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Survey says Aspenites are unhappy with quality of life

Latest city survey results show dissatisfaction with lack of affordable restaurants, shops

After taking a three-year hiatus, the city of Aspen recently surveyed its citizens on how their government is serving them and how life is in general, and on both fronts residents are more dissatisfied than they were when polled in 2019.

Respondents dissatisfied with their personal quality of life are especially unhappy with the lack of affordable shopping, restaurants and housing, according to the survey results, which were presented at Aspen City Council’s work session on Monday.

Many residents shared their challenges with affordable living and said they are less likely to trust the municipal government to look out for their interests.



“In their open-ended comments they were much more likely to talk about suggestions for the city of Aspen, and they were much more likely to talk about the need for more affordable shopping, groceries and of course the need for more affordable housing,” said Debbie Balch, CEO of Elevated Insights, the consultant hired by the city to conduct the survey. “But the (comments) were really talking about, ‘I don’t have a restaurant to go to where I can connect with other locals, and that’s impacting my quality of life.’”

One out of every three respondents shared that living in Aspen needs to be more affordable, stating a genuine need for affordable restaurants, retail, bars, groceries, recreation, parking and public transportation.




Those who are dissatisfied with quality-of-life issues range from 18 to 34 years old and make under $100,000 a year, Balch said.

Dissatisfied residents commented that they believe it’s the city’s responsibility to address the lack of affordability for the working class in terms of having basic services like a laundromat and stores they can afford.

“That excludes us from being part of the community, which is disenfranchising,” Balch quoted one respondent in the survey.

In 2019, 71% of respondents said they were satisfied with city services and that dropped to 52% this year.

Those who tended to be dissatisfied with the quality of city services were men, business owners and between 35 to 54 years old.

“The areas they were grading lower were community engagement, customer-focused government and maintaining the city’s financial health,” Balch said.

Almost 30% of respondents passionately shared that they want less development and increased controls over commercial developers; 69% are dissatisfied with commercial and residential development.

Some residents asked that the city help reduce economic inequalities between visitors and locals.

Councilwoman Rachel Richards said the municipal government has limited power and cannot control the free market but recognized that the landscape of new residents and guests has changed the sentiment in town, as evidenced by a survey done last year by the Aspen Chamber Resort Association.

“People really felt the guests were treating them differently in the community and there’s very, very little respect for the workers anymore,” she said.

Balch noted that she believes that many people who responded in the survey had a misperception that the local government is favoring certain groups.

“The city is doing stuff for the benefit of the tourists or for the benefit of the second-home owners or for the benefit of the billionaires, not the working class,” she said. “I’m not saying that is true, but that is the perception coming through.”

The city took a new approach in surveying residents this year, and broadened its scope to include more Spanish-speaking residents and those in the 18- to 34-year-old demographic, said Patrick Quick, the city’s strategy and innovation director.

He and Alissa Farrell, administrative services director, said because of the expansive communication net that was cast, 678 completed responses were received, which is an increase from 439 in 2019 — 54% additional respondents from the previous survey.

The city also included its own strategic focus areas in the survey questions and described them for respondents in an effort to learn where it can improve.

“We take this feedback really seriously, and I do think there is a way that we can move the needle, and you will be seeing it in future work sessions and memos as well,” Farrell said.

Councilman Ward Hauenstein when he read the results said his first instinct was to get defensive, but then he realized the city and council are addressing many of the strategic focus areas where there is dissatisfaction.

“I am looking for a silver lining, and all I can say is that I think this council is really conscious of what some of those inequities are, and we are doing what we can to address them,” he said. “I’m proud of the direction we are going, but I’m disheartened that our community doesn’t think we are doing enough.”

csackariason@aspentimes.com

 


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