I had business in Denver last week, so I took the opportunity to extend my stay a few days to visit Boulder. Home of the University of Colorado Buffaloes, Boulder is the college town I hear most often compared with Eugene. I was curious how it looks from their end.
A friend’s sister, a Boulder resident for decades, gave me some pointers. She’s an artist married to an acupuncturist — in other words, a typical Boulderite. I asked her to recommend a restaurant as a starting point. Her reply began with, “Well, I’m gluten-free….” I could see the restaurant itself would not be the starting point.
She directed us to The Kitchen. She warned us to get there early to avoid having to wait for a table. We walked through a park and along a waterfront trail, then into Boulder’s fabulously successful downtown walking mall.
The Kitchen was a locavore’s delight, emphasizing foods in season brought to market by independent farmers and ranchers. We could only assume the free-range chicken we were enjoying gave its life voluntarily for our consumptive pleasure.
Our server, Matt, was a 20-something with bleached hair and a ready smile. I asked him how Boulder is like Eugene. He looked perplexed. “Eugene?” he started, with what I thought would be the easiest part of the question, “I’ve never heard Boulder compared to Eugene before.” Now it was my turn to be perplexed.
Maybe he feared his tip was in jeopardy; he tried to cooperate. “Portland comes up a lot.” My visage didn’t brighten, so he kept trying, “Eugene is a college town, right?” Matt came from California “for the mountains,” so he might not have fit the profile I was looking for.
I walked the downtown mall with an architect friend and we marveled at how Boulder offered so many of the same elements as Eugene, only more densely. The walking mall itself is four blocks long, without a vacancy in sight. In the middle there’s a stately court house built the same year as our downtown post office. A block away, there’s a spurting fountain reminiscent of ours by the Eugene Water and Electric building. There’s a band shell with bench seating that looks like a small Cuthbert Amphitheater. They’re all together.
On the CU campus, they have a scale model of the solar system, just like the one we have that starts in Alton Baker Park, except theirs is one tenth the size, so it covers a couple blocks instead of several miles. Their football stadium is smack in the middle of campus, surrounded by (and even containing) academic classrooms. We’re not talking about sports marketing, broadcast journalism, and nutritional science, but physics and biology — the hard stuff.
Sports and outdoor recreation is imbued in their culture, but I did notice a difference. People in Boulder seemed more likely to dress for the particular pastime they were partaking. Bikers had biking outfits. Hikers had hiking boots. Kayakers wore wet suits and goggles and nose plugs. The garb-to-gear ratio I observed in Boulder was higher than what I see in Eugene.
I wandered the streets and observed, but I also researched the statistics. Boulder is younger, smaller, and richer than Eugene. No wonder Portland is a more common comparison. I saw more ethnic diversity, but less class diversity than Eugene offers.
Still combining the anecdotal with the analytical, I entered their recently constructed public library, up the central circular staircase that is bathed in natural light from above. I gathered statistics. University students make up about a third of Boulder’s 99,000 residents. That’s double the concentration we have in Eugene.
Denver is only 26 miles away, so Boulder doesn’t have its own airport. Commuters travel daily between the town and the city. Boulder doesn’t have its own television news, or its own NPR station. The daily newspaper is owned by the Denver Post. Smaller communities nearby don’t rely on Boulder the way Lane County relies on Eugene.
I came away convinced that the comparisons are overblown. Boulder doesn’t really resemble Eugene. Boulder is more like a cross between Corvallis and Beaverton.