Very simply, indicators are pieces of information that tell us something about the status of a larger system. A favorite analogy in the field of community indicators is that of an airplane control panel or a car dashboard. An altimeter indicates a plane's altitude. A gas gauge indicates a car's fuel level. Based on what these indicators show, a pilot knows whether to fly higher or lower and a driver knows when to fill up the tank. Many kinds of indicators are used to inform many different kinds of decisions.

Community indicators reflect the status of a community's health and quality of life. In order to know if we're heading in a desired direction, we need some guides to show us the way. Indicators are a tool for helping us understand ourselves as a community. They can aid citizens, policy makers, government agencies, the media, businesses and local activists in identifying and exploring the relationships among a wide range of community health trends and conditions.


Quality of Life in Boulder County 1998 represents three years of pubic process and one year of professional data work. Various experts were convened as necessary to provide technical assistance.

The indicators contained in this first report are intended to measure progress toward or away from the vision of a healthy community that was developed through the BCHCI planning process. The vision was essentially the foundation from which we built the structure of the report. We then generated lists upon lists of potential indicators. In order to winnow down the list, several criteria were applied. Indicators were selected partially based upon their:

  • VALIDITY - Does the indicator provide meaningful information about what is being measured?
  • ACCESSIBILITY - Are the date available?
  • UNDERSTAND ABILITY - Can the indicator be easily understood by the general public?
  • RELIABILITY - Can the indicator be consistently measured over time?

It should be noted that in some cases, these criteria were rather loosely applied to allow for flexibility in the selection process.

Unfortunately, the best data were not available for all of the things that the community would like to monitor. In this first report, we included several indicators for which the data was less than ideal. However, we felt that qualitative presentation of certain indicators was better than none. By acknowledging the limitations of community data, we may find ways in the future to obtain more meaningful measures.

This particular set of indicators does not represent a final or comprehensive assessment of quality of life in Boulder county. Rather, this report should be read as an initial inquiry into the healthy of our community. Based on your comments, reactions, suggestions and questions, we hope to refine and modify the indicators in future publications to even better reflect community needs and concerns. If this first report serves as a catalyst for people to think and talk bout community health and sustainability in a regional context, then we will consider our job well begun.


In order to make this report easy to follow, the multiple themes of the vision were grouped into four areas of community focus: People, Environment, Economy, Culture & Society. The vision language related to each of these focus areas is presented in the introduction in each section.

Each area of focus is further broken down into several dimensions. Some dimensions are measured by only one indicator while others contain several indicators. The Table of Contents (facing page) provides the best overview of the indicators framework.

Each indicator is accompanied by a description, a rationale for why the measure was selected, and an explanation of what the data show.

Linkages highlighting the relationships between certain indicators have been identified where appropriate.

Table of Contents/Boulder County at a Glance/A Vision for the Environment /Air Quality/
Extirpated and Declining Species
/Watershed Water Quality/
Water Imports from the Western Slope
/Land Annexation/
Agricultural Land
/Vehicle Miles Traveled/Recycling/Sources of Data
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