Britta Gustafson: Where the sidewalk starts | AspenTimes.com

Britta Gustafson: Where the sidewalk starts

Britta Gustafson
Then Again

In this town, it seems we have two divergent concepts that are continually bundled together, conveniently altering our emotional response to the phrase “connectivity.”

We use the word to evoke our desire to expand social perimeters while at the same time pushing forward the agendas to increase our physical access. And in some ways it feels manipulative to encourage connections, such as civic engagement and community relations, by advocating a need to literally build more physical pathways, bridges and roads.

Perhaps there are instances when and where these concepts intersect. However, there seems to be a few too many coincidental circumstances in which our desire to feel a solid sense of community is provoked as a way to encourage the development of more physical access and construction.

On the Snowmass town survey the question that asked if you would like to “Maintain and increase public safety, parking and transit by enhancing our connectivity” feels like an emotional plug to encourage residents to fall in line with a desire to construct more sidewalks, roundabouts and crosswalks.

As I see it, connection to one’s access routes and commuting, transportation and our logistical movement around our small town — as opposed to the ways in which we come together with our neighbors to interact, socialize and communicate — are very different ideas that require very different considerations. Still, we often seem to be lumping those concepts together under the same umbrella of “connectivity.”

I think we need to bifurcate these two issues in order to be productive in addressing possible improvements for each. Yes, we all want direct, safe and simplified access to get around town. And we probably most often agree that it would be ideal to have an engaged, socially committed, civic-minded sense of community here as well. But the two do not always go hand in hand.

In my opinion more sidewalks do not forge bonds.

As compassionate as it feels to hear someone plead about the potential dangers to our children regarding crossing busy streets, those bleeding-heart appeals to our higher angles do not necessarily prove civic mindedness and justify endlessly adding more and more and more. It all seems to be about adding, but who’s accounting for what we lose when we add more lights, signs, flashing crosswalks, traffic islands and just concrete pavement. Ask yourself every time: What is lost when we add more? I, for one, often feel misled by attempts to tie emotion to construction as the justification for more buildout.

To some extent, the same could be said for employee housing. How can you argue with shutting the door on hard working families who contribute to our community and simply want a fair slice of the pie? But when we evoke emotional responses in order to forward the debates, we charge the conversations with complex feelings, and perhaps lose the ability to properly weigh the pros and cons. Once our emotions are piqued, it becomes much harder to think rationally and make impartial decisions for the greater good.

I’m not coldhearted. If there were a way to ensure safety and to secure unlimited resources without any negative environmental, emotional or visual impacts, I’d say connect away.

But we are extremely limited and everything we add needs to be handled with an abundance of caution, compassion and integrity and should be done in a way so that our immediate needs and desires do not irreparably damage or destroy everything we love about this beautiful town and wilderness for generations to come in one big building binge. We probably feel the same way about our entire planet, being part of the human population which also is the parasite that is devouring all of Earth’s resources like a global cancer.

Here in Snowmass we have a micro opportunity to take pause and acknowledge everything that we add also takes something else away.

Building more and more as an emotional response in our small valley and paving over more and more of the valley floor with sidewalks, roundabouts, parking lots will further change the essence of our valley, but I doubt very much that it will bring us closer to one another. Those improvements that are absolutely necessary should be very carefully studied and debated without clouding the conversations with visceral reactions. Great care should be taken to avoid having our emotions overwhelm reason.

Having connectivity in both a strong sense of community as well as a safe, beautiful and accessible town would be ideal, but the two concepts are not symbiotic and should be considered independent of one another to best achieve both. Perhaps we should extract emotional appeals from our rational debates.

Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at brittag@ymail.com.


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