Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Welcome to the Valley of the Jolly Green Giant. Ho! Ho! Ho!
You remember those ads, don’t you?
First the cheery jingle voices singing, “In the valley of the jolly …”
Then the deep booming, “Ho! Ho! Ho!”
And finally the jingle voices swoop in to finish up, “… Green Giant!”
It was designed to make the blood-thirsty giants of fairy tales (“Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman!”) into cuddly critters suitable for hawking canned corn and frozen beans.
Well, you might want to keep that annoying jingle in mind, because now it seems that our little happy valley is intent – once again – on becoming the Valley of Giants.
Never mind the “Jolly” or “Green.” No time for any of that nonsense.
A campaign of gigantism is afoot, as seems to happen every decade or so. And, as befits gigantism, that campaign is not the least bit stealthy. It hollers and roars. Its footsteps thunder, and its footprints seem likely to end up plastered across the flattened bodies of all who stand in its way.
What am I talking about? (Always a good question.)
Well, the three newest giants are easy enough: the art museum, the airport terminal and the library.
All three represent explosive inflation of existing local institutions – and all three seem to be responding to the bigger-is-better-edifice complex of people whose grandiosity just can’t be contained.
We’re not talking cans of corn here, folks.
The Aspen Art Museum, of course, is the poster child for this ego stampede.
Already under construction, it will be a huge building – decide for yourself whether it’s ugly or artistic, but it’s sure as hell big – plopped right in the middle of town, where it will block views and sunlight for decades to come.
I know. We’ve thrashed this through endlessly – so let me just note that the museum was not a response to the needs or desires of the community. In fact, it was approved in a back-room deal, over the vocal objections of a large number of local residents.
Next comes the new airport terminal, another hulking monument to overreach.
This one is not yet approved, but so far community yelps of dismay at the sheer size and brutality of the project are being gleefully ignored. (That’s ignored in the modern style: “We acknowledge your concerns,” followed by the sound of jackhammers.)
You can almost hear those cheerful jingle voices in the background as officials explain. They don’t really absolutely require all those thousands of extra square feet of building they’re asking for – they just want blanket approval in case … just in case. In case, you know, a jumbo jet full of jolly green giants lands here. Then how are we going to handle all those jolly jumbo suitcases? Huh, wise guy? Huh? Did you think about that before you started whining about not needing our charming Air Versailles terminal?
As I have said before: Take a quick pleasure drive over to the Eagle airport and check out that terminal for a glimpse of the sort of thing we might soon find looming at the edge of Aspen.
And now, joining the lineup and flapping its wings, hoping to reach take-off velocity, we get the bigger-must-be-better Pitkin County Library.
Let’s be clear: I think books are cool. I read them. I’ve even written them. I’m all in favor of the “ink-smeared-on-dead-trees” model of publishing (as opposed to electrons smeared across the quantum space-time continuum – or wherever one smears electrons).
And if, someday, we truly do need a library as big as the Pitkin County Courthouse, I’ll be right there screaming in favor of it.
But please notice the sneaky word “need” in the previous sentence.
And while we’re at it, please also notice the word “library.”
As best as I can tell, the proposed library expansion is responding to a “need” on the part of the library board and a “need” on the part of the parking garage roof, not a “need” of the community.
And what they’re proposing is not so much a library as “library,” but library as “community center.” Which we might or might not need – but if we do, well, hey, we’ve got that great building the art museum is about to vacate. Right?
Sure, as Jonah said from the belly of the whale, “We could use a lot of sprucing up inside here.”
But, as Jonah undoubtedly would have said if anyone had asked, we do not need a bigger behemoth.
At the very least (talking library now, not whale,) the case for bigger has not been proven.
It has merely been claimed.
Personally, I’d like to see real proof before we spend more money and make more irrevocable changes to this town.
How about a year – or two – of vibrant community events that fill the library to overflowing, blossoming from genuine community demand. And meanwhile, this little town can continue to save its money while the economy rebuilds.
Let’s stop for a moment and think about other gigantic projects that have been foisted upon us.
The ones that come most immediately to mind are Aspen Highlands Village and Snowmass Base Village.
The Highlands development is over a decade old and I have yet to hear anyone speak a kind word for it.
It was misconceived and mis-designed. It is an unpleasant wart on the butt of a grand mountain and it has never yet managed to generate a single spark of energy or life.
It is just one thing: big.
And, as if no one had learned any lessons from that failure, we soon got Snowmass Base Village – massive in size, massive in misconception, massive in mismanagement. It has been the subject of lawsuits and foreclosures, bankruptcies and murders. (OK, I made up the murders part – but the rest is true.)
It’s a gigantic project and a gigantic disaster.
Highlands and Snowmass “villages” – definitely not jolly, definitely not green. Just giant.
You’d think we’d learn.
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