Smoke: Keep Boulder livable
Deck: Council candidate grew up in dense Manhattan, concerned about Boulder’s rush to density
By RICHARD VALENTY
Colorado Daily Staff Writer
Rob Smoke, a candidate for Boulder’s City Council in 2007, has seen a bit of urban density first-hand.
He was born in Connecticut, but his family moved to New York City when he was five years old, and he spent about 25 years there. Locals shouldn’t expect Boulder to ever become a city of skyscrapers like Manhattan, but Smoke said he is concerned that parts of the city might become not only dense – but also somewhat cold and soulless – if certain plans go through unchecked.
Those who have heard Smoke speak on the campaign trail have certainly heard his opinion on the Transit Village Area Plan (TVAP) and a potential paucity of area green space, depending on how the plan is implemented. Estimates in 2007 say the 160-acre TVA might gain 1,400 to 2,400 new homes and 2,800 to 4,200 new jobs over the next several decades, although the current council just adopted the TVAP last month and no actual projects have commenced.
And despite Boulder’s reputation as being a relatively small city whose residents desire a natural life, Smoke is concerned that TVA development won’t be as natural as the 1960s-designed Manhattan housing project that he lived in.
“The people were concerned with creating really nice, livable, enjoyable spaces,” said Smoke. “The one I grew up in, they set a minimum goal of 15 percent green space surrounding it, and I think they wound up closer to 20. If you went out on either side of the building, you would always see nice lawns, shrubbery, shade trees and flower beds.”
On the other hand, Smoke did choose to move here. He said he came here in 1981 and went to massage school, went back to New York for several years and came back to Boulder for good in 1986.
“I just liked the whole feeling out here,” said Smoke. “It’s really helped me a lot, on many different levels, in terms of my personal development to be out in Boulder. I really appreciate the Open Space, the mountains, and all the usual stuff.”
Today, Smoke works as a caregiver for people with Alzheimer’s and ALS – and works with a person who has alcohol-related frontal lobe dementia.
“I just kind of keep him company, and help him with whatever his needs are,” said Smoke. “I try to make his life somewhat more livable than it is. He’s really sort of tortured – he doesn’t know what hit him, and his mind just doesn’t function very well at all.”
Smoke has also volunteered some of his time over the past several years to the CU-City Oversight Group. The group, in short, is a team made up of representatives from CU, the City and County of Boulder, and the local community that has studied alcohol problems in the Boulder area and has produced recommendations to mitigate the impacts of abusing the legal drug.
“It’s just kind of sad to me that it’s the drug of choice in our nation, and certainly in this community,” said Smoke.
Smoke is also a current member and former chair of Boulder’s Human Relations Commission (HRC). Again in short, the HRC holds hearings and interacts with the community on issues of human rights and discrimination.
To step back briefly, Smoke said one of his favorite parts of living in Manhattan was that he felt connections with people of many different types of backgrounds and ethnicities.
“The most beautiful people I met while growing up were the Puerto Rican kids in my neighborhood, who were just really nice to me all the time,” said Smoke. “It was just really wonderful, that aspect of living in New York, although other aspects were really difficult in a lot of ways.”
The difficult part included what he called a “subtext of violence” and no shortage of “desperate people” who were stressed out and unable to cope.
Back to the present – Smoke said he believes the HRC has done some very interesting things over the past several years, including working on new anti-hate legislation that arose after the beating of mixed-race CU student Andrew Sterling in downtown Boulder several years ago.
He also said the HRC helped the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) organize workers in Boulder, and said the commission helped turn the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration into more of a community-wide event.
Smoke has been involved with Boulder community affairs, either with the media or as an activist, for a number of years. For example, he said he helped organize a group called Citizens Analyzing the Redevelopment of Crossroads And its Special Subsidy (CARCASS) in 1998.
At the time, the city was considering using Tax-Increment Financing (TIF) to finance redevelopment of the aging Crossroads Mall, where the Twenty Ninth Street (TNS) retail center stands today. Smoke said he researched the issue and came to the conclusion that it would be a very bad deal for the city.
“I organized people, talked to business people and several council members, and we changed the direction,” said Smoke. (Former council members) Will Toor and Spense Havlick sort of changed their thinking, but (former Mayor) Bob Greenlee was a very strong proponent of TIF. It sort of wore on him that I was involved in the political discussion, but I was happy to be the person to do it.”
Smoke is also a long-time volunteer with KGNU radio, and he followed council meetings and offered radio commentary on what happened. He said he has also done shows on local topics such as the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, West Nile Virus, computer addiction, transportation and public safety.
He said he was motivated at a deep inner level to run for council, and said he believes the political direction of the council and city government needs to be challenged.
“I think somebody needs to be in there who would shake things up when they need to be shaken up,” said Smoke. “And it’s not hard to identify that I’m someone who will do that.”
So, locals should expect to hear or read Smoke’s opposition, whether he’s elected or not, if the city goes forward with (not yet formalized) plans to build a convention/conference center and a hotel at 13th Street and Canyon Boulevard, near where the Farmer’s Market, the Dushanbe Teahouse and Central Park currently exist or operate.
“The things that people value now, and that obviously work well, are worth preserving,” said Smoke. “We have to recognize that, and bend over backwards to preserve them.”
Contact Richard Valenty about this story at (303) 443-6272 ext. 126 or firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about Rob Smoke, visit the Web site http://robsmokeforcouncil.blogspot.com. Also, to read recent and past Colorado Daily profiles on other candidates, visit the Daily’s Web site www.coloradodaily.com/2007_election.