National Geographic : 2017 Nov
58 national geographic • november 2017 Lila Sophia and David Tresemer dine alfresco on an organic farm outside Boulder. The meal was prepared with ingredients raised there. New research by the World Well-Being Project, based at the University of Pennsylvania, shows that people who have access to exercise and healthy foods are somewhat more likely to be happy. MATTHIEU PALEY their strengths and accomplish their goals, and whether they learn something interesting daily. He even included dentist visits, which, counter- intuitively perhaps, are strongly associated with happiness. Among 190 U.S. metropolitan areas, Boulder came out on top. (Charleston, West Virginia, had the lowest scores.) Boulder’s quality of life might not have turned out as well if it weren’t for people like Wright. During the late 1960s developers approached the city for approval to build some high-rises. Wright feared they would destroy the character of her community—a place where downtown high-tech workers can take a nature hike during their lunch hour. In 1971, a few months after the council adopted a plan to allow buildings as high as 14 stories, she championed a ballot measure that limited building heights to five stories. “Had I lost, Boulder would be a forest of high-rises crisscrossed by traffic-jammed streets,” she said. “Here in Boulder we had a jewel to preserve.” In the decades since, the community has diligently protected its quality of life. Boulder taxpayers have voted for 300 miles of bike routes that web the city, and yellow lights blink at cross- walks, reminding motorists that pedestrians have the right-of-way. As a result Boulder residents bike to work at one of the highest rates in the nation— 17 times more than the national average. This makes for cleaner air, fewer accidents, and fewer overweight people. A progressive food policy has also helped. The city matches the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) dollar for dollar to encourage fruit and vegetable consumption. Last year Boulder became one of the nation’s first cities to approve a soda tax aimed at reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. Officials plan to use the revenue from the soda tax to fund health programs for children. Still, change continues to threaten Boulder’s way of life. The civic- minded hippie generation that spawned companies such as Celestial Seasonings herbal-tea company and WhiteWave health food company are now giving way to Google and tech venture capital firms. A highly paid, more driven culture is replacing the laid-back, outdoorsy one. For all of its list-topping well-being scores, Boulder has curiously high levels of stress. “It’s not Zen Boulder anymore,” Witters said. On any given day 49 percent of people surveyed in Boulder report feeling stress, higher than the national average. “But it’s productive stress,” he added.