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The egalitarianism of the old days

Locations: Columns Published

By Patrick Hunter

I immigrated to the Roaring Fork Valley in 1970.  I came for the skiing and had a job waiting for me as a truck driver. I could no longer deal with living in the growing metropolis of Seattle, so I left for four years in the Army (mostly in small towns in Europe), and spent a few months at a ski area in California. The upper RF Valley had a great small-town sense of community.  Off-seasons were great because you could always bump into someone you knew, and we “locals” had the area to ourselves.  There was a strong emphasis in those days on maintaining community in the face of the pressures from a growing tourist economy.  

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Finding a place to live was not a problem.  A few of the more forward thinking businesses had purchased existing or built new housing to assure them a source of quality employees.  Wages were high enough to afford the available rental housing.  Apartment buildings had been profitably built without public subsidies.

Social equity was readily apparent.  The wealthier locals and visitors made a point of staying low key.  Any ostentation was frowned on. The older your vehicle and the lower your ZG license plate number the better.  

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Strict zoning laws were enacted.  The scarcity of development between Aspen and the next county line is their legacy.  

The enormous growth that has taken place all along the valley in the subsequent years has changed the lifestyle enormously.  What was once largely a rural lifestyle has become completely urban and suburban.  The dominant economic paradigm in the valley today is constant growth; is the antithesis of the anti-development and “anti-greed” ethos of the 70s.  

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The concepts of “enough”, of “carrying capacity”, or of “sustainability” are lost in the face of an onslaught of development. People readily accept Colorado State estimates of population increases.  Carbondale’s population is projected to double in a couple of decades.  Remember however, if we use a constant percentage of increase (2.5 percent in Carbondale), each year the base is larger, and so each year more are added than in the previous year.  This is the “snowball” effect. The bigger and heavier the snowball, the faster it wants to roll.

The pressure for development increases as the overall economy increases.  Even the local governments now contain “Community Development” offices.  In 1970 “development” was literally a cuss word.  Planning staff now regularly talk of “simplifying” the application process to make development easier.  

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“Sustainable development” has come to mean long term profitability.  Forget about an idea of sustainability to preserve a world where future generations can thrive.   Forget about preserving abundant natural resources, a proper atmosphere, sufficient top soil and fresh clean water, and temperatures that we can live in. Sure these needs get lip service, but every metric tells us we are going in the wrong direction.  

Today, every local political figure, every development spokesperson, and every media story screams for more housing.  Every local government is demanding more business to raise more tax dollars to provide ever increasing services.  Businesses protest the lack of instantly available qualified employees.  Every entity proclaims an urgent “need” for more; and each sector pushes the demands of the other.

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Stop.  I’ll repeat: stop!  What leadership “needs” to do, as they did up-valley in the 70s, is to think hard about where this is all going.  There are signs of this happening in the mid-valley.  New developments are facing grassroots headwinds.  Take the time, do the hard thinking; do some real “planning”.  We owe it to our kids and grandkids.  Please.  

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