Keep the information highway a two-way street |

Keep the information highway a two-way street

John Colson
Aspen Times Weekly

There aren’t a lot of one-way streets in Aspen, which may be seen as a metaphor for the town’s general attitude, its view of life and of itself: There are at least two sides to every issue, and the hoot and holler of public discussion cannot be shut down to a one-way flow.

I write, for those who might not have been paying attention, about the city’s decision to make Galena and Cooper streets into a one-way angle iron of traffic in a summer-long experiment, from Hopkins around the corner to Hunter. Part of the goal here is to create more downtown parking by switching from parallel to angled parking spaces, which may or may not prove to be a brilliant move.

The chaos this undoubtedly will cause to a certain subset of our driving community will be amusing, to say the least. Perhaps it will even end up as litigation of some sort, as people in this country seem to believe unqualifiedly that they have the right to drive in any direction they damn well please, regardless of community preferences. We shall see.

But the very attempt to challenge these beliefs may be instructive in a broader sense.

There is no one way of viewing any issue in this town, whether political, cultural or economic, at least in terms of the feelings of its more vocal denizens. Take, for example, the ongoing battle between the City Council and the army of critics of the council’s recent attempts to broaden the reach of historic preservation regulations.

The city tried to extend historic preservation protections to homes built in the last 30 years along lines that were neither exact nor clear, and those who view property as their best road to riches went immediately and loudly ballistic. Their explosive anger has haunted the City Council chamber ever since, and will continue to do so.

This week, it erupted into confrontation when a champion of the opposition, one Marilyn Marks, announced that she and her cohort have decided it would be helpful to hire the local community access channel’s camera crews to videotape the city council’s work sessions. Normally these meetings have been informal affairs, providing an arena for council members and the public to spar on any number of issues out of the eager glare of immediate public scrutiny, sometimes with hilariously entertaining results.

Predictably, City Council members reacted with some hostility, assuming that the real goal of their detractors was to find something with which to further harass and humiliate our elected leaders. In a venue where council members historically have been able to let their hair down a bit, they seem to fear that their every utterance would become fodder for the anti-government machine. They would lose what little chance they have to ruminate in a free and open dialogue, to think out loud, and to explore ideas that even they consider too wild for public consumption, but which might yield some beneficial food for thought further down the road.

Ms. Marks and her crowd, quick to sense a flailing weakness in the armor of the enemy, responded with protestations of innocence and declarations that they merely want to increase “transparency” in the local halls of governance.

Smelling political blood, the proponents of videotaping will certainly charge ahead, and this skirmish is sure to continue and perhaps grow to the status of all-out war, while we on the sidelines watch it all with glee. The fact that this sort of thing detracts from government’s ability to get its work done will undoubtedly become part of the debate.

And there it is. Governance is a two-way street, with the public obliged by our constitutional framework to take part in the business of being governed.

The City Council, in its efforts to keep its work sessions on an informal, closed-door footing, is in a way trying to make that part of its job a one-way informational street.

Now, as we all know, we are well into the dawning age of the information highway, barreling down a freeway of data, commerce and debate that necessarily must travel in more than one direction.

So it would seem that the City Council is dashing down not only a one-way street, but a dead end. And the end result of all this, just like the Galena-Cooper experiment, may not be what anybody expects.