Roger Marolt: Roger This
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
We have lots of problems in Aspen. Fortunately, what we manufacture in quantity is severely lacking in quality. For the most part, our tribulations are the cheaply built kind that are used up and discarded soon after we buy into them, realizing that they aren’t substantial enough to sustain the long-term angst we crave in order to feel connected to the rest of the world. Even our “severe” employee-housing crisis pales in comparison to tsunamis and Ebola outbreaks, and although we hang onto it like a priceless heirloom, experts in the field of suffering easily peg it as a fake. Yet, even though most of our issues should be relegated to the landfill of problems that are easily composted by Dear Abby on Saturday mornings over coffee, we resurrect them from the trash heap every time somebody wants to get elected or satisfy the insatiable urge to soak the rich, although these oftentimes are the same thing.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. Due to this paucity of perspective, I feel fortunate when I hear people complain that there is nothing worse than all of the empty second homes around here that are occupied only a couple times a year for a few weeks at a time. Although there are about a jillion things that are, in fact, worse than gigantic empty homes in Aspen’s West End, in savoring the aroma from the local stew called “getting worked up over nothing,” I can validate my own entwinement in this mythical problem simply by stating one locally significant thing that would certainly be worse: that these homes were full most of the time.
Can you imagine? If those “monster” houses, which as the name implies are big and scary, were utilized at full capacity it would be like Fourth of July or Christmas break around here year-round. The grocery stores’ aisles would be continually clogged, you could never mosey into your favorite restaurant and get a table, and parking would be impossible, as compared to now, in October, when it is only highly improbable.
Now, if I happened to live in the West End, I would love to see it full of neighbors who would be my friends and invite me to backyard barbeques, raise kids for my kids to play with, and keep dogs that I would clean up after so that I wouldn’t feel guilty letting mine roam. But, I don’t live there. The people that do don’t seem to care about occupying those houses the way I would, but that’s their prerogative. And, I like it.
Dark windows in houses are “sad” only if they could be lit by working families carrying on their day-to-day lives behind them. This possibility does not exist anymore. So what should we do? Enjoy the peace and quiet, that’s what! It’s the next best thing to screaming neighborhood kids all over the place.
I am an odd ball. However, I don’t believe that I am the only one who can muster the “courage” to admit that I love this time of year precisely because the entire town is quiet. But, lots of folks insist on making silent houses into a problem. Hang out at your favorite watering hole tonight and you will start the evening by observing people full of life happily toasting fall, the beautiful and serene off-season. Soon, however, they will be full of liquor lamenting times past when hard-rock miners or mogul skiers had every Victorian house romantically lit up with brass lamps and furnished with mirth.
This scenario has played itself out so many times that despising dark windows in the West End has practically become guiding principle in local politics. This “problem” dictates legislation. It results in the stupidity of subsidizing employee housing to the tune of over $400,000 per unit at Burlingame, deed-restricting pitchers of beer at the new Cooper Street Pier, and coming up with a glitzy, hotel-laden master plan, stamped with the counterfeit approval of a citizens task force, to bring vibrancy to the Lift One section of town that has for years been nearly perfect in its simplicity. Heaven forbid that townhouses be built there that will be blissfully empty most of the year, therein preserving the peaceful character of the neighborhood. We don’t like that. Remember?
We have created so many problems in Aspen that we don’t even remember what the real ones are, much less how to deal with them. We prioritize them based on perceptions of the time when they originated instead of on the realities of today when they are dealt with. In many cases, this causes us to enact legislation of as dubious current value as disco dancing and polyester stretch pants for men.
Convincing ourselves that we live in a small town because we have a small road coming into it is another example of this anachronistic matching of problems and solutions. It’s not growth, per se, that is the problem anymore. It’s the effects of growth, like traffic, that are. So, why then do we work so hard to preserve the traffic mess we have every single workday on Main Street between about 2:30 and 6 p.m.? The argument has always been that if we expand the highway, more people will come to town. So what? If we allow more people to come into town on an expanded highway but reduce traffic congestion on Main Street at the same time, is that really a worse situation than we have now?
It’s not even like we are dealing with growth constructively, if you will pardon the sad pun. As unveiled in their recent master plan, the city proposes to develop 110,000 square feet of brand new public buildings downtown in the near future … some of which will office their staff … whose primary purpose it is to keep a lid on growth.
It’s one more problem to add to the list.
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