Stone: Save Basalt! Bring back the dumpsters
A Stone’s Throw
Oh dear! Time to wave bye-bye to Basalt.
Such a charming little place, but we are assured that the village at the confluence of our two rivers is about to turn into a ghost town unless — Wait! Ta-da! Cavalry to the rescue! — someone builds a four-story hotel.
Yes, they insist, a hotel (plus, of course, a nest of pricey condominiums) is the only thing that can save Basalt from wasting away as downtown businesses close their doors and slink off to distant Willits — aka “Also Basalt.”
As a planner told me last week, the hotel is “Basalt’s last chance.” (Hmm. The Last Chance Hotel would be a great name for the establishment.) And don’t worry about triggering a war for business with a slightly larger hotel (with stronger financial backing) now under construction just down the road in, you know, Willits. Those Westin/Sheraton/St. Regis punks don’t stand a chance.
Well, since this column has always been dedicated to providing useful suggestions rather than just malicious cheap shots (you knew that, didn’t you?), I am going to reveal what Basalt really needs to revitalize its drooping vigor.
The solution is so easy, so obvious, that you’ll kick yourself for not thinking of it sooner.
Bring back the downtown recycling center.
That’s right. The answer to Basalt’s problems is the return of that cluster of Dumpsters that used to lurk beside Two Rivers Road, just at the edge of downtown.
The recycling center was a magnet. It drew people into Basalt from miles around — and we’re talking real people, local residents, people who eat and shop and generate recycling: the trash-laden salt of the earth.
Sure, I know that recycling center got to be a bit of an eyesore. But that was just because those in power didn’t give a damn about it. To be charitable (I always try to be charitable), they just didn’t realize what a vital community benefit it was.
It doesn’t have to be a nasty place. Look what they’ve done in Aspen to tart up their recycling Dumpsters with a little landscaping. (And surveillance cameras to catch the evildoers who dump mattresses.) Heck, I think they even had recycling concierges for a while to help poor, clueless Aspenites who couldn’t figure out how to flatten cardboard boxes.
Imagine what we could do in Basalt for just a tiny fraction of the money they want to spend building a four-story hotel.
And, hey, Amory Lovins’ Rocky Mountain Institute — under construction right across the street — is intent on saving the world. It would have to welcome a recycling center as a neighbor. Anything else would be hypocritical. And you know they could make it beautiful.
This is a grand opportunity to solve two problems with a single Dumpster. (Well, several Dumpsters, but you get the idea.)
The first problem — and this one really is an outrage — is the fact that they moved the recycling out of the center of town, where it was useful and convenient and drew a diverse crowd of people from all over the midvalley to perform a praiseworthy civic task.
Now the recycling is hidden away in a nasty corner of an industrial park, in the shadow of the garbage-company operations.
It’s not open on weekends or late in the afternoon, the times when most people get the chance to do their recycling.
It’s a “private-enterprise solution” — another way of saying it’s a really bad idea that everyone hates except the people who make a profit on it.
The net result has to be that a lot less recycling gets done. And downtown Basalt turns into a ghost town.
The second problem that gets solved by this simple approach is the four-story hotel itself.
Once the ratty old trailer park was moved off the riverfront — at significant public expense — a lot of Basaltines were expecting to gain a big, beautiful park, extending from downtown to the banks of the river.
Now they’re feeling like a guy who orders a cheeseburger and discovers that someone has eaten half of it before it got to the table.
And the waiter, his voice muffled by a mouthful of beef and cheese, explains what a brilliant cheeseburger it is despite the missing big bite. “It’s really what you wanted all along,” he insists, spraying half-chewed cheeseburger in all directions.
Nasty business. But here’s the thing you have to remember about Basalt’s cheeseburger — I mean, hotel: People own that chunk of land. It is not public property. The owners have a right to do what they want to do with their land.
And apparently what they want to do with it is build a hotel. So they have brought in a developer to get the job done.
Here’s how that story goes: Developers develop. That’s what they do. And they hire planners and architects who do what they do. Yes, to be sure, sometimes they do it very well.
In fact, the designs for the Basalt Last Chance Hotel and Half-Devoured Cheeseburger Memorial Park look pretty darn great.
If a hotel is what you want.
But if a hotel is not what you want, great designs don’t matter.
The guillotine is a great machine for beheading, but if you don’t want your head cut off, well, great design is irrelevant.
And, sticking to basics, a project — any project — has to meet the needs of the developer, the financial needs of the developer, which have nothing whatsoever to do with the needs of the community. Don’t ever forget this. It isn’t evil. It’s just a fact. This is business, not charity.
Sure, good architects and planners will do their best to create a good design if only out of personal and professional pride. But if that design doesn’t meet the developer’s need for profit, it’s back to the drawing board. Business, not charity. And not “art,” either.
So let’s save Basalt. Bring back recycling!
And send that half-eaten cheeseburger back to the kitchen.
Let’s take another look at the menu.
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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