Roger Marolt: No planning for Aspen’s current growth
$72 million for a house. Even in Aspen that’s a lot. It is the most ever paid for a roof over someone’s head here. It is easy to say this doesn’t mean much for me. I stopped paying attention to local real estate transactions long ago. There was a time when the details of a good deal gave locals some hope, or at least allowed them to dream. There was a run on the memory bank and those recollections no longer feel secure.
This may be the harbinger of something big. Mark Hunt is the good ‘ol days.
If someone is willing to lay down more cash than anyone ever before to live here, it can mean several things. It might mean that Aspen is better than ever. The purchase of a home is forward looking, right? Nobody invests so assuredly in a place in decline.
It also could indicate that the rest of the world is getting worse and Aspen is only awesome in relative terms.
It might even mean buyers of Aspen have lost their minds and are completely irrational. I wouldn’t bet on that being the case. Those who wager against the collective wisdom of the markets by mistaking it for ignorance are wrong more often than they are right, oftentimes spectacularly so. My great uncle, who watched the advent of skiing in Aspen and observed it throughout his adult life, proclaimed until the day he died that skiing was a fad and this town was going to fold like a book. Maybe it will and maybe it won’t, but it looks certain that it will be for lack of snow rather than interest, if it does.
Perhaps the high price of real estate reflects a world awash in rescue money printed by governments worldwide to get us through COVID-19 in decent economic shape. If so, the financially savvy might be loading up on hard assets, which are bound to appreciate in looming hyper inflation, with loads of debt that will shrivel up and practically go away when double-digit interest rates are inflicted on us to get runaway economies back on the rails.
I don’t know. It’s probably a mixed cocktail of all this that has us currently intoxicated. But, it feels to me like there are some big changes coming to Aspen. We could talk about traffic and labor shortages and the lack of familiar faces around town, but it all might be sufficiently summarized by saying, “There’s no place to live!”
We are in danger of losing our social security card. Older locals are seeing an opportunity to sell and bolster their retirement plans somewhere else. Once cashed-out, there’s almost zero chance of getting back in. Young people are losing places to crash as absentee property owners figure out that Airbnb mathematics make long-term leases look anemic compared to what can be earned through a few short-term rentals during the peak seasons. Aspen’s tried and true controlled growth model has been made obsolete by technology. Since every residence has suddenly become a potential mini boutique hotel, we have surpassed the limits on tourism we planned to reach perhaps 50 years from now.
I watched D.J. Watkins new film, “Freak Power: The Ballot or The Bomb.” It does a great job covering the last great point of convergence in Aspen’s history. What was an identity crisis waiting to be resolved in the ’70s, is seen from the eyes of us who know how it all worked out. We who have stuck around seem to be all right with it, although we would curse anyone who might suggest we represent the destiny depicted in the film, which is actually undeniable and mostly self-evident.
All is not lost, almost no matter what happens to Aspen. But, I think it is going to catch most of us by surprise. A new mass has formed and the ground beneath our feet vibrates with its lurching momentum. Money does not appreciate natural beauty. It does not seek the calm. It’s security is obtained preserving only itself. Its bliss is in compounding.
The decades-in-the-making plan to protect Aspen’s future will rapidly prove inadequate. It will hastily be adjusted to react to what is rather than reflect what it could be. Aspen is now a city, a place that shapes its residents, rather than the other way around. And still, Aspen won’t be ruined. It will always be the perfect place for some.
Roger Marolt wonders what the current over/under is on whelming for Fourth of July weekend in Aspen. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s almost time to ring in the new year and if your holiday schedule is shaping up to be as packed as mine, I wish you a well-deserved rest in 2024. In the meantime, it’s our chance to party, and party we shall.