Courage to address change? | AspenTimes.com

Courage to address change?

The Oct. 4 issue of The Aspen Times carried a letter from a self-described “second-home owner,” who took County Commissioner Mick Ireland to task for “an incorrect assertion (which) does a disservice to the community and is especially disappointing coming from a Pitkin County Commissioner.”

The “incorrect assertion” was Commissioner Ireland’s description of Aspen as follows: “A downtown core that once offered three bookstores, two hardware stores and two drug stores now has none of the above. Offices dedicated to real estate sales showrooms and high-end luxury goods outlets now proliferate where local service businesses once stood.”

The writer offers as proof that this is incorrect, the fact that Explore Booksellers, Carl’s Pharmacy and the True Value hardware store all still exist.

Commissioner Ireland is absolutely correct with his observation. The examples cited by the letter writer are not in the downtown core (which I would define as being within two to three blocks of the corner of Galena and Cooper).

They are located on Main Street and are between four and five blocks from the center of the downtown. They also suffer from being located on a four-lane state highway ? hardly the most pedestrian-friendly environment.

I also am a second-home owner in Aspen and have been coming here for 27 years. It is my observation that over the past 20 years there has been a steady erosion in the diversity which is present in the core and that this erosion has been accelerating within the past five to seven years.

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The current wave of real estate offices is particularly deadly as to any sense of variety. The core currently is certainly not a place where a local resident would conduct any shopping for day-to-day goods and increasingly it is losing its appeal and interest to many tourists ? especially tourists who have anything approaching an average income.

This is a problem which is being recognized in more and more towns. The Oct. 7 issue of Newsweek carried a short item on this which said that in addition to Aspen, it is of concern in Crested Butte and Park City.

For any community/town/society to succeed it (or at least its leaders) needs at least three things:

First, an ability to recognize when change is occurring.

Second, an ability to make a judgment as to the value of the change (and not all change is bad ? a surprising amount is good).

Third, a willingness to try to come up with solutions if the change is judged to be less than desirable.

Commissioner Ireland has demonstrated ability to the first two items ? recognize change and make a judgment as to its merits ? and is to be commended for this. It remains to been seen if the community will be able to devise solutions to combat the negative aspects of this change.

For the record, I have never been introduced to Commissioner Ireland and would not know him if I bumped into him.

William Barnhart

Aspen and Minneapolis