mountain Collegian entitled “Reality check on growth” and “Stop moving to Colorado. We’re full” hit on a troubling theme woven through parts of Colorado’s culture that has needled me since I arrived here with my family at age 15. These pieces claim that growth is ruining the quality of life here and any so-called newcomer to the state directly contributes to the degradation of our communities.
I could not disagree more with the premise behind these common sentiments. In fact, these entitled perspectives prevent us from building exactly the kind of community that we wish to hold on to.
Census data analysis by Pew Charitable Trusts shows that Colorado was the third-fastest growing state in the country from 2008 to 2018. While this trend is certainly significant, it is worth remembering that the state as we know it was established by white settlers colonizing lands traditionally inhabited by Apache, Comanche, Shoshone, and Ute tribes. To say that anyone who arrives here from now on should not be encouraged to stay is to ignore the circumstances under which Coloradans first formed communities and cities in this space. Perhaps when we confront what is, according to the commentary by Jim Martin, a former member of the University of Colorado Board of Regents, in the Camera, “an alarming growth problem that’s not going away,” we had best reflect on our own history of initiating and promulgating the same growth that is now the object of discontent.
With respect to resource use, Colorado has pioneered smart growth strategies and sustainable solutions such as green developments and renewable energy technology, all while maintaining a bold conservation agenda in our parks and natural areas. Additionally, the state’s growing population is correlated with an increasingly Democrat-leaning electorate, creating a public more likely to vote in favor of enhanced environmental protections and climate change mitigation policy. Protecting our resources means adapting to ever-changing circumstances; the best we can do is cultivate our capabilities of innovation and flexibility.
Ultimately, Dylan Tusinski writing in the Collegian claims that Colorado is “excessively gentrified and overcrowded as it is.” To this, I say we must call out exclusionary politics under the guise of environmentalism. A movement for no growth leaves little room for nuance and no space for the messy realm of in-betweens where the truth usually lives. Because here is the deal: we can grow and maintain our cities and communities. We can grow and protect our infrastructure and ecosystems. People move to Colorado today seeking safety, opportunity, beauty, and adventure – just as our parents and grandparents did. We are naïve and selfish to believe that we deserve to shut the door behind us now.
Abby Arndt moved to Colorado from Maputo, Mozambique, and attended high school in Fort Collins. She has lived in five states and five countries, and currently works in immigration law.
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