Spare us the good publicity
Most people complain about bad press, but I’m eschewing the good kind. I’m referring to a nicely written, highly laudatory article that appeared recently in The New York Times real estate section.The article characterized Basalt as an idyllic little hamlet set gem-like in the rural midvalley, its quaint atmosphere enhanced by desert mountains and gorgeous trout streams. In the real estate market, what better place could there be for a second, third or fourth home?My family and I live within five miles of Basalt, and while our property values may increase because of such editorial flattery, that’s no salvation. We have no intention of selling our home and, as our equity rises, so do our property taxes and cost of living.But the finances are only a minor point. The unintended consequence of an article like this is the way it handily serves the exploitation of the land and communities, threatening the ambience it heralds.Serial home ownership has become a deeply ingrained tradition in our valley, and while it’s great for land developers, it’s not at all benign for the natural environment, for the authenticity of small communities, or for the serenity of rural surroundings.According to the NYT article, Basalt is a down-home place where people work for a living, participate in community activities, recreate in beautiful nature and celebrate a quasi-rural image that is, alas, fast disappearing.It is disappearing because sprawling urbanization is supplanting rural values with four-lane highways, malls, traffic congestion, a contagion of cell phones, easy access to everything and a rapidly accelerating pace.”Funky and low-key” are the catch phrases that snare urban land shoppers who thrive on city life but need an escape to something “real.” Aspen has lost much of its “real” image, but Basalt still has it.For decades, Basalt was Aspen’s poor cousin, a working stiff hangout for “hippies and ranchers,” where Aspenites went slumming. The new Basalt, hip and gentrified, is now a hot property where the once colorful hippies and ranchers are hardly to be found.The hippies became yuppies and the ranchers sold their spreads, which were profitably converted into opulent, invitation-only golf courses. The vestiges of Basalt’s rustic 1880s railroad era have been upscaled into what the article describes as “a European hill town with narrow dirt walking paths … through a mix of small, turn-of-the-century gingerbread Victorians.”Call it nostalgia or call it Alzheimer’s, but folks love the idea of stepping back into an idealized history as characterized by the messy vitality of Old Town Basalt. The best nostalgia, however, is for Basalt’s perceived affordability. “It’s pretty much the Aspen experience at a fraction of the cost,” opines one prominent land developer.As a selling tool for Basalt, The New York Times article advances all the admirable qualities of a “real” community, complete with price ranges. But can you put a price on paradise?Sure! That’s what real estate development is all about. And by putting a price on paradise, a “real” community becomes a commodity where rural beauty, rich history and quirky residents translate into escalating property values.The article credits “superhighway” 82 for transforming Basalt from a musty backwater, “wild and off-putting,” into an “artsy and athletic” Mecca. “The old road has been straightened and beautified like a set of new teeth,” exults the writer.And here’s the bite: Today Basalt has an image of peace and quiet … the blissful rural life … the down-home community. “But it may not stay that way for long,” concludes the article in an oddly congratulatory tone.Paul Andersen wonders if urbanization is our measure of success. His column appears on Mondays.
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