Stone: ‘Slow Down’? No!‘Stop! Wrong way!’
A Stone’s Throw
Skiing Aspen Mountain last weekend, I was struck by the increasingly common signs ordering skiers to “Slow Down!”
Personally, I don’t need those warnings. I have already slowed down. My advancing age — along with the accumulated physical damage from years of not slowing down — has forced me to be a lot more careful. Damn it.
But what occurred to me is that we ought to post one of those signs — no, make it a whole flock of those signs — in city council chambers.
To continue for a moment with the skiing analogy, when we’re young, we tend to ski recklessly because we’re foolish and because — if we think about it at all — we rely on the fabulous healing powers of young flesh and bones.
Then we get older, and we may or may not become wiser, but we are forced to acknowledge that we no longer heal so quickly. If at all.
We used to get over it. Now we get used to it.
The same is true for our little city. When Aspen was young and brash, the bumps and bruises — and bad government decisions — seemed to heal pretty quickly.
But some of the stuff they’re throwing up now — and I do mean “throwing up” — well, as the fella says, “Ooh! That’s going to leave a mark.”
So, we need those “Slow Down!” signs for council chambers — as opposed to the current traffic sign, which seems to be “Yield.”
And the “Slow Down!” sign of the day is the no-variance charter amendment soon to be appearing on a ballot near you.
I’ve heard the arguments against that charter amendment — which basically boil down to, “Trust us because we can’t trust you.”
But I’m starting to think that the real problem with the proposed amendment is that it doesn’t go far enough.
We don’t need “Slow Down” signs. We need the signs you see if you glance back on highway exits, designed for fools who are heading up the off-ramp: “Stop! Wrong Way! Turn Around!”
Switching analogies for a moment (it’s my column, I’m allowed to do that), dealing with developers is like housebreaking a puppy.
You don’t negotiate how big a pile the dog is allowed to leave on the carpet or which corner he’s allowed to pee in.
You shout, “No! Bad dog!” You smack him with a rolled-up newspaper if necessary. You do whatever you have to do until the damn dumb dog gets the idea.
Developers may or may not be smarter than your average dog — and if we have to move from rolled-up newspaper to the solid length of a two-by-four, so be it.
We’re trying to save our communal carpet from those nasty piles of developer doo-doo.
So — switching from analogy to reality — how about a residents’ petition for a flat, simple moratorium on all new construction in the downtown core?
One year? Three years? Five years? Forever? Take your pick.
Sure, I know, pie in the sky. Never gonna happen. Law suits would bankrupt the city. But still, let’s think about it for a moment.
Imagine if Aspen simply did not allow any new downtown construction — still allowing upgrades of existing tourist accommodations, but not one single additional square inch of construction.
What exactly would the city not get that it really, really needs?
That’s what this is all about, isn’t it? What Aspen needs. Not what developers want.
So I repeat: What would Aspen not get that it really needs?
Frankly, I cannot think of a single thing.
Another fancy hotel? Another multimillion-dollar penthouse? Another art museum?
Actually, that’s a pretty good list of what Aspen really, really does not need — and what we would not get.
OK. I can hear the howls.
There would be the howls of developers, but like the howls of coyotes who find there’s now a locked lid on the dumpster, we can ignore those.
Then there are the howls of the construction industry. “You’re destroying our livelihood!”
That is sadly true. But, forgive me, it’s like saying, “You can’t cure cancer. Think of all the doctors who would be out of work.”
No, the construction industry isn’t the disease. But it is the symptom.
And — sorry again — most of those average Joe, hard-working construction guys don’t live in Aspen. Most of them, I suspect, don’t even live in the valley.
They can’t afford to live here. And they can’t afford to live here because of the exact same disease that they are a symptom of: runaway development.
A lot of very good people have already been sacrificed on the altar of development. So why should it be unacceptable to think that a few more people — who don’t live here anyway — should be sacrificed for non-development?
Of course, there are those who will say that if Aspen doesn’t grow, it will die.
Someone will inevitably use the shark analogy: If a shark doesn’t keep moving ahead, it will die.
But Aspen isn’t a shark. The developers are the sharks. And I don’t think this little swimming pool of ours needs to be stocked with predators.
Maybe we should just be able to kick back and relax in the sun without worrying about Jaws & Jaws, Realtors®, “Curators of toothsome development opportunities.”
Indeed, thinking about relaxing in the sun, as we bask in these terrifyingly balmy 50-degree February days and look out at the green grass beginning to sprout, maybe we should be concerned about preparing for a too possible ultra-balmy future.
Remember the “Far Side” cartoon: A dinosaur addresses a crowd of fellow dinosaurs, “The picture’s pretty bleak, gentlemen. The climate is changing. The mammals are taking over. And we have brains the size of walnuts.”
So, how big is our communal brain?
Sure, let’s pass that no-variance charter amendment. Post that “Slow Down!” sign.
And then let’s do some serious thinking about a “Stop!” sign.
Maybe it’s time to hunker down and (last analogy everybody) circle the wagons, housebreak those puppies, put a lid on the dumpster.
And clear the sharks out of the swimming pool.
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is email@example.com.
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