Paul Andersen: Fair Game | AspenTimes.com
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Paul Andersen: Fair Game

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At 5:30 tonight, Michael Kinsley will be my guest in the first part of a six-part series I am conducting this winter at the Basalt Regional Library. Called “Community Conversations,” these programs are free, open to the public and formed on the idea that area residents enjoy a meeting of minds in which they are equal participants.

Kinsley, senior researcher at the Rocky Mountain Institute and a former Pitkin County commissioner, will discuss tonight how civil dialogue within a collaborative community is vital to the proper function of government and to local economic sustainability.

“The path to a sustainable community,” Kinsley wrote in an essay about collaboration “is not paved with charismatic leadership, increasing revenues, or technical expertise; it’s not a series of big, quick fixes. Rather, it’s a twisted and rocky path, found one step at a time by creative, open-minded citizens who have a vision of a sustainable future and a willingness to listen to those with whom they disagree.”



Kinsley knows well the divisions that can occur within communities. He was part of the triumvirate of Pitkin County commissioners, along with Joe Edwards and Dwight Shellman, who brought stringent growth controls to Aspen and the upper Roaring Fork Valley in the 1970s.

During numerous contentious meetings with embittered foes, the dialogue was often anything but civil. Restricting growth and development through the controls sought by the commissioners fractured the community and drove lifelong wedges between warring factions.




“Often,” Kinsley wrote of this kind of embittered feud, “the results are anger, resentment, disrespect, distrust, delay, expense, and litigation. One side wins, the other loses, and adversaries become enemies. Local officials can hardly focus on the merits of a question before them; many just want the issue to vanish. Their primary motivation becomes minimizing their own discomfort – not a recipe for a just and durable outcome.”

Today, after four decades of reflection and a perspective shift through his role at the Rocky Mountain Institute, Kinsley promotes the link between civil political dialogue and community sustainability.

“With collaboration,” Kinsley states, “there’s a far better chance that no one will lose and that everyone will be able to live with the results. … It’s attitudinal, it’s developing the capacity of residents – however passionate, committed, and outspoken – to work together for the common good.”

Achieving collaboration rather than defaulting to alienation is as much a psychological process as a civic one, as much a holistic solution as a systemic prescription, as much a communal effort as a personal commitment that equates to personal health.

“After years of relying entirely on technical fixes,” Kinsley states, “we finally learned that an individual’s health requires not just a strong body kept that way by medical experts, but also a healthy mind and spirit, all driven by the individual’s attitude.”

Open communication toward the best outcome, he says, is essential for drawing from community strengths rather than divisive weaknesses that tend to freeze political progress. Stakeholders must include the entire spectrum of community.

“Sometimes these efforts toward sustainable communities start with government, sometimes with business, and sometimes with nonprofit or faith-based organizations,” Kinsley says. “Regardless of where they begin, durable community solutions are developed by, and require the support of, all three sectors – public, private, and nonprofit.”

Kinsley concludes that making peace is an essential role for decision-makers facing contentious issues, that nurturing community cohesion is vital to stitching together a sometimes clashing community fabric.

“As part of an emerging and creative worldwide trend,” Kinsley says, “decision-makers in a variety of communities are finding solutions by integrating economic, community, and environmental factors. Instead of deciding, in effect, which will prevail – economy, community, or environment – they understand that each is a leg supporting the stool of community success.

“We’re now learning that a sustainable community is not based solely on an economy that moves lots of cash. Instead, it requires simultaneous attention to the environment, business, individual well being, and community cohesiveness.”

This is just a sampler of what Kinsley will discuss in tonight’s series opener for the “Community Conversations” series. There is much more to learn and to integrate into our communities and within ourselves.


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