Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
Aspen, CO, Colorado
I spent a little time this week looking through the new report from the Economic Sustainability Committee of the Aspen Chamber of Commerce. (Yeah, I know they don’t like being called that – but that’s who they are, and we really need to keep that in mind when we evaluate their statements.)
That report made one thing abundantly clear: When it comes to sustainability, we definitely have a sustainable supply of arrant nonsense.
The report – in case you were lucky enough not to be paying attention – offered dire predictions on Aspen’s future if we don’t hurry up and get rid of all those dratted government regulations!!! And start building more stuff!!! Right now!!! (Please pardon all those exclamation points. I hate them, too. But I can’t write everything in capital letters, so those !!!’s are the best way to give a sense of the report’s bogus, self-serving urgency.)
I probably shouldn’t have wasted any time going past page 1, where they list the members of the Economic Sustainability Committee. There are 13: two bankers, three lawyers, two hotel managers, one chamber board member, an Aspen Skiing Co. exec, a hospital exec, a Chamber of Commerce exec and – oh, yeah – exactly one actual, genuine local businessman.
There’s an array guaranteed to delve into the true heart and character of Aspen.
Gee – can you imagine what they were going to decide?
Well – no surprise – I’m pretty sure they got everything exactly wrong: upside down and backward.
I’ve been trying to find the best way to get at their complete whiff (“total fail!” as I believe the kids say), and I’m thinking maybe we could look at one specific paragraph that deals with development at the base of Lift 1A.
Not surprisingly, this committee takes it for granted that our failure to have a glorious new hotel filling up all that unused open space at the bottom of the mountain is a disaster. Here’s what the report says:
“From a community enhancement and betterment standpoint, the failure of the planning process to find a community revitalization solution at the 1A Lift is notable. This remains a redevelopment opportunity, which if handled appropriately could expand the city’s transient bed base, improve connections between the mountain and town, assure the continuance of Aspen’s World Cup races, and help revitalize a somewhat incoherent and underutilized portion of city core.”
This statement is what is technically known as “a load of bushwah.”
Let’s look a little more closely, starting with “failure of the planning process.”
Who says it was a “failure”? The people who desperately wanted a vast new hotel think it was a failure – but for the rest of us, that process achieved exactly what it was supposed to: allowing the will of the community to govern the future of the town.
An awful lot of people thought that putting up an awful lot of hotel was an awfully bad idea. And – shazam! – no hotel.
Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to work?
But wait! There’s more! How about the need to “improve connections between the mountain and town”?
As far as I can tell, that doesn’t really mean a damn thing.
Just exactly how would smothering open space and existing streets, blocking views and shutting down access “improve connections”?
Simple answer: (Oops! I can’t give the simple answer in a family newspaper.)
And then there’s the declaration that a big new hotel would “assure the continuance of Aspen’s World Cup races.”
Of course it would. We all know that before they agree to stage a race, the World Cup people look first and foremost at whether there’s a luxury hotel cutting off access.
“No hotel blocking the way? No race!” That’s a direct quote from the FIS World Cup regulations. (Look it up.)
And finally, we have that glorious statement that the space at the bottom of the mountain is “incoherent and underutilized.”
The only thing that’s “incoherent” is this paragraph. The only thing that’s “underutilized” is – oh, never mind. Why bother?
OK, let’s step back and look at the bigger picture. (And “bigger” is exactly the right word.)
They’re sure we need a bigger airport. They’re sure we need a big new hotel. And they’re sure we need fewer regulations getting in their way.
They’re sure, above all, that if we’re not growing, we’re dying.
And that is where they’ve got it exactly wrong.
The report declares that Aspen’s economy needs to grow. We need more jobs, higher income! Otherwise, what we’ve got “is not a sustainable foundation for the kind of community Aspen aspires to be.”
But we can’t have more and more jobs unless we have more and more people, more and more businesses.
And that’s exactly what we’ve already said we don’t want – loud and clear, time and again, election after election.
What we aspire to be is better and better – but not bigger and bigger. Why should we be lectured by people who can’t get their minds around that basic idea?
Then, near the end of the report, they really get down to it.
Invoking the sacred name of Paepcke, they declare, “We can aggressively meet the future in the same spirit as Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke did over 60 years ago with an aspiration to become a place like no other place, or we can settle for less.”
But they actually do want to settle for “less” – it’s just that their version of “less” amounts to much, much more.
Then they go on, “We need to … propel Aspen into the next level of excellence.”
Of course, their “next level of excellence” involves a big new airport terminal (just like Vail’s) and a big new hotel (just like the one the community has already said it doesn’t want).
And then they finish up, “Our overarching challenge is to keep the Paepckes’ spirit alive and to keep pressing to be more than an ordinary community or an ordinary resort.”
But “ordinary” is exactly what they’re focused on. Ordinary super-sized, extra-large.
This last section of the report is headed with the latest effort at “branding” Aspen: “Defy ordinary.”
But what they’re doing does not “defy” ordinary.
It “defines” ordinary.
And, really, we can do better than that.
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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