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Are we loving Aspen to death?

Just about everyone who reads this paper agrees that Aspen is a special place. In order to preserve many of its unique qualities, City Councils over the years have passed regulations ” sign ordinances, historic preservation ordinances, noise ordinances, urban open-space requirements and a gargantuan land-use code, among others.

In many ways, these laws have served the town well. Thankfully, Aspen is devoid of billboards and other visual claptrap, for example, and is still full of handsome historic structures. But recently people have begun to wonder if Aspen isn’t somewhat trapped in the past, or at least paralyzed by all of its self-imposed rules.

Seeking to inject a little more life into the commercial core, the City Council recently hired some consultants for advice. Here’s what one of them, Ford Frick, had to say (we printed this in the daily paper this week, but think it bears repeating): “It’s a little too 1970 … This town has talked messy vitality for 25 years. I don’t know if you really believe it. There’s very little that’s messy. There’s very little that’s vital in this downtown.”

Ouch! Smarts, doesn’t it?

But it’s true. Aspen is so scared of screwing itself up that it has forced itself into stagnation. We think it’s time for the city to let down its hair a little. Not so long ago, it was a spirit of freedom and spontaneity that made this place famous.

Some interesting proposals surfaced at a recent meeting, including a wintertime fire pit that could double in the summer as an outdoor kitchen for community dinners; an “incubator alley” where start-up businesses can set up shop along the back walls of existing buildings; more outdoor seating and outdoor displays, for a more marketlike atmosphere downtown.

Some of these ideas will require some legislative loosening. We hope the City Council sees fit to open things up a bit on the pedestrian malls and throughout the core.

We must be leery, of course, of turning Aspen into a flea market or neon shop-o-rama. But Aspen is hardly in danger of becoming an alpine Las Vegas; most of the signs on the mall are too small to read from two doors away, and hardly a fallen leaf is allowed to linger on the pavement for more than a day or two. With its battalions of plows, shovels and blowers, Aspen has very nearly banished snow from town.

Fewer regulations and a bit more freedom to experiment, and even fail, could add some much-needed vibrancy to this over-Aspenized town.


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