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Vagneur: Keeping development in perspective

Most things are in perspective, if you think about it. How often do we hear or see the tired, worn-out phrase, “I’ve lived here 25 years and can tell you … ”? To some degree, longevity matters, but it doesn’t necessarily make one any smarter or wiser than anyone else. We also should remember that some of those purporting to have lived here a long time should postscript that statement by saying, “I actually lived here part time most of those years.”

It’s unseemly to pull rank by immodestly bragging about your time of residence, but not that long ago, a woman was vociferously complaining about the fact that Buckhorn, an eerily popular trail on Aspen Mountain, hadn’t been groomed the night before. When informed that Buckhorn didn’t get groomed every night, she said, “I’ve been skiing this mountain for 25 years and can tell you that Buckhorn does get groomed every night.” A quiet pall fell over her dumbstruck audience until a man in the guise of yours truly said, “Lady, I’ve been skiing this mountain for 65 years and can tell you that you’re full of s—.”

The other day, I was visiting with a couple of gentlemen who have lived here, if not quite 25 years, at least approaching the “20 year” category. As they told me where their wanderlust originated and how they ended up in Aspen, I reflected on how that’s a happening I’ll never experience. I never had the chance to come here and make this my home — I was born into it and never questioned it. And somehow, it sometimes seems as though that puts me at a disadvantage, simply because I can’t comprehend the experience of moving here. Maybe that’s why I don’t understand the big deal about living here X-number of years or the thrill of being a “local,” as many seem to gush about.



Back in the late ’60s and ’70s, Aspen memories were being created by a huge influx of young newcomers. Today, those same people refer to that era as the best of Aspen’s history, those times that could never be re-created, and if you didn’t live here then, you could never understand what they’re talking about. And that’s probably all true.

But to be honest, it was a shock to my system, witnessing people defecating and urinating in our streams and irrigation ditches and seeing them screwing in our orchards and having to explain to “back to nature” zealots that private property was still private, no matter how electrifying their nascent awareness of the surrounding mountains and the supposed freedom contained therein was. How much construction plastic and other trash did we pack out of the mountains and off our property? A lot.



To these newcomers, Aspen might have been a blank palette open to new ideas and social change, but I remember it differently. From my perspective, many were a bunch of outsiders taking over our town with little respect for the folks who had been living here before their arrival. I was young, early 20s, and don’t get me wrong, many good people came here, as well.

And the town grew and developers fell all over themselves tearing this down and building that up. And it seemed like it might be impossible to foul our nest beyond the tipping point. Times were good, although there were some of us who wondered how much of that we could really take and still keep a grasp on our personality. With an ever-increasing, poorly controlled flourish, the good old days of “messy vitality” and respect for your neighbor got seriously breached. We tried to hang on, but before we knew what had happened, Mind, Body and Spirit had been replaced with Buy, Build and Take.

Years have passed since then, and I’m getting the feeling that more and more good people are developing a different perspective on what Aspen is all about. There’s a tremendous backlash against further big-box development downtown, precipitated in large part by the ugly stone exterior displayed across Galena from the Brand Building and by the new Aspen Art Museum.

Our City Council needs to develop enough backbone to let the plan-checkers and other zoning officials determine whether new development meets the rules. If it doesn’t, it won’t get moved to the council agenda. Let’s just try that for a while and see what happens instead of committing treason against ourselves to keep the growth monster satiated.

And in the meantime, the council, instead of wringing its hands until the wee hours over variances and other considerations for developers, could be wisely discussing the quality of life for those of us who have lived here for 25 years — or however long. If we continually sacrifice quality of life for accommodation of developers, we’re screwed.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at ajv@sopris.net.


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