A victory for the Armies of the Noble Past | AspenTimes.com
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A victory for the Armies of the Noble Past

John Colson

It was a battle of desires, and the desire to do as little as possible for as long as possible won.

When the Aspen City Council this week overrode members of its own planning and zoning commission and an angry mob of real estate developers and chamber of commerce boosters, it was a victory for the Armies of the Noble Past.

That was the image that came to mind as I watched the council pass an emergency ordinance enacting a six-month moratorium on new construction proposals (with certain exemptions).

It wasn’t that the City Council and the White Shirts ” citizen lobbyists so named for their plaintive T-shirts declaring “We (love) Aspen” ” were stuck in the past, so much as they weren’t exactly overwhelmed with love regarding the prevailing vision of Aspen’s immediate future.

And neither, if the truth be told, were some of the Armies of the Gilded Future (my name for the resisters of the moratorium), who vastly outnumbered the White Shirts and essentially warned of impending economic doom if the moratorium were adopted.

More than one of the moratorium resisters indicated that they, too, were disenchanted with the idea of a future filled with smelly dump trucks clogging city streets, construction cranes filling the horizon in all directions and a continuous brown cloud of dust rising from countless construction sites.

But their Gilded Future is the necessary fate of this town if the present economy, which is heavily dependent on an ongoing frenzy of construction, simply rolls along without a pause. And that is what these resisters wanted.

But a moratorium is nothing more than a pause. The desire of the moratorium backers is to take a breath, shake the dust from their eyes and noses, and use the moment of silence, as it were, to study other possible ways to keep our community thriving and happy without “killing the goose that laid the golden egg.” That phrase really was used at one point. And it was appropriate. Even some of the resisters recognized that.

Aspen is almost unique among ski resort economies around the nation. Its opulence and chic originally were based on the rather narrow foundation of skiing as a way of having fun in the winter, just like so many others. But that foundation was expanded by Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke, who dragged Aspen out of its funky somnolence immediately after World War II, when the town remained stuck in the doldrums left behind when the silver-mining boom collapsed in a heap of shattered dreams.

By broadening Aspen’s horizons to include music, art and high culture, the Paepckes and their ilk helped to create a town that was mighty cool, besides having some of the best skiing in the world.

No repeat of Aspen’s historic collapse is imminent now, although the pronouncements of the Armies of the Gilded Future might have led you to think that way. Mayor Helen Klanderud, a sympathizer with the Armies of the Gilded Future, actually cautioned that passage of a moratorium might cause the construction industry to simply give up and go away.

Hah! We should be so lucky.

No, Helen, that stunningly misleading bit of hyperbole was so far off-base as to be off-planet. As we have seen with moratoriums past, they do not signal an end to Aspen’s construction boom. A moratorium may shake out some of the weaker elements of the construction industry, but the town as a whole will still be what it has been in six months. Which is to say, it will still be a place where real estate speculation is the rule, money will be made by adhering to that rule, and those who like making money that way will be here to do it.

But, if we’re lucky, this pause in the rush to cash in may just provide us with a siding along the railroad carrying the Armies of the Gilded Future in their headlong rush for wealth. And it just might be that the views from the train on this siding will not be filled with construction cranes blocking the ridgeline, or so obscured by dust that we couldn’t see the ridgeline even if the cranes weren’t there.

This siding, in fact, might provide us with a route toward a different future, one in which Aspen does not start to look like Vail, or any one of the many ski towns where money is the only thing that matters.


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