I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Boulder is the friendliest place I’ve ever lived. People of all ages and situations are polite and helpful and always have a smile for you. I’ve struck up conversations in the most random places with people I wouldn’t ordinarily talk to. But why not? Doing so seems normal to me now. Why not make connections, no matter how small, with the people sharing your space? You never know what might come of it, and if nothing does other than a good feeling, that’s great too. This post, however, isn’t going to focus on the lady behind me in the grocery store or the guy at the table next to me in the coffee shop. It’s about the people who work for the city of Boulder and for the benefit of its citizens. Marshall Mesa in south Boulder is one of my favorite nearby places to go after dark. Sitting out on the rocks, the Flatirons looming in the darkness to the west, no other soul in sight, the possibility of mountain lions prowling in the tall grass a few feet away, and the moon illuminating the scene just enough so that you don’t have to use a flashlight to navigate the trails – it’s a little escape. The area is part of Boulder’s open space and regulations state that it closes at 11pm. A few weeks ago, I was there on a late night rendezvous. When we finally packed up our picnic and started walking back to the car, it was well after midnight. And there were bright lights in the parking lots. They were only headlights at first, but then there were massive floodlights sweeping the trail. As I reached the trail head, empty wine bottle in hand and unlicensed dog off leash, I saw it was Boulder County sheriffs. We had a brief and pleasant conversation in which they made clear that their only concern was making sure no one was lost or eaten by a wild beast. Then they wished us well and departed—no lecture, no warning, no ticket. I think they well understand the magic of a place like that. And they respected that we weren’t harming anything or anyone. We were merely having a lovely evening, so why ruin that by enforcing a law that didn’t need enforcement in those circumstances?
In addition to this most recent, I’ve had several other respectful encounters with the people who run this city.
- A few years ago I had a small legal issue that involved a county sheriff coming to the house to serve me a summons. I wasn’t home and the sheriff told my then-partner he would be going to my office to find me. Realizing that would be embarrassing for me, my partner asked him if I could come pick it up at the station tomorrow. Using his judgment and sensing that we were decent, trustworthy-seeming people, the sheriff agreed. And of course I did go pick it up first thing in the morning.
- When the central library changed the rules for its parking lot, requiring people to pay for parking that had previously been free, the city had ambassadors standing in the parking lot for the first two weeks after the switch. They made sure people were aware of the change and helped them figure out how to use the fancy pay stations.
- The general city parking meters have a five minute grace period. It’s written right on them – no tickets shall be given within the first five minutes of expiration. So much better than places like Denver where parking patrol literally stands at meters, watching for the time to tick down, ticket information pre-entered so they can press print the second the meter turns red.
- In one of the most liberal cities in the country, pro-gun rights people were allowed to protest peacefully earlier this year, weapons in hand, on public streets. No citations were issued, no violence, no drama. Boulder city police respected the rights of the people to have their voice heard. The police used their discretion to determine that there was no actual threat to public safety. They were people simply trying to make a statement.
Government is supposed to work for people. Laws are for safety and equality. They aren’t supposed to be punitive or strangle our ability to enjoy our lives. People who work for the city and county of Boulder seem willing to use good judgment, don’t want to punish simple mistakes or missteps, and let us exist happily when our actions aren’t hurting others. And that’s just one more reason I love living here.