Andersen: Urban ‘vibrancy’ plagues Aspen |

Andersen: Urban ‘vibrancy’ plagues Aspen

You don’t buy a fancy-ass penthouse in the middle of downtown Aspen for late night noise. Such a prestigious address ought to come with a quiet policy — or at least soundproof walls.

The complaining in Aspen these days doesn’t stop with penthouses. Now the proposed expansion of Rubey Park and the RFTA bus system has become synonymous with noise, pollution and congestion. VelociRFTA has morphed into a brontosaurus of an urban bus line.

“What are they thinking?!” demanded an outraged letter to the editor decrying buses that will line Durant Avenue and add their questionable charm to the downtown core. Mass transit is fine as long as the buses stay out of town. Perhaps Segways can be issued at the Castle Creek Bridge.

The complaining in Aspen will only ramp up as urbanizing influences translate into big-city woes. The issue here is how big Aspen can get before rural mountain values are overwhelmed by urbanization. The complaining is a little late, folks.

On a bike ride last week on a midvalley trail along Highway 82, the constant roar of traffic revealed the sturm und drang of an urbanized valley. The expansion of pavement, traffic and noise has flooded the valley with people and commerce. Some say that’s the ultimate measure of success — hooray! — but when the high pitch of complaints begins to overshadow rhapsodic praise, things are moving out of balance.

Imagine paying a princely fortune for a rooftop palace only to hear someone hurling in the alley downstairs at midnight. Instead of luxuriating in serene splendor, you’re jolted awake at 2 a.m. by a street party of guffawing yahoos. Aspen has become a place where party noise is equated with “vibrancy” — and there’s an ordinance that makes it illegal to bitch about it.

There are four things a grieving penthouse owner can do: 1. Join the party and add to the vibrancy. 2. Sell the penthouse to the next sucker (caveat emptor). 3. Jam foam-rubber earplugs against your eardrums. 4. Buy the bar downstairs, and make some radical changes.

Buying the bar downstairs is the best solution because it exercises market forces to protect a property owner. We live in the Kingdom of Capitalism, so use the power of capital to protect an owner’s rights to a good night’s sleep. It’s the American way!

Buy the bar, and convert it into something that doesn’t make noise. Proclaim yourself a philanthropist, and dedicate the former bar as a branch of the Pitkin County Library where the hushed rule of librarians applies and only the occasional homeless person darkens your door.

If you need income from the property, convert it into a T-shirt shop. Aspen should have more T-shirts and fewer bars if we ever hope to remove “sport drinking” from the chamber-of-commerce activities list. “I Was Sober in Aspen” T-shirts could emphasize temperance while appealing to family values. A revivalist church camp could replace Gay Ski Week as a prominent patron and town identity. Or the two events could run simultaneously to achieve some real messy vitality.

The buses are another hot topic, something I will weigh in on next week with a bold and innovative new plan to move the bus center altogether. Meanwhile, using Rubey Park and Durant Avenue as a locus for an urban bus center is riling up the natives.

“What are they thinking?” is a valid question, but not just for the bus expansion. The focus should be on the urban trends that are incrementally converting Aspen from a mountain town to a maxed out urban resort.

If the transit issue boils down to a choice between a huge bus network or a four-lane into town, that’s not much of a choice. Both approaches carry the risk of killing the goose and tarnishing its golden eggs.

The real complaining should have commenced years ago, during the approval process for the last big development or subdivision, and it should have brought slow growth to every local government in the valley. The complaints we’re hearing now are valid, but the bus is already out of the barn.

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Monday. He can be reached by email at Connect with him on Facebook at paul.andersen.9003.

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