A Conversation with a Boulder City Council Candidate


Lauren Folkerts, AIA

As part of the AIA Colorado Architectural Advocacy Network (AAN), committee members help to expand our advocacy efforts across the state and in local communities. AAN Committee Chair Erin Braunstein, AIA, recently sat down with Boulder City Council candidate Lauren Folkerts, AIA, to discuss her vision for Boulder, the path to architecture, and how you, too, can get involved.

Lauren Folkerts, AIA, is one of us. She’s an AIA Colorado member, an architect, and a passionate Coloradan. There’s one big difference, however. She’s running for Boulder City Council.

Folkerts’ campaign is motivated by the city’s affordable housing crisis. “What we say we want as a community is not aligning with the policies that Boulder has in place,” she said. “There are significant mismatches.”  

Now in her third year of chairing Boulder’s Design Advisory Board (with a term limited to 5 years), she has seen the unintended consequences of the existing regulatory language. Should Folkerts be elected to Boulder City Council on November 2, her knowledge of designations within zoning definitions, use codes, and how envelopes are dictated will be invaluable. 

 

How She Got Here

Graduating in 2010 from University of Oregon, Eugene, with a Bachelor of Architecture, Folkerts now works at HMH Architecture + Interiors specializing in sustainable design.  

We asked Folkerts, “Why architecture?” People around her as a child would suggest architecture as a career path given her strengths in math and art. While her childhood girlfriends would imagine marrying their crushes, she would design houses for the imaginary newlyweds. Folkerts grew up outside of Seattle, Washington, and at age 9, she visited the University of Oregon with her mom. During the tour, she questioned the guide “Do you have a good architecture program?” Years later, she asked herself what would make a meaningful impact and lead to doing good. University of Oregon’s strong sustainability program was a natural fit. And then came Boulder.

“Moving to Boulder and working in architecture, I expected something more from a sustainable city,” said Folkerts. “But the way the regulations are set up, while it’s good in some aspects for sustainable design, it restrict us from important options. A big part of why I decided to run for City Council was to change some of these rules. It’s time to make changes and incentivize the kind of sustainable design you would expect from a city with a reputation like Boulder.”

Creating Change

To help shepherd that change, Folkerts’ platform is based on solutions to help our community’s affordable housing crisis along with strategies to address the climate crisis.

She also believes that that Boulder needs to provide day-treatment services, and she would like for the city to implement more harm-reduction strategies regarding drug use. With current enforcement of the camping ban, she is concerned the city is causing additional harm. Many people fall in-between, and the housing fulfillment process is not fast enough for them. She cites statistics indicating that the number of days without housing increases one’s risk of not finding stable housing again. According to Folkerts, criminalizing people makes it harder to qualify for housing, which makes the problem more intractable.

There is a ballot initiative endorsed by many underrepresented groups titled, “Bedrooms are for People,” which addresses affordability of housing. The proposed ordinance modification would adjust the occupancy figures in housing. Folkerts supports that initiative and in expanding transportation options to connect where people live. Increasing density in some zoning districts, she says, is part of the affordable housing solution.

How We Can Help

We discussed how architects may make a difference in their communities and get involved. She noted that architects are trained in design thinking, trained to look for opportunities and to solve problems. Architects have information how sustainable improvements are essential to both the affordable housing and climate crisis. Those facts are incredibly useful for policymakers to hear. The education we can offer to shape government policy is under appreciated, especially when it so well aligned with voter’s wishes. The council has an existing work plan to make meaningful progress; the use code is due to be updated. Folkerts noted making significant changes in Boulder depends on the synergy with nine people on council.

There are huge opportunities to make sustainable gains for buildings and transportation—opportunities are the forces at play. At work, one project at a time, we do the right thing for our clients and make these sustainable choices. Architects have skills and understanding to address issues at large in a larger context and not be afraid of public advocacy involvement. Our time is limited. We need support from our firm leaders to be involved with these initiatives. We need to be involved and shape our communities and educate where we can. By sharing what we know regarding embodied energy versus operational energy, we can increase the level of understanding. Both the general public and policy holders do not have strong understandings about these issues.

Why should firms encourage community involvement? “Because it’s a good way to give employees experience in leadership and engage the community at large, while furthering goals among the architecture profession,” said Folkerts. “So you get two really big boosts from that. It’s about educational opportunities within the firm, but also leadership within the community. Whenever you have chances like that, it takes investment from the firm, but the benefits far outweigh the cost.”

What’s Next

Folkerts has earned endorsements from the Sierra Club, Boulder Weekly, and the Boulder Labor council. She has also received endorsement from current Boulder City Council Members Aaron Brocker, Junie Joseph, and Rachel Friend. When asked her where she imagines she will be in 15 years, Folkerts acknowledged she is focusing between now and November 3—after the election of course.

As we left our meeting, “Boulder Strong” signs were omnipresent. It’s a good reminder that the strength of any community is precious and worth advocating for—and to get out there and vote.

About the Author

Erin Braunstein

Erin Braunstein, AIA, EDAC, LEED AP BD+C, WELL AP, is a Senior Healthcare Project Manager at MOA Architecture.

A member of the Colorado Chapter of the American Institute of Architects Braunstein serves as Chair for the Architectural Advocacy Network, which fosters a culture of advocacy for members.

Braunstein earned a Bachelor of Environmental Design from CU Boulder and a Master of Architecture from CU Denver. She is a WELL and LEED accredited professional and has earned EDAC certification. A licensed architect for more than 20 years and joining MOA Architecture in early 2021, she focuses her practice within the healthcare sector. 

Outside of practicing architecture, she is a member of the Citizens Climate Lobby - Golden Chapter. CCL seeks to generate political will in advancing bipartisan climate solutions like the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2021. She and her husband, Adam, have two sons.

© AIA Colorado 2021