Carroll: Well-heeled Aspen and its high-heeled dilemma

Rick Carroll
Above the Fold

Last week might go down as one of the more bizarre ones in recent Aspen memory — let’s just conveniently blame it on the opening of the Aspen Art Museum — but the upside is that it shone the spotlight on just how opinionated this town is.

We often lament change in this town, but the day I relish that Aspen’s residents stop being outspoken will be the day to look for another job.

It’s not all fun and games, though. On Monday, a reader barged into our offices and wagged her finger in my face, yelling, “Shame on you!” for a syndicated cartoon that we ran in Sunday’s paper, deeming me partly culpable for some of the misinformation being spread in the Middle East’s propaganda wars.

That’s how the cookie crumbles in this business sometimes, but earlier in the day, I spent some time with Rebecca Driscoll, who didn’t get in my face at all but instead took me on an abbreviated tour of the downtown pedestrian malls.

Rebecca has lived in Aspen since she was a young girl and was once an Aspen Times reporter under the reign of Editor Loren Jenkins.

Last week, she picked up the pen again and wrote a letter to the Times as well as Aspen’s elected officials. We titled the letter “Downtown not high-heel friendly,” which essentially captured the essence of Rebecca’s gripe.

If you didn’t know Rebecca — I didn’t until I met her Monday — you’d peg her as one of those bitter Aspenites who is dreaming up yet something else to complain about.

Rebecca’s letter noted that the brick pavers in the malls of Hyman, Cooper and Mill pose a challenge to any woman walking through them in high heels.

“I would challenge you to make it one block in stilettos or even a chunky pump without losing a shoe or a pertinent ligament,” she wrote.

I initially dismissed the letter as yet another garden-variety Aspen complaint with no substance, one that cements this town’s stereotype as the epicenter of First World problems. I even posted it on Facebook, just to point out the sheer ridiculousness of such a claim, especially when you look at where much of the rest of the world is headed.

But after Rebecca showed me the areas of the mall that give her issues on those rare occasions when she does wear high heels, I got it. It’s not a world emergency, mind you, but she does have a point.

Two members of the Aspen City Council — Ann Mullins and Adam Frisch — responded personally to her letter. And according to them both, giving a critical look at the outdoor malls is one of the top 10 goals for the city this year.

In 1976, the city laid 315,000 bricks in the town core, making it pedestrian friendly (unless you’re wearing high heels). And locals and tourists have been stumbling and bumbling through them ever since.

“My take is that the mall, it’s (more than 40) years old, and it’s over loved, and we need to go back and fix a bunch of the infrastructure,” Mullins said. That it’s not high-heel friendly, Mullins said, “That’s an issue we’ve been talking about for 40 years.”

Frisch said that there’s a chance the bricks could be removed one day, “which will open up a can of worms.”

But it’s possible.

“I wish I could give her (Rebecca) credit for that, but we’ve been looking at this for a while,” he said. “And I assume that anything will be more friendly to people walking in high heels.”

Yet losing the bricks could make the walking experience — for most people, at least — in the malls less enjoyable, Frisch said.

“There needs to be an upgrade, but we need to honor the historic nature of the malls,” he said, adding that the malls’ more pressing issues include lighting, safety and power usage.

Also, “One of the bigger discussions that we want to have is the outdoor dining scene and what that will look like,” Frisch said.

To Driscoll’s credit, her letter was funny and entertaining — whether you thought it was intended to be serious or not.

But if the city actually decides to remove those bricks and pave the mall instead, expect to see rioting in the malls — just don’t wear your high heels.

Rick Carroll is editor of The Aspen Times. He takes comments, complaints, questions and news tips at