Marolt: Aspen is hardly the land of opportunity

Roger Marolt
Roger This

I’m just going to say it straight up: I don’t think we’re doing many people a favor by creating more service jobs so that they can come and live “the Dream” in Aspen. I mean, if living here is all it’s cracked up to be, we wouldn’t drink so much, drug so much, kill ourselves as often or, at the very least, feel the need to constantly affirm aloud and to everyone how “incredible” it is living here.

There are many who say it’s selfish to take the attitude that we should shut the gate behind us after we get in. While there is some truth to that, I think it applies more to really wealthy people who can afford a second home and everything else that makes it possible to come and go as they please. If you’ve got the bucks to set it up just right, why wouldn’t you want fewer neighbors and less traffic, right?

It’s also true for just about everyone, at some point, that we’ve had enough of it all; “all of it” pretty much being encapsulated in the “on seasons,” Christmas and the Fourth of July, when the only thing that can’t be had in town, not even for a zillion dollars, is a little peace and quiet.

But, in general, the thing we need to acknowledge about the great Aspen debate over whether to keep open the gate or slam it shut behind us is that, for the most part, the people having the debate have all in one way or another figured out a way to stake a claim here. We want to think that we ended up here on our own account, and pride will make us say, “If I can do it, anyone can,” but the truth is that the great unequalizer, circumstance, most likely played a bigger role. Aspen only holds about 6,000 people out of about a billion who might like to live here. Think about that.

Very rarely do I spend much time thinking about the many people I’ve known in this town over the past 20 or 30 years who don’t live here anymore. It’s depressing and slightly nerve-racking to remember, not the great times we had with them while they were here, but the painful circumstances about why they eventually packed it in, despite the conviction once that this was going to be their home.

The wide avenue into Aspen may be paved with yellow bricks, but the cobbled trail heading out is littered with ruined finances, broken marriages, uprooted children and a wide assortment of problems that come from trying to force a lifestyle in a place most can’t afford to live.

I think it is those people we don’t consider — but should — when we start talking about more development and a stronger economy and more employee housing. I’m afraid our good intentions with this kind of stuff might be an invitation to make many more people’s lives miserable.

If we build bigger hotels to support more restaurants that will lead to more retail shopping spawning more tourist-town services, we are actually creating more situations for people to come here and earn not nearly enough to support themselves and make happy lives. Of course, there is no evidence to support this assertion, because all the evidence is living somewhere else, trying to piece things back together.

By its illustrious, worldwide reputation, Aspen has no problem attracting people to come and give “living the dream” a shot. By providing more low-paying jobs, much of what we are truly giving them is an excuse to pack up everything and move here without any realistic prospect for making a peaceful, joyful life.

I have a hunch that the pro-development community knows what I’m talking about. They, perhaps more than most, recognize one of the key ingredients of a decent, happy life here. It is money. Undoubtedly, we need solid families and great friends, but without enough money to get settled in first, those are hard to come by. The truly important things in life take time to nurture, and you don’t have much time for nurturing if you are working multiple jobs to make ends roughly meet. My point is that the few who benefit enough financially from newer, bigger development to make Aspen happen for them pretty much do it by selling the Aspen illusion and all those new service jobs to people who, by and large, have very little chance of making it here.

Roger Marolt knows you can’t prevent people from coming here to try to make “Aspen” happen for themselves, but feels it might be inhumane to entice them by perpetuating an illusion. Email at