Gustafson: Soul searching | AspenTimes.com

Gustafson: Soul searching

Britta Gustafson
Then Again

With so many lifestyle factors in the eye of the beholder, are there any key elements that connect residents with their communities and bring visitors back year after year?

As we continue to redevelop our town, community and environment, it seems we are reaching a critical juncture. The choices of today not only determine future economic growth but also affect our deep connections to community and, most importantly, our overall happiness.

Perhaps consider this a point of rebirth — 50 years behind us, the future in our hands. We are experiencing a time of financial comfort, perhaps even feeling compelled to enjoy a spending spree. But life is short. Would you choose to move into a house perpetually under construction? Are we experiencing some form of communal body-dysmorphia, never satisfied?

With a fiscal surplus seemingly burning a hole in our town pocket and public projects left, right and soon to be center, are we moving forward with genuine consideration for quality of life or are we simply spending or face-lifting until we homogenize.

We are aged and youthful, unsatisfied yet maxed out. We want to preserve the beauty all around us, but we can't seem to control the urge to splurge on incremental increases in height and density restrictions, creeping urbanization and a compulsion to build on each piece of undeveloped land. We want to be more green while we literally pave the way up the slopes.

If we continue to reuse the blueprints of other ski resorts, or engineer to the same standards as cookie-cutter suburbs, while encouraging adding every "new" old idea to our design, won't we end up with all the same conflicts? Round and round and roundabout we go?

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So again, what really makes a place great to live in, to visit, the type of place you never want to leave? This is the question on my mind each time I hear of proposed developments, projects or infrastructure upgrades.

I came of age during the initial Base Village debates and have listened to a community of changing opinions and attitudes over the past decades. The regrets are palpable and the hindsight too late.

So when I plead for a pause in action it's based on witnessing projects that were pushed through without the full support of the very community who will shoulder the ramifications for a lifetime.

I recently stumbled across a serendipitous study suitably named "Soul of the Community." Focusing on the emotional connections between residents and their communities, this Gallup survey studied 26 mid-sized towns across the United States in three-year increments. The study has been conducted three times over the past two decades. The most recent findings, released in 2016, show a lasting trend helping to determine the factors that attach residents to their communities and identifying the role that community-attachment plays in an area's economic growth and well-being.

This correlation supports the theory that if you are attached to a place, you will spend more time and money there, becoming more productive, involved and invested in that community.

The study identifies 10 domains that drive community attachment at varying levels:

Basic services: community infrastructure

Local Economy

Safety

Leadership and elected officials

Aesthetics: physical beauty and green spaces

Education systems

Social offerings – opportunities for social interaction and citizen caring

Openness

Civic involvement

Social capital – networks between residents

Consider rating these when selecting a place to which you might move or visit.

Try it.

You may assume the top-rated factors to be safety, education or economy. But ponder lifestyle and quality of daily life. Where would you really like to live and plant your roots?

Consistent across all 26 cities surveyed and over 43,000 interviews the top of the list is aesthetics followed by openness and social offerings. These same top three also rank as No. 1, 2, and 3 in the 2010 study.

If you read my column or know me personally, you know I do not shy away from advocating for aesthetics.

To me, it's about the colorful fall canvas of honeyed hillsides sparkling gold in the warm morning rays; the lustrous, wide-open, snow-covered meadows dancing with shadows at dusk. It's the spring-green leaves quaking against an expansive deep-blue, midsummer sky, and the voluptuous mountain horizons that blur the lines between heaven and earth.

So while we consider the possibility of another $6 million roundabout, sidewalk to nowhere, or confusing set of flashing lights, perhaps we should evaluate public improvements based on how much they enhance the soul of our community. Run this Litmus test: Will it improve our aesthetics, openness or social offerings? If not, should they be a priority?

Let's exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at brittag@ymail.com.

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