Happy town

Where are BoCo’s most satisfied citizens? Look to the east

Visitors pose in front of a mural on 14th and Pearl Streets in Boulder. Credit: Justin Bilancieri, Visit Boulder

In 2017, National Geographic named Boulder the happiest city in America. Writers touted its “scenery, culture and world-class quality of life.” 

They might have wanted to drive a few miles down the road to Louisville. That’s the happiest city in Boulder County, according to surveys of the residents themselves.  

Louisville boasts the best overall quality of life among its peers (Boulder, Longmont, Lafayette, Superior and Erie). It’s the best place to raise children and leads the pack for ease of walking and biking. When it came to notching gold medals, Louisville was tops, racking up six top seeds and 49 total points in Boulder Weekly’s informal and unscientific analysis. 

Louisville: 49 points
Superior: 48 
Longmont: 36 
Boulder: 31 
Erie: 25 
Lafayette: 19 

The results are, perhaps, unsurprising. Louisville has its own impressive history of superlatives, including being named one of Money magazine’s best places to live five times and being dubbed one of the best towns for families by Family Circle

“I believe it,” said resident Rivka Peiffer, when a Boulder Weekly reporter informed her about Louisville’s latest honor. “There’s a lot of places to eat, a lot of nice coffee shops, a lot of activities — something for everyone. There’s a lot of people that like going outside here, which is cool, because we’re all on that same wave of getting out in nature, feeling the dopamine from that. 

“The people here are really sweet and genuine and give you the time of day. Even when there’s winter storms, the town always ends up coming out.”

Gary L Hider – stock.adobe.com Adobe stock

‘On the rise’

Superior’s mayor, Mark Lacis, points out that his town was only one point behind Louisville. Because the cities share so much — including a zip code and a high school — Lacis thinks Superior deserves some of the credit for their neighbor’s narrow win.

“They do shop at our Costco and Target, I’m sure they like our trails and parks,” he says. “We’re in this together.”

Other towns may wish to register their complaints, too, and with good reason.

For instance, if you look at how residents rank their quality of life, Louisville is still tops, but Lafayette moves from last to second. And it’s not like last-place Longmont and Boulder are exactly slacking: a whopping 85% of residents rated life there as “good” or “excellent,” in line with national benchmarks, according to survey conductors.

Overall quality of life
Louisville: 98% rated it excellent or good
Lafayette: 93%
Superior: 89%
Erie: 88%
Longmont and Boulder: 85%

Superior has the superior sense of community; Boulderites can brag about all the fun stuff to do in their city. Lafayette residents are happiest with housing (although that’s a low bar in expensive Boulder County), while Longmonters get the best bang for their buck, tax-wise. 

Value of city services for taxes paid
Longmont: 66% rated it excellent or good
Superior: 64%
Boulder: 60%
Lafayette: 59%
Erie: 53%
Louisville: N/A

Erie was the only town without a first-place finish to its name. “Next time, we’re gonna run it after our $8 million park opens,” Mayor Justin Brooks jokes. 

Still, Brooks is proud of his not-so-little town — which, he pointed out, has a higher resident-ranked quality of life than Boulder. 

“Erie’s on the rise,” Brooks says. “We’re a great community. I’m really happy here. Everyone I talk to is really positive about the direction we’re headed. 

“Fifteen years ago, you wouldn’t even be calling Erie to participate.”

Downtown Erie. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

‘We don’t look too hot’

Although the surveys themselves are statically valid, comparing them isn’t an exact science.  The expectations of the populace might be different; lower rankings on value might reflect residents’ dissatisfaction with taxes generally, rather than their city’s service.

Timing matters, too. Louisville last solicited citizen opinion in 2020 (City officials are conducting an updated survey in coming months). Boulderites got noticeably unhappier since its last official survey in 2018, with double-digit drops across multiple categories. 

“I was bummed to see we’re not ranking so high,” says Emiliano Lake-Herrera, director of visitor experience and community partnerships with Visit Boulder, the Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We don’t look too hot.”

