Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw | AspenTimes.com

Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw

The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

So it would seem that Aspen continues to be besieged by the relentless need to improve things.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m all in favor of improvement.

It’s just that “improving” things rarely seems to lead to anything that might be considered an actual, you know, improvement.

Crusty old curmudgeon that I seem to be turning into, part of me actually yearns for the “good old days” when Aspen was run by some genuine crusty old curmudgeons.

Sure, I loathed them – and they didn’t know (or care) I existed. But never mind that.

Back then, young idealists had to fight tooth and nail to get any kind of “improvement” through the endless barriers the “establishment” put in their way.

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The result was many fewer improvements – and those improvements that did survive resulted in a higher level of actual improvement.

I started thinking about that when I read that the city is trying to do some more planning on improvements to Galena Plaza – also known as that patch of nice green grass behind the library that almost no one really uses. (Except, of course, those great Shakespeare productions, which I love – especially the modern-dress “Julius Caesar” a few years ago, in which Brutus, after stabbing Caesar with a switchblade, somehow managed to stab himself in the leg, soaking his nifty, white suit in blood and resulting in the cancellation of the rest of the performance. One of my favorite theatrical performances.)

It seems that inoffensive little bit of greensward is caught in the eye of a planning hurricane.

The plaza needs to be torn up completely as part of the repairs to the parking-garage roof. (The plaza is an artificial creation sitting on top of the garage.)

In addition, something like a third of the plaza soon might be consumed by the library expansion.

So, look out, untrodden grass. … It’s improvement time!

I urge you to consider this from Tuesday’s Aspen Times: “City planners want to make the plaza more user-friendly, giving it more of a park-style atmosphere while also improving its potential as a pedestrian link between the Main Street-downtown area and Rio Grande Park.”

Hmmm.

“User-friendly”? Folks, there isn’t anything more user-friendly than an open green lawn.

What they really mean is that they want to make the plaza “more used.” That little patch of grass isn’t earning its keep!

In this urban jungle, every patch of green must be productive.

A quibble? Fair enough, but wait!

The planners want to give the plaza a “park-style atmosphere,” while also turning it into “a pedestrian link.”

Hmmm.

“Park-style atmosphere” and “pedestrian link.”

When is a park not a park? When it’s a passageway – with paved walks for those pedestrians.

Hey! Let’s put some picnic tables in the middle of Main Street and call it a park!

We’re going to “improve” this little park by using up something like a third of the grass for a new building, then paving a chunk of what’s left, and creating a “grand staircase” down to the Rio Grande Park.

Wait. Staircase?

OK. Let’s take a moment to talk about the staircase, which planners had the sheer nerve to compare, in a presentation to the City Council, to Rome’s Spanish Steps. Some people have no sense of shame.

The Shameless Steps are apparently needed because too many people flock to the Rio Grande Park and somehow overlook downtown Aspen.

Or, I suppose, the problem is that the Rio Grande Park and the Rio Grande Trail are not sufficiently crowded.

Not earning their keep!

Let’s get some people out there. We haven’t had a three-way bicycle-jogger-baby stroller collision in over a week.

Once again, as I suggested with the library expansion, which seems to be part and parcel of the new Aspen megalomaniacal overreaching, can’t we just take a deep breath?

Can’t we fix the leaky garage roof and stop right there – before we “improve” perfectly good things out of existence?

Please.

By the way, two quick looks back in time:

1. After a column a few weeks ago suggesting that the library expansion was not my favorite idea, I got a lengthy, very nice note from library officials explaining why I was all wrong.

I read their note carefully and, by golly, their arguments absolutely convinced me that I had been even more right than I ever suspected.

It sounds as if we could solve most of their worst problems by not letting adults cut through the children’s reading room and by using the soon-to-be-abandoned art museum down by the river as a community center.

2. After recent columns against various megalomaniacal (yes, I am way too fond of that word) projects, people asked why I haven’t included the Aspen hospital expansion in my ill-tempered rants.

Well, that’s partly because the great people I deal with at the hospital (and I’ve had to deal with these wonderful people way too much lately) are all enthusiastic about the expansion.

They are excited to be moving out of the cramped, inadequate space they now use – which makes their lives difficult and compromises the care, privacy and dignity of their patients.

Their opinions count for a lot with me.

And, having spent time in both the Aspen and Valley View hospitals over the past couple of years, I appreciate the value of converting the hospital to all private rooms.

And, frankly, the hospital just hasn’t caught my eye and raised my ire.

Although, checking past newspaper stories about the expansion, I was a bit outraged to read the hospital’s community liaison declare, “It’s not going to be a massive structure that people are going to see as they’re driving up Castle Creek Road.”

And that, just for the record, is what we technically call either “willfully ignorant” or “a lie.”

Still, and maybe most of all, I am not too wildly upset by the hospital because the project was approved by the voters.

And for better or worse, that has to count for an awful lot.