Stone: We need to think big to keep this town small
A Stone’s Throw
Like any right-thinking citizen, I am tempted to spend time decrying the latest outrage from the Aspen Parking Department: the plan for a drastic increase in the cost of downtown parking this summer.
The idea is to free up spaces for big-spending tourists by making parking too expensive for hardworking locals. It’s based on the assumption that tourists in Aspen are already spending so much that an extra 10 or 20 bucks for parking is irrelevant to them. Either their wallets are already in shock or they’re so rich they don’t care what they pay for anything.
That seems a little rude to me — toward the workers and the tourists both.
But what really bothers me is that the government has no idea whatsoever whether the plan will work.
All it knows for certain is that it will cause a lot of pain. And that pain might — might — influence behavior.
We don’t let experimenters cause unnecessary pain to laboratory animals for testing purposes, but Aspen’s workers … hell yes! Let ’em bleed! Cut off a few fingers. See if that makes them stop picking their noses.
Furthermore, compounding ignorance with greed, the parking Gestapo … whoa! Out of control. Stuff a sock in it, Andy.
OK. Here’s the real problem: Fiddling with downtown parking in Aspen is treating a symptom — a nasty symptom, but just a symptom — and ignoring the disease. It’s worrying about air pollution from the flames of the Hindenburg.
Aspen’s problem is not downtown parking. Aspen’s problem is — same as it ever was — the relentless pressure of growth in all its ugly manifestations.
Oh, sure, there’s not enough parking downtown. No doubt about that. And there’s a savage traffic jam extending miles downvalley from the city limits every morning. And commercial flights full of visitors are turned away from the airport because there’s a traffic jam of private jets on the tarmac and in the skies. And people are driving into Aspen from Rifle — and Paonia! — every day to work because there’s nowhere to live in town.
You want more? Sure: Billionaires with multimillion-dollar downtown penthouses are buying surrounding commercial buildings and evicting bars and restaurants that might disturb their sweet billionaire sleep by allowing people to have a good time.
And even without that kind of egregious nonsense, local businesses are disappearing, because who the hell can pay the kind of rent landlords can charge major corporations that feel the desperate need to add “Aspen” to “Beverly Hills” and “Milan” on their list of locations?
I’d better stop this right now, or I’m going to start ranting about parking again.
The real point is this: Aspen is once again, as ever, in danger of choking on its own success. And messing with parking meters is not going to fix that.
Look, if we find a way to keep traffic moving and then find a place to park all those cars, all we will have done is provide a little extra elbow room for the headsman to swing his ax.
We need big thinking, big ideas, big actions to solve the big problem: the growth gorilla. And no one’s had a big idea around here in a long time.
A new hotel — whatever the design, whatever the price range — is not a big idea. Faster buses, not a big idea. A vast new airport terminal, not a big idea.
We’re not even up to the level of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We’re debating the best color of toenail polish for the manicurists who will be grooming the passengers who will be lounging on those deck chairs. As soon as that nasty iceberg stops blocking the sun.
And now — ta-da! — we learn from a story in The Aspen Times that the city is getting ready to hire consultants — at a mere $200 an hour, a bargain! — to help bring the city’s land-use code into harmony with the Aspen Area Community Plan.
One would have thought this project would have been a major priority of city government ever since the mismatch between those two codes provided the legal leverage for various unsavory characters to push through the oversized projects that have blighted East Hyman Avenue.
All that began, what, a decade ago? But just now somebody has finally decided we ought to do something about it.
And despite all the alleged planners on staff, we can’t figure out how to fix it without hiring consultants. Because — gee! — consultants always know best how to look deep into the soul and find the true secret heart of a community they know nothing about.
And, by the way, according to the news story, those first consultants will be just … well, the first consultants. After they’re done, “Other consultants would be hired to study the land-use code’s provisions on commercial design and parking mitigation. Another consultant could be enlisted later regarding the code’s application toward view planes.” Consultants piled high upon consultants.
But wait! One planner made certain to say, “We really think it’s important for the public to be engaged as much as possible.” Of course they do. Without public participation, how would the consultants know whom to scornfully ignore?
Apparently we need all these consultants because the horde of alleged planners in what used to be the Planning Department but is now the Department of Development are fully occupied, beavering away on plans for the assorted new local government palaces. Taj Mahals? Trump Mahals? No, they seem more reminiscent of the pyramids of Egypt — and like those pyramids, they will call down a plague on this city.
Not a plague of locusts, a plague of bulldozers, followed by a plague of cranes, air guns, circular saws and round-the-clock construction. (Regulations for quiet don’t apply; it’s a government project!)
Oh, wait! Now I understand. I said the government isn’t thinking big. Silly me. Of course it’s thinking big, very big: great big new buildings for itself.
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.