Roger Marolt: Growth, huh, what is it good for?
What if we thought about the city limits of Aspen like a pair of jeans? That’s what I’m thinking about when there appears to be nothing to talk about while watching yellow leaves fall and reading bumper stickers on tourists’ cars as they leave town.
I am having COVID shutdown flashbacks lately. There was much anxiety last fall. We weren’t sure there was going to be skiing and, if there was, there was speculation about blackout days and other restrictions. Mountain biking, hiking and trail running weather was wearing thin and it looked like we were facing a long winter of skinning. I was exhausted from reading about the next latest and greatest home exercise routines to be performed in the cramped space of my new home office where hours blended together so that day and night became vague concepts.
The relief, of course, was baking and eating chocolate chip cookies. Now, I admit that my regular culinary product might broadly be described as homemade fast food, but I do have a mean secret cookie recipe. No one can eat just six, or even eight. I would make a batch of four dozen and they were gone within a couple of days. The five of us holed up together each confessed to eating just “two, maybe three,” but circumstantial evidence contradicted these proclamations.
This wasn’t a big deal for a long time, but in pulling on a pair of jeans after a couple of months working from my basement office in sweatpants and leisurewear, I realized I was becoming a big deal. It felt like squeezing into a pair of compression pants. As soon as I wriggled into them, my toes started tingling. It was the cookies! I had made so many exceptions to my healthy eating habits that I had grown thunder thighs. They were not the solid kind NFL running backs develop to produce lightening fast 40-yard dashes, either.
This got me thinking, but the thoughts seemed so absurd that I kept them to myself, kind of like the time I made an offhand remark about an “old widow” in town and my wife made me promise to never call her that, which I wholeheartedly agreed to.
What I thought is that growth is not always a good thing. It is good when talking about retirement accounts and bodybuilding exercises, but not when considering a patch of mold on what you thought was a fresh New York bagel you had your heart set on devouring.
Why does a town like Aspen have to grow? It seems we have accepted the notion that our town must grow as a foregone conclusion without ever asking the question, “Why?” The fact that we have continual discussions about growth “control” proves that we have accepted that there must be growth of the town. And, with that, I will ask for the third time in one paragraph, “Why?”
Answering the question in the negative might be revealing. What would happen if Aspen didn’t grow? Well, for starters, we wouldn’t need more affordable housing. We wouldn’t add more traffic to Highway 82. We would never again have to consider expanding City Hall, the hospital or our schools. Modifying the entrance to town would be reduced to an historical mind game. We would be less likely to run out of water. We would be more recession-proof. City Council meetings could be held only every six months. The skiing would be better! Basically, the only negative consequences of completely shutting down growth in Aspen would accrue to developers.
Yes, I know that halting growth in Aspen is a stupid idea. I just can’t figure out why. I don’t even think this drastic measure would cause economic harm. Becoming more unique by changing less could be more profitable. Visitors would engage in a bidding war to see who gets to come here to witness nothing changing from their last visit. We could raise the price of everything and make better livings with half the headaches.
Our new land use could be simplified tremendously: You can build anything you want on your property as long as it is not larger than what you are replacing. You get a property tax discount if it ends up looking the same. There will be cash bonuses for a actually reducing the size of replacement properties.
Demographers predict that the U.S. and world will experience an impactful population decline as soon as the middle of this century. If so, it might be wise to halt growth preemptively to lessen the shock.
Roger Marolt thinks it might be time to focus on increasing demand and limiting supply to make Aspen better – you know, Uncrowded by Design. firstname.lastname@example.org
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Some very philosophical and long-overdue discussions are finally happening among the members of the Aspen-Piktin County Housing Authority board.