Letter: Today’s Aspen is unsustainable
Four to one — that’s the number Sun Tzu gives. The baggage train needs four servants to one warrior. Look at Versailles — 1,000 aristocrats and 4,000 servants in the palace plus 60,000 in the town. Count the cars coming round the S-curves, and you’ll find the ratio hasn’t changed much. Give me 8,000 new best friends during Food & Wine; give them each four servants.
The servants, well, there’s your problem.
OK, you want to quibble about that 32,000 estimate? After all, the art of quibblage is a fundamental Aspen sport. Count the number of cars coming around the S-curves. I say 32,000, but I’ll give you odds on 16,000. Feel better?
When you look at the S-curves, ask yourself this simple question: Do you want to see Aspen with 16,000 more families? They would be diverse, working-class residents. They would force more real-people retail like $5 food and shoes. They would make us less seasonal. Right now, our guests never see the man behind the curtain or the maid in the grocery store or the plumber at the deli. We, like Epcot, have multiple secret doors behind which the servants hide while the paying punters walk the streets. The servants are only visible when they commute. Can you envision 16,000-plus more people living inside the city limits? If you need a reminder, go to the Historical Society and look at a few pictures of 19th-century silver-boom Aspen.
Is more government-built housing the answer? Nope. Not when the affordable house starts at $1 million. You’d have to make $240,000 a year to afford that house payment even at current interest rates.
But we love our little town, we want to keep it small, and we love our skiing and music and mountains. If we want it all, then we pay the price in traffic or the servants need to live in the palace and walk to work.
What would make a sustainable Aspen? How could employers house their own employees? How do we enable that scenario in our big-balloon real estate market? The top floor wasn’t always a penthouse, not in the pre-transferable development rights and Burlingame years. Our well-intentioned government housing incentives targeting development resulted in a Wild West real estate market and a wider social divide between rich and poor. We have never taken a long, hard look at what it takes to support a sustainable community. Let’s do that. Now.
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