What will Boulder City look like tomorrow, next year, next decade? Will it successfully continue its steady-state, slow-slow-growth policy, or will it be forced to adapt to changing times? Does the shuttering of the Goatfeathers consignment empire reflect an economic decline of our community or is it just part of the ups and downs of all small towns?
Forty years I saw my newly adopted community of Austin, Texas, facing similar concerns under different circumstances. At age 19, the Austin City Council appointed me to a citizens’ assembly called Austin Tomorrow. The goal of Austin Tomorrow was, ostensibly, for citizens to learn modern urban planning techniques so we could help map out the growth of the city with care.
I say ostensibly because the real reasons for Austin Tomorrow were far less about citizen guidance of the future and far more about establishment control of Austin’s burgeoning progressive movement, which was notably anti-growth.
What does this have to do with Boulder City? Austin’s progressives were dead set against a fast-growing Austin, while the developers and car salesmen then in charge relied upon economic growth for their prosperity.
Like most cities, sales and property taxes fuel the city government. Austin at 250,000 was a comfortable place to live; many of us did not want to see it become another Dallas or Houston.
Years later, as a graduate student of urban affairs at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, I tried to create a viable economic urban model that did not include growth. No economist was willing to work with me on that.
The Austin metro area has since more than quadrupled in size, with traffic so bad that you can be gridlocked on a freeway after midnight.
So now I move to Boulder City and discover a town that has successfully negotiated a no-growth path for two decades. The growth is not absolute zero, but so slow that anyone can admire the successful acquisition of the goal. I salute this success, and love Boulder City for it.
The question is, can this model stand indefinitely? Are the economists wrong?
Even if Boulder City maintains its land use controls, will the world outside stand still and allow us to continue in Pleasantville? As Bill Clinton might say, it depends on what the definition of “us” is.
As a community we are economically threatened by the Interstate 11 bypass, the third and largest nail in a coffin begun with the rerouting of U.S. Highway 93 around the city, and then the building of the Hoover Dam bypass bridge.
Fewer and fewer travelers have a reason to stop here. When I-11 is completed, drivers will be able to move between Las Vegas and Phoenix without thinking once about stopping in the dusty little town of Boulder City. This will devastate the small businesses in the old part of town while leaving the warehouses and golf courses unaffected.
What is the city leadership doing about it? Mayor Roger Tobler has formed an informal “stakeholders” group that smacks of the back room nature of Austin Tomorrow — informal in a way that means membership and meetings are by invitation, and unadvertised. They are open if you can find them, but you will not find them on official calendars.
City revenue can continue indefinitely regardless of how badly the local economy declines, because it depends on selling or leasing land, not local economic performance. Since moving here only a season ago I have watched the closing of Goatfeathers I and II, Central Market, two art galleries, a restaurant, our only bookstore and even a Kentucky Fried Chicken — and those are just the closings that I, a newbie, heard about through GPS orphan searches and word of mouth.
Meanwhile, proposals to open actual operating retail/low commercial businesses in the early bypass corridor (western Phase I) are backpedaled — in Boulder City. On the Henderson side of the road, plans are underway. As the corridor is developed on the other side, what will the small-business folks of Boulder City get to do? Like the folks trapped in “Under the Dome”: Watch, wither and slowly run out of water.
Dale Napier is a Boulder City-based writer, tai chi teacher and database specialist who fled big-city Texas for small-town Nevada. His latest book is “Tai Chi in Your Life.” His novel “May Day” will be published this year.