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January 3, 2013
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What gives a small town its character? Aspen wants to know

ASPEN - The city of Aspen has launched a website, www.definitelyaspen.com, to promote a community initiative celebrating "small-town character" and to gather input from residents and visitors to help define the concept.

One of the City Council's top 10 goals for 2012-13, which Councilman Steve Skadron instigated but the entire group agreed upon, is to explore the meaning of small-town character and its relationship to Aspen. It's meant to be a fun exercise and not a method of finding a consensus on specific issues in order to shape public policy, said Mitzi Rapkin, director of community relations for the city.

"This isn't about policy," Rapkin said. "As we go through this exercise with everyone, maybe we'll notice (a common suggestion). And that might be something the council will want to think about.

"But this really isn't about trying to pinpoint small-town character. It's about celebrating it and engaging the community."

Rapkin said four diaries are being created that soon will be passed around town in order to solicit opinions about what people like or don't like about the city. Internet users are encouraged to visit the new website to share any thoughts and photographs that relate to small-town life in Aspen.

She said the project will run through May. In the first week of that month, there will be a municipal election for mayor and two of the four council seats. In June, the new mayor - Mick Ireland is term-limited from seeking re-election - and the winners of the two council seats begin their new terms.

But the small-town-character project has nothing to do with politics, Rapkin said, even though the phrase "small-town character" has been tossed about in political settings such as City Council development debates and three years of discussions that led to the creation, revision and passage of the Aspen Area Community Plan.

"We really want this to be fun," she said. "We've been through a lot of things politically that aren't fun. But Aspen, in essence, is a fun town; it has creative, innovative thinkers and people who are pioneers in many things from skiing to the arts."

She's hoping that local organizations will embrace the topic so that the project's reach can be extended. Toward that end, she plans to meet with the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, the Aspen Writers' Foundation, the Aspen Historical Society, Aspen Skiing Co., the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport and other entities to create partnerships that will further the goal of gathering as much community input as possible.

The Aspen Times already is involved, with Managing Editor Rick Carroll agreeing to publish an occasional column over the next few months on the topic of small-town character. The column will be the work of several different authors instead of a single writer, Rapkin said.

General ideas for settings where the topic might gain some traction include book clubs, art exhibits, block parties and lecture halls, she said. There could even be a call for essays on the subject. Musicians could meet in some venue and play a full night of songs that relate to it.

In other words, the sky is the limit.

"This is kind of like a snowball that starts small and gathers more weight and mass," Rapkin said. "I hope it grows from people in the community submitting their own ideas."

For more information, contact Rapkin at mitzi.rapkin@cityofaspen.com.

asalvail@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Jan 3, 2013 06:41AM Published Jan 3, 2013 01:16AM Copyright 2013 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.