New group wants voice for Aspen’s young adults

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times

Christine Benedetti has seen more friends leave Aspen than stay because of the town’s rising cost of living and limited career opportunities.

The 31-year-old has dealt with both obstacles herself, and after being priced out of the Aspen market, she bought a condominium in Snowmass.

“I played the housing lottery long enough to start looking elsewhere because it wasn’t working,” she said. “But I’ve been here for eight years, so I’m pretty set in the community.”

Benedetti, along with six others between the ages of 27 and 39, have formed the Next Generation Advisory Commission, a group that will advise the Aspen City Council on issues that affect young adults in the community.

In a recent Next Generation Advisory Commission study, the group polled 193 people, ages 18 to 40. They found that more than 90 percent of respondents want to remain in Aspen, while 86 percent said they want to raise a family here.

“So young people are not leaving because of a lack of desire,” said the group’s 27-year-old chairman, Skippy Mesirow. “It’s simply because it’s oftentimes financially too difficult to find a job that can pay to raise a family here.”

The seven members of the board, who were appointed by the council, are Mesirow, co-chair Benedetti, treasurer Jennifer Bennett, Kimbo Brown-Schirato, Jill Teehan, Lindsey Palardy, Summer Woodson-Berg, Catherine Lutz and Olivia Siegel. They will serve staggered terms between one and four years. The council is expected to officially sanction the group on Jan. 27.

Mesirow noted that there already are a handful of youth-based groups in the valley, but the Next Generation Advisory Commission will be the only one with the official ear of the council. He said the Aspen Democracy Initiative, which he and Teehan are both involved with, is different in the fact that it is not aimed to affect policy. Rather, it is used as a tool to get young people interested in civic issues. The Next Generation Advisory Commission, on the other hand, will serve as a sound board between the council and the young-adult community.

“I think it’s a national trend that we’re not seeing our age group involved,” Benedetti said. “But locally, we have a lot of people who want to stay in Aspen and are unable to because of affordability or housing or child care. So this group was born really out of the goal of trying to keep young people in Aspen.”

“The other point unique to Aspen,” Mesirow said, “is that Aspen has a very storied history of youth involvement in politics and the political process. … I’d say young people are absolutely necessary for the continued vitality and functioning of Aspen.”

At a previous council meeting, Mayor Steve Skadron expressed concern about the lack of diversity on the Next Generation Advisory Commission. With backgrounds in law, asset management, business and journalism, the group lacks working-class representation, Skadron said.

On Thursday, Benedetti said that though there are no board vacancies at this point, the current members will nominate their predecessors, with final say coming from the council. She said they specifically will be reaching out to individuals in the service, retail and hospitality industries.

“We’re aware of the need for representation from different groups in the community,” she said.

Like Benedetti, Mesirow said his plan is to remain in the Roaring Fork Valley.

“I love Aspen. I can’t speak to what happens when I do get married, have children, need to buy a house,” Mesirow said. “But it is my absolute intention to make it my home.”