As other towns grow and develop, Boulder’s cachet among county residents has slipped. The pandemic exacerbated that, Lake-Herrera believes, because people were forced to stick close to home and “explore and celebrate their own communities.” Rising costs in Boulder further discourage locals from traveling around the county, he says.

“We used to think of Boulder as 25 square miles surrounded by reality,” Lake-Herrera says. “Now we think of Boulder as 25 square miles surrounded by competition.”

But, he noted, Boulder is “still the top place for things to do.”

Stuff to do (arts, culture and fitness/recreation opportunities)
Boulder: 88% rated these excellent or good
Louisville: 84%
Lafayette: 81%
Superior: 75%
Longmont: 66%
Erie: 56%

Work to do

Officials might throw some good-natured jabs at other towns, but they’re dead serious about improving their stats. Mayors Brook and Lacis described in detail the efforts their respective towns are making to beef up transit and expand affordable housing. 

“We know we’ve got some work to do,” says Erie’s Brooks.

Housing (availability/affordability)
Lafayette: 31% rated it excellent or good
Longmont and Erie: 23%
Superior and Louisville: 16%
Boulder: 10%

Ease of public transit
Louisville: 64% rated it good or excellent
Boulder: 55%
Longmont: 46%
Superior: 33%
Erie: 10%
Lafayette: N/A

Lake-Herrera thinks ordinary Boulderites have some work to do, too. Forty percent of survey respondents have lived here for less than five years, he notes. More established residents can play a role in boosting civic pride.

“There’s a whole new cohort of Boulderites who don’t know their community that well,” he says. “We owe it to them to share the things we’ve kept to our chest for so long. I think we can be more neighborly.”

Sense of community
Superior: 70% rated it excellent or good
Louisville: 67%
Longmont: 65%
Lafayette: 60%
Erie: 57%
Boulder: 56%

Lacis extended a neighborly concession to Louisville, conceding their slight superiority in one regard. “They do have a Sweet Cow” ice cream shop, he says, “and we don’t.” 

His neighborliness has its limits. Lacis’ prediction is that Louisville’s victory won’t be sustained by the time the next survey rolls around.

“Once downtown Superior gets built out,” he says, “Louisville doesn’t stand a chance.”

rondakimbrow – stock.adobe.com Long’s Peak lights up at sunrise as a rural country road leads into the fall trees

Here are some other interesting tidbits from Boulder Weekly’s breakdown.

Lowest of the low: While it wasn’t included in this article (not enough communities asked about it), cost of living got residents the unhappiest. Just 6% of Boulderites were happy with it, versus 25% of Erie residents. 

Safe and sound: Boulder County is by and large a very safe place. More than 90% of residents said they feel somewhat or very safe in their neighborhoods and commercial districts. Downtown Boulder was the one exception, posting the lowest safety score.

Safety of downtown/commercial district
Louisville: 97% feel somewhat or very safe
Superior: 95%
Longmont and Erie: 94%
Boulder: 76%
Lafayette: N/A

Safety of neighborhoods
Longmont: 97%
Louisville, Superior, Erie: 96%
*Lafayette: 95%
Boulder: 93%
*Result reflect residents feelings of safety in Lafayette as a whole

Other results

As a place to raise children
Louisville: 97% rated it as good or excellent
Erie: 91%
Superior: 89%
Longmont: 83%
Boulder: 74%
Lafayette: 69%

Ease of walking
Louisville: 91% rated it good or excellent
Superior and Boulder: 81%
Longmont: 73%
Erie: 70%
*Lafayette: 65%
*Result is an average of three metrics rating pedestrian facilities, street crossings and sidewalks

Ease of biking
Louisville: 89% said it was good or excellent
Superior: 84%
Boulder: 82%
Erie: 68%
Longmont: 60%
Lafayette: 49%

Ease of driving
Superior: 94% gave good or excellent ratings
Louisville: 90%
Erie: 81%
Longmont: 72%
Boulder and Lafayette: 64%

Ease of public parking
Superior: 86% rated it good or excellent
Longmont: 65%
Boulder: 55%
Erie: 54%
Louisville and Lafayette: N/A

Kaylee Harter contributed reporting.