Stone: Yuk! A worm in our golden apple
Those of you who spend your time noticing things may have noticed that this column has been missing from the paper for the past few weeks. In any case, whether you noticed my absence, I’m back this week to let you know that, for a variety of personal and professional reasons, I am going to continue that blessed silence for a while longer, most likely well into the new year (2017, a prime number!) — by which time I hope we all will have recovered from the twin horrors of Halloween 2016 and the election following appropriately close on its haunted heels.
There are a number of topics I have been meaning to write about — why I have a hard time bothering with recycling these days, why historic preservation seems to be neither, and why we should all run out to the airport for a goodbye kiss — but since I’m taking this little break (and since I suspect those topics will still be of interest, to me at least, a few months from now), I thought I would write one more time about the worm that’s gnawing at the heart of the golden apple of this post-Lapsarian fallen Eden of ours. (I offer that last sentence as a goodbye gift: Have fun unraveling that nasty knot of mixed metaphors and mythological, linguistic and philosophical outrages. You’re welcome.)
That gnawing gorilla of a worm is, of course, growth.
Please note that I am not saying “uncontrolled growth,” or “runaway growth,” or even the ever-popular “greed-driven growth.”
The worm in question is growth. Simple, plain and unmodified.
We can squabble all we want over the airport, affordable housing, new hotels or the Traffic Jam from Hell, but it all comes back to growth. Without growth past and present, none of these problems would be nearly so problematic. (There’s no point in designing a new bilge pump if you keep busting holes in the bottom of your boat.)
What caught — and focused — my attention this week was a comment from a candidate for local office, someone whom I might or might not agree with on a lot of issues, but who is a solid, reasonable longtime local resident.
What he said, almost in passing on his way to a wider-ranging comment, was “We need growth, of course, to maintain a vibrant and …”
Hold it right there, pal! That’s enough.
Sure, he went on to say that the growth has to be managed — or maybe he said “controlled” — but that doesn’t really matter.
What matters was the “we need growth” and, even more, the “of course.”
He tossed the “of course” in almost casually, but I think it’s the key to the problem because it makes (or wants to make) it a given that we “need” growth.
And that is a basic assumption for a lot of people. It’s the good old “a shark has to keep swimming or it dies.”
But I think what we really “need” is to look long and hard at that exact assumption.
After all, who “needs” growth?
OK, time out for two quick points:
1. No, I do not want to “go back to the Quiet Years.”
2. Just to get technical for a moment, I’m not saying we don’t need growth in tourist business, growth in tourist numbers; I’m saying we don’t need growth in tourist accommodations. We can “fill in the low spots” in the season (summer and winter). We can upgrade the hotels we have. That’s not the growth I’m talking about. I’m talking about the growth that makes Aspen bigger. So, as I was saying …
Who “needs” growth?
I don’t think you do. (Unless you’re a “love ‘em and leave ‘em,” blow-into-town, rape and pillage and get the hell out of here sort. But that’s not you, is it? If it is, please put down this paper and go away. Far away.)
Even if you’re a developer or a builder, there’s a lifetime of work upgrading and even replacing what we have now — lodges and even homes. There are still Victorians to be (unfortunately) turned into mansions. And mansions to be turned into mega-mansions. And, for that matter, mega-mansions to be turned into maxi-mega-mansions. Or even just newer, shinier mega-mansions. I don’t like it, but that’s my problem. The point is, developers don’t “need” growth.
And if you own a lodge or a restaurant, you don’t need more lodges and restaurants competing with you and you don’t really need more customers in town during those few weeks when you’re already maxed out and drowning in business. You need more business during the slow times between those peaks.
And if you’re a real estate agent (isn’t everybody?), there’s plenty of real estate to keep changing hands at ever-increasing prices — which will increase even more if the supply is no longer increasing to meet the demand.
And, on the flip side, a town that isn’t depending on that kind of (bigger and bigger) growth, is better situated to survive slumps in the economy.
And a town that isn’t constantly getting bigger can (perhaps, maybe, conceivably) find a way to get a handle on the traffic jam and all the rest. (Patch the holes in the hull and then start the bilge pumps.)
And a town that isn’t constantly torn apart by massive new construction is, well, just plain better for all concerned — visitors and residents alike.
My bottom line: Aspen is not obliged to provide a living for every construction worker within a 100-mile radius. And it’s not obliged to provide profits for developers who flock from thousands of miles away, drawn by the smell of big money.
So let me ask it one more time, perhaps a little more loudly: Who the hell needs growth?
Most importantly, does Aspen?
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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