John Colson: Hit and Run

John ColsonAspen Times WeeklyAspen, CO Colorado

You have to wonder what’s going through the heads of the Aspen City Council and the city’s staff, concerning this odd battle to preserve the Given Institute complex, which sits next to the Red Brick Center for the Arts in the historic West End.To explain a bit, the Institute is owned by the University of Colorado’s medical school, and is on land donated by the late Elizabeth Paepcke as a legacy to help sustain the intellectual branch of the three-part Aspen Idea – that is, that Aspen should always be a place where people could nourish their bodies (with outdoor activities), minds (with the programs of the Aspen Institute, the Given and others) and spirits (mainly through the mighty musical programs of the Aspen Music Festival and School).This was the foundation of modern Aspen, as envisioned by the Paepckes, Walter and Elizabeth, and their like-minded cohorts back in the 1940s.But the Given has fallen on hard times, mostly in the form of financial troubles facing the university, and the university has come up with the not-very-novel idea of selling the property rather than continuing to support it financially and programmatically.Okay, we can all get that. The current Great Recession, far from being over or even moderating, seems to be settling in for a long siege against our national economy and spirit. For most of us, of course, it’s a matter of whether we can hang onto our jobs, our homes and our lifestyles in the face of economic chaos. I thank former President George Bush and his cronies for our present state of unease. I know the seeds of our destruction were sown far earlier by his predecessors, but Bush & Co. brought together all the little philosophical seedlings into one giant monster money tree, and fed it with our hopes and dreams until it got so fat it exploded and collapsed.But, enough of that, for now.The Given Institute has succumbed to the same fiscal hurricane, probably in large part because CU was heavily invested in the mindless pattern of growth that became the monster I referred to above.You see, it is the peculiar and particular curse of the U.S. of A. that we are hell-bent on acting as though cancer is the appropriate model for our economic policies – growth is good for growth’s sake, no matter that it crowds out the truly useful and necessary, but much less profitable, attributes of a healthy and happy society.But, regardless of how CU mismanaged its way into a fiscal crisis, that is why the school is now trying to unload the Given and rake in the same kind of speculative profit that has become synonymous with Aspen real estate.And now the city council is dancing and writhing like a dervish on acid as it tries to figure out how to stymie CU’s plans.Don’t get me wrong. I am as much in favor of historical and cultural preservation as the next guy, and have expended vats and vats of ink in support of city efforts along those lines. And I view with distaste, which sometimes borders on rage, the conversion of Aspen into a realtors’ piggy bank and enclave for the super-rich.Hence, I would be as bummed out as anyone to see yet another starter castle rise upon the ruins of the Given Institute, looming like a vulture on the bluff overlooking Hallam Lake and the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies.But I have the feeling that this fight already is doomed to failure, and that the city is in the position of Don Quixote, titling at windmills when there are other, more important matters to be dealt with.For example, there is the $15 million price tag the city, at least initially, seemed to consider acceptable for an outright purchase of the property. The tax revenues needed to pay off such a debt might very well be used in better ways, whether in transportation or housing or making Aspen’s energy profile a little greener.Then there is all the time and focus being put to this little dustup, which unavoidably distracts the city from its usual duties.Of course, I could be wrong, and the defenders of the Given may be right in holding that the loss of this facility would be another nail in Aspen’s coffin that does not have to be hammered home.’Tis a puzzlement, and that’s for