Beaton: Return downtown to the people |

Beaton: Return downtown to the people

Glenn K. Beaton
The Aspen Beat

Aliens visiting earth would think initially that the dominant life form on this planet has four wheels and owns two-legged slaves who feed and care for it.

In a sense, they would be right. In the developed world, we have more cars than people. People love their cars.

I love my cars too, and have owned four BMW’s to prove it. At one point, my family of four humans owned five cars (or maybe that family of five cars owned four humans).

But there’s a place for cars and a place for people. Downtown Aspen should be a place for people.

In other towns on this planet, the human slaves have revolted. Zermatt has prohibited cars within five miles of town for over 30 years. Large sections of Prague, Chamonix, Florence, Vienna, Edinburgh and other great towns and villages in Europe don’t allow cars. Some of the Greek Islands don’t allow cars on the entire island. Large parts of ancient Rome and Pompeii were closed to cars.

It’s not to be green, though that’s certainly a benefit. It’s to make the space habitable for people.

And it does. The space bustles with excitement. It’s one big outdoor park, except with restaurants and shops — as our small Cooper and Hyman avenue malls are for much of the year.

These outdoor gathering places encourage walking. They encourage children to play. Heck, they encourage adults to play. They are a place for shopping and eating and drinking. They let people look one another in the eye, and smile if they wish. They strip us of the automobile armament that we hide behind, and require us to interact with one another as people. (When is the last time a pedestrian honked his horn at you?)

They are on the human scale in which we evolved over millions of years.

The revolt is not just in Europe. In North America, there’s the Distillery District in Toronto, which is closed to cars. In Boston, there’s Downtown Crossing. Even in New York City, part of Broadway is pedestrian-only, as is part of Fulton Street and a block of 25th Street.

Embarrassingly, even Denver is more pedestrian friendly and has more blocks closed to cars than Aspen does. As do Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Calgary and Boulder.

And here’s the killer: So does Vail. That’s right, Vail has more blocks closed to cars than Aspen does. (Yikes!)

Retailers sometimes are against pedestrian malls because they think people won’t visit their stores if they can’t park in front. I think they sell their customers short. You seldom find a spot right in front anyway. And the experience of retailers on the Cooper and Hyman avenue malls has been exactly the opposite; that’s some of the most prime retail space in town. On pedestrian malls elsewhere in the world, retailing has boomed.

It’s no surprise. If you make an area habitable, people will inhabit it.

Look at it this way: Would you like to cut down the trees, dig up the cobblestones, and reopen the Cooper and Hyman malls to cars? If your answer is no, then why not more of the same?


Speaking of downtown, City Council wants to allow more noise there. Fine. Whatever their motivations, reasoned arguments can be made on both sides of that issue.

But they intend to accomplish their goal in a weird way. The noise measurement will be made not at the property line of the violator, as is done in the rest of the world. Instead, the cops would enter the residence of the complaining person, close all the doors and windows, and then take a noise measurement from inside the complaining person’s residence.

That’s unconstitutional. For one thing, it’s a violation of the Fourth Amendment because the cops have no warrant to enter the house of the complaining person. Reporting a violation of the law occurring outside your house doesn’t give the cops permission to enter your house.

For another thing, it’s a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Producing a particular level of noise is either a lawful activity or it’s not. It can’t be a lawful activity if the person complaining about it chooses to install sound-proofing, but not a lawful activity if the complainer chooses not to. It can’t be a lawful activity with respect to one complainer, but an unlawful activity with respect to another. The legality of your activities is not dependent on my response to them.

Let’s hope the city attorney weighs in before City Council makes us look silly, again, on national news.

Glenn Beaton can be reached at and his columns are archived at