Meredith C. Carroll: Not all of Aspen is getting richer
Over drinks at Ajax Tavern the other night I regaled my cousins with spellbinding tales from Aspen’s $3 billion real estate-fantasy-turned-reality that took place in 2020, including how there were 29 transactions of at least $20 million each.
“Even before the pandemic supersized the prices, Gwyneth Paltrow spent Christmas down the street from us in a house that was listed for $125,000 a month,” I said in a stage whisper so no one could accuse us of being tacky for talking about money while we sat at the chichi bar owned by the people who also own the chichi hotel below it plus the even chichi-ier hotel next door to it, all of which are adjacent to the gondola attached to the chichi four-mountain ski resort that, too, is the property of those same people, whose billionaire cachet in Aspen has been diluted by the sheer volume of other billionaires milling about at present.
“I’d like to point out that none of this makes us any richer,” my husband said.
It’s a point well taken. A rising tide may lift all boats, but that doesn’t mean everyone aspires to catch a big wave, or has the capacity to deal with all that water. Not only is hardly anyone getting rich by extension of the buckets of money pouring into Aspen, but in an unfortunate turn of events, it has become the leading cause of drowning. The only thing of substance trickling down from the flood of funds is backwash, which we can’t even pin solely on the Texans (one of whom recently — and politely — urged me to find a new punchline, so for the time being I’m acquiescing and moving on to Floridians if only because they keep teeing it up with such remarkable ease).
As Aspen is deluged (inflamed?) with cash, also swelling is the number of anecdotes, news stories, and social media posts of the desperation being felt if not by everyone, then still an awful lot of people. Too few are doing the work of too many. Young professionals with advanced degrees contributing valuable and necessary work to the valley are moving away or seriously considering it either because the prospect of not affording a home is too dismaying, or in one case, the fear of living in a van became a 3-month-long reality.
It’s one thing to question and even legislate the pace and proliferation of new luxury shops and monster homes that contribute to Aspen’s real estate cash box yet little else of substance or value to the community. But really, why would anyone, in all good conscience, actively fight against or at least not speak up in favor of new housing developments that offer livable opportunities for the other 99 percent?
An abundance of wealth in Aspen is old news in Aspen (even if the current amount of it has out-Aspened even Aspen). Yet it still makes and often guides the headlines to the increasing detriment of the people reeling from getting squeezed out because of it. It’s a tough pill to swallow and a dismal send-off for those who have lent all or part of their lives and souls to a town that ultimately showed up with zero good faith in return.
One of the biggest problems with the shiny reports of Aspen’s windfalls is that they pile up and detract from legitimate distress calls. To most people in Aspen, the fancy stuff is happening in another world, even if, in many cases, that world is actually down the street or located on the estate next door. The real world exists in the Roaring Fork Valley and if the influx of wealth contributes anything of actual significance, let it be a glut of innovative housing solutions.
The good news is that while not everyone is getting richer, at least what it means to be rich remains squarely in the eyes of the beholder. No one moves to Aspen for an embarrassment of reasonably affordable housing options. But these days, what’s embarrassing is how many people are moving away because of a lack of them.
More at MeredithCarroll.com and on Twitter @MCCarroll.