Letter: The toll of development
I grew up in the Roaring Fork Valley. I have lived in many different places in the U.S. and the world abroad. I recently moved to Norway, yet the people and places from the Roaring Fork Valley are my people, and the places are those that I identify with.
It’s my home. I say “it” because our community extends to more than the townships. It encompasses the countless alpine peaks that surround it, the varied climates that exist on our valley’s slopes and the river ways that carry snowmelt to the entire southwest.
I believe that our culture likewise encompasses these landscapes, and the more I travel, the more I’ve experienced how fortunate we are to have a culture that is tied to such exquisite natural beauty.
The Ute Indians, the miners, the old ranchers and the ski bums, all dominant valley cultures that have for the most part faded from view would probably laugh at my naivete, arguing that the current valley culture is far removed from the landscape it resides in. It’s all a matter of perspective. I look at current development in the valley, from Willits to the “Our Town” project in Basalt, to the Lift 1A project in Aspen, and I see that our culture is in a constant state of change.
What saddens me is the seeming trend toward further removing our culture from our landscape. When I walk through Willits, I feel like I could be anywhere in the U.S. When I sit in rush-hour traffic on Highway 82, I have a similar feeling of blandness. How does this reflect our values as a society? In modern terms, an economy that isn’t growing is failing. Gross domestic product is our indicator of success. Yet, I wonder if urbanization is really our goal?
I recognize that I speak from a privileged perspective. I have enough to eat, I can pay my rent; my basic needs are being met. And so my point is not to halt development, but more to truly weigh its costs. Where once we had farmland; we now have a spreading urban hub. Where once we had two-lane roads, we now have a congested four-lane. Perhaps we have made the valley accessible for thousands more, yet what have we made accessible? By increasing its carrying capacity, we are changing its very nature.
My point is that farmlands are more than fields. Dirt roads are more than dirt tracks. You can’t put a monetary value on these cultural assets. Instead, as development projects surface, and continue to surface, we have to remember that development brings more than money, and costs more than land. It brings cultural change, and costs the same. The question is: Is it worth it?
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