Paul E. Anna: High Points | AspenTimes.com
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Paul E. Anna: High Points

Paul E. Anna
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

What makes a local?

A recent story regarding a transplanted gadfly who was encouraging second-home owners to change their legal residence so they could vote locally prompted me to wonder what makes someone a local in a community.

The dictionary has a variety of definitions for the word “local,” starting with its use as an adjective: “relating to, situated in, or providing a service for a particular area, especially the area near home or work.” As a verb, the Encarta English Dictionary defines “local” as “somebody who lives in a particular area, was born there or has lived there for a long time.”

I don’t think that anyone could quibble with the idea that place-of-birth is the prime qualifier for making one a local in their hometown. But beyond that, what is the critical factor in bestowing “localness”?

Does it come down to a defined amount of time? Does one qualify if they have spent a season here? A year? A decade? How about if one has bought a timeshare and gets in 20 days a season for 10 years? Does that give “bragging rights” for the line, “Yeah, I live in Aspen.”

I met someone the other day who asked: “My two kids were born here, does that make me a local?” Assuredly it does. Mothers of locals are defacto locals in any book.

While I have been in the valley since 1992 and consider this my permanent home, I always defer to those who came in the late ’60s and ’70s and lived the dream when it was still dreamy. But that’s just me.

There are others who feel that wherever they buy a piece of land they are entitled to be recognized as a local in that place. That is the concept of ” I have enough money. I can buy my way into anyplace.” These are the people who are used to walking to the front of the line. Of having doormen drop the velvet ropes as they palm a Benjamin into the outstretched hand.

While I value the concept of civic participation in local issues and feel that it is a right bestowed on us all to speak our peace and to get involved in political issues, it is unseemly to move into a community and promptly lead a rush to begin remaking it in one’s own image. To encourage folks who don’t actually live in a community but simply exploit its real-estate market to readjust their legal residence so that they can influence the local politics is disingenuous. Sure it’s legal, but it strikes me as a bullying tactic.

I contend that being a local is a state of mind. Having the ability to come to a place with a sense of humility, scoping it out, finding a place to fit in and contributing in a positive way to that community is the kind of activity that qualifies one for the name “local.”

Those who arrive, buy and then try to change without regard for those who were here first need not apply.


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