‘Urban open space’ belongs in past with shag and disco
We were pleased to learn last week that the Aspen City Council is prepared to relax provisions in its land-use code regarding “urban open space,” but we’d like to see the city relax a little more.
City rules regarding downtown open space (arguably an oxymoron, except where it regards actual parks) have produced a few great spots to hang out, and a larger number of cold and mostly uninhabited concrete pockets.
A reaction to some uninspired, monolithic buildings that cropped up during the early 1970s, the regulations require 25 percent of every downtown parcel to remain undeveloped.
On the positive side, the rules have led to some of Aspen’s favorite gathering spots, such as the corner of Cooper and Galena outside the Paradise Bakery. Unfortunately, they’ve also spawned a number of uselessly recessed facades and subgrade “moats” that tend to be shady and uninviting.
This blanket requirement is a lousy way to plan and develop a town. Some lots can reasonably and usefully accommodate public “open space,” but many of Aspen’s most attractive buildings were built from lot line to lot line, with storefronts that bump right up against the sidewalk. Who would recommend the mining-era Brand Building be modified with “urban open space”?
An overhaul of the open space requirement was part of the city’s failed “infill” legislation, and we’re glad the topic hasn’t been abandoned. Council members seem prepared to change the requirement from a pure open space exaction to the more general “pedestrian amenities” ” meaning that developers could provide open space, pay cash toward other pedestrian improvements, or make off-site improvements themselves.
This is a good direction that holds potential for a more pedestrian-friendly town. But we still question the notion of a requirement for open space or pedestrian amenities. In an overpriced town like Aspen, we think it’s fair that developers contribute toward affordable housing, but is there really a compelling public interest for an open space exaction?
Rather than taking a punitive approach ” extracting a percentage of someone’s property, or requiring them to pay money ” why not give developers an incentive to provide open space? Perhaps reduce other requirements in exchange for providing public space? After all, in the places where it works ” think Zele ” it gives the developer a better and more marketable property.
Whatever the case, the existing rule is obsolete. Today’s one-size-fits-all requirement should go the way of disco music, shag carpet and other mistakes of the ’70s.