Paul Andersen: Fair Game
September 24, 2012
Plans for super-sizing the Aspen airport might as well include the revival of the Concorde and direct flights to Paris. With all the upgrades, the airport could become a candidate for space-shuttle landings.
Plans for “improving” the Rio Grande Trail would convert a once-bucolic trail into an urban byway. Years ago, I facetiously wrote that four-laning Highway 82 would inspire paving all the bike trails. I never thought I would see the last dirt section of the Rio Grande Trail poised for an asphalt makeover.
Most disappointing of all are plans for The Aspen Times to abandon its historic digs, that flimsy, rundown, lovable old shack on Main Street. It’s sad to think that the purple façade that once housed a vital spirit and nurtured a vibrant community for more than a century will no longer be the seat of Aspen’s journalistic soul.
Gentrifying paradise is a risky venture that converts dross to gold at the expense of natural landscapes and community character. Buckets of money are so readily available that bureaucracies with urban mindsets are challenged to spend it all. The more plush and opulent the Roaring Fork Valley becomes, the more the atmosphere shifts from Main Street to Madison Avenue.
I remember when “messy vitality” was the goal of community planning efforts that were intended to preserve something of Aspen’s character. The rough edges were appreciated, the rusticity cherished. Character meant something homegrown and organic that was alluring to residents and visitors alike.
“Change is inevitable,” say the rationalists. I’ve heard that tune before, but it’s a sad refrain when sung as a funeral dirge for the passing of something beautiful, free-form and serendipitous, something with a connection to simpler times, more humble stature and less pretension.
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Maybe it’s just me slipping into a cocoon of nostalgia. Maybe I worked too long in the old Aspen Times building and still savor the atmosphere that set it off from its polished neighbor, the Hotel Jerome.
I recall, years ago, when one of the owners of that hotel walked through The Aspen Times building with a condescending smirk on his face. His summation was that the wrecking ball would be doing Aspen a service. How carelessly this man dismissed an old building that holds part of the heart and soul of everyone who ever worked there and produced a product unparalleled in community journalism.
The Rio Grande Trail is another personal matter because I’ve ridden that trail for almost 30 years and know its every twist and bend. Conforming the last unimproved section to urban standards is blasphemous to the feel of a rural pathway that’s now being engineered with the need for speed.
Thousands of bike trips are made on that trail every summer, and most cyclists seem to make it to the Woody Creek Tavern just fine. Many first-time mountain bikers, the majority of whom are tourists, experience a sense of achievement for riding on dirt. Convert every inch of trail into pavement, and you’ve homogenized the trail into the predictable sameness Aspen should stridently avoid.
As for the airport, an out-of-town visitor told me last week that Sardy Field is the only airport he knows where folk singers belt out John Denver tunes for arriving passengers. “Leavin’ on a Jet Plane” will become a classic as years of construction drive visitors away.
As the airport becomes a mini-DIA, it will make it harder to kiss the ground upon arriving in this awesome valley. A grandiose expansion will further change the Aspen experience into Any City, USA.
And that’s just the point: Rural airports, country bikeways and funky, small-town newspaper offices are all too rare. Expand, pave and gentrify away character, and the connection is severed to something unusual, something of value that does not easily fit into words but shifts the mood. Change is inevitable, but it’s also irreversible and often ill-conceived.
Aspen’s core is protected by historic-preservation criteria while historic integrity and charm are lost piecemeal throughout the periphery. It’s confounding why someone is always eager to pave paradise and put up a parking lot. Perhaps it’s so the Historical Society can memorialize more of the nostalgic loss occurring in Aspen.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays.