Growth is not out of control but in our makeup
I look at a place like Las Vegas and it’s obvious that a lot more people would rather live there than here in Aspen. It is equally obvious that lots more people want to visit there, too. This makes me wonder if our little town has a chance.
I’m not talking about competition for resort branding and tourist dollars. I’m talking about identity. I don’t know if Aspen’s character can survive in a world where a place like Las Vegas thrives.
To get you where I’m going with this, I have to take you back to where I came from. As a kid, I thought Aspen, Colorado, was the coolest place. I was proud of it. I could not imagine how anybody could settle to live any other place. That said, I met more than a few visitors who didn’t feel that way.
There weren’t many second-home owners then. The people who visited were mostly tourists. Looking back, my impression is that a good many of those out-of-towners viewed Aspen as a great place to visit but they didn’t want to live here. There simply wasn’t enough here except with which to fill a two-week vacation. I heard it many times: “It’s just a little too quiet to live here.”
A funny thing happens to quaint little places that are too quiet to live in. They get noisier or die. Local businesses figured out that if we could just add a little more culture, a few more conveniences of bigger towns, tourists might be convinced to stay a little longer and come more often. Our visitors agreed, and the longer they stayed and the more often they came the more they let us know what other new amenities they would like to entice them to maybe even get a little place for themselves here.
What we gradually did was make our town more attractive to people with a mindset more in tune with life in cities. Becoming more like what they were used to, Aspen became more comfortable to them. It made sense — many more people live in bigger towns than smaller ones so, if you make your smaller town more like a bigger one, chances are good that more people will come to visit. They can find more stuff they want in it.
Where am I going with this? Well, maybe Aspen hasn’t lost its grip on growth controls, after all. Perhaps we voluntarily gave them up as the makeup of our citizenry changed. I’m not being judgmental here. I’m just pointing out that there may be a natural progression of resort growth that is impossible to curb.
It is a different mindset here than it was in 1975. Here’s how it changed: Aspen grew a little and suddenly it was more attractive to people who wanted a little more. The few locals who didn’t like the small amount of change moved. But since more people liked the bigger-town atmosphere than not, the population grew, albeit with a slightly more change-oriented view. As the progression continued, a few more locals who liked the smaller version of Aspen left, but they were more than replaced by people who liked an even bigger-town feel.
As Aspen adds mainstream shops, flagship hotels, renowned chefs and Starbucks, more people feel comfortable here than don’t. The collective conviction changes. I think that’s how a place like Las Vegas becomes what it is. I don’t want to live there, but obviously lots of people think differently than I do. Many love it there; both to live in and visit. I’m sure many who once called it home and didn’t like the growth trajectory left. They were replaced by those who liked the way things progressed.
Those of us who have lived here a long time are convinced that the traffic jams, the crowded restaurants, impossible parking and degradation of the wilderness experience are setting Aspen on the verge of self-destruction. What we forget is that people are used to the traffic of Los Angeles, the crowded streets of New York and the hustle of Las Vegas. The world is filled with people who are better equipped to deal with these things than we are.
Despite what we think and maybe even in spite of what we hope, Aspen will continue to thrive. What we view as loss many in the world see as gain. It’s survival of the fittest here as everywhere else. I wonder whether I can adapt or will have to migrate to a gentler climate. What’s certain is that I am replaceable.
Roger Marolt knows it is not what you can do for Aspen, but what Aspen can do for you. Email at email@example.com.
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