Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Zen and the art of the S curve

Aspen. We are victims of our own success. That leads me to believe that we need to redefine success.

We have some perpetual problems. When a problem lasts for decades then it's something which is symptomatic of something deep- a division at the root of our community. Traffic is one of those problems and the S curves rear up like a cobra's head bobbing back and forth while we look for a local mongoose or at very least someone with a bit of charm and a flute. County and City have just authorized another $500K study of the entrance to Aspen.

Popular wisdom points a finger at construction traffic.  The guests we can ferry in and out pretty well. We could make that more efficient with simple cost effective measures like a shuttle directly to arrivals and departures at the airport. That would be easy. We're allergic to easy, but that's another discussion.

Back to construction traffic. Will an army of brick laying drones save us?  Will modular mansions drop from helicopters giving us 3 day builds? Errrrr... probably not... Luddites you may rejoice.

Are there ways to slow the real estate/construction market? I mean other than whinging that we don't want more growth while we pocket all the cash growth brings?

You could reduce the second home owners claiming residency in their 2nd/3rd/4rth home by imposing a City/County income tax- targeting the $million income crowd and that would force a few out- but probably not before they tried to make a profit on a re-sale.
We could ignore our aging buildings and infrastructure and let it rot. Some of us remember Aspen when it was full of derelict houses - if you like that sort of thing move to Cisco Utah - or the top of Aspen street. Live with no indoor plumbing, running water or heat a couple of years and then decide if that’s quaint and cozy.

Construction could certainly be more efficient. Now we're so grateful to get a contractor who will deal with the draconian depths of the Aspen Planning department we’re willing to say yes to any timeline.

What about stopping new construction? Once those older edifices have rotted it’s certainly easier to build new.

Moratorium you say! Allow me to gently whisper “supply and demand” to remind everyone how we got our first real estate bubble in the 70’s. Limit the supply and the demand soars.

Kill the goose you say! Sabotage the lifts, bomb the Wheeler, nuke the mountains then people will leave us alone in the rubble. I mumble again “Jim  tried that…"

Destroy City Hall you say! It's all the government's fault. Well, if you really want anarchy default on a couple of City and County loans which might wreck the credit rating - that should bring the budget and the bureaucracy down.  Referendums are ham fisted inelegant blunt force weapons use the silent stiletto of finance. It worked with the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act and devaluation of silver in 1893.

Does this sound like "a modest proposal"? Well, it is. These solutions eat our own children, force doesn't work,  from the rubble new stakeholders will emerge all seeking the same comfort and power as the regime they helped destroy.

Maybe we want something other than Mad Max in the Rockies. Maybe we want a positive strategy which enhances the quality of life rather than smashing things in a hissy fit. Maybe quality of life is more than money. Maybe it's quality of life for every life.

What is the answer to that long snake of traffic which makes Aspen a miniature FDR drive or 405? There really is only one answer which I can think of. Reduce the number of commuters. House laborers and their equipment at the point of need. Support more telecommuting and remote offices.  Allow "pop up" mobile housing for the duration of the project.

Shigeru Ban's architecture- when it works

Encourage the nomadic workforce of the sharing economy (Oh, what one Basque sheepherder and his flock used to do grooming Aspen Mountain in a summer) .

Don't just target by age, income or time in the valley. Prioritize essential services. Work with what you have. Practice the art of the possible.  Water takes the easiest path and to quote Doctor Who, "Water always wins".  If none of that works for you - look around you and rejoice in what you have - practice acceptance.

We should update the Consultant Bingo Board.

Finally, don't do what we've done with every other traffic study we've ever paid for- don't pay for it and shove it in a drawer kicking the can down the S curves for another generation.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Four to One letter to the editor

Four to one that’s the number Sun Tzu gives. The baggage train needs 4 servants to every one warrior. Look at Versailles 1000 aristocrats and 4000 servants in the palace plus 60,000 in the town. Count the cars coming round the S curves and you’ll find the ratio hasn’t changed much.

Give me 8000 new best friends during food and wine give them each 4 servants….

The servants .… well… there’s your problem.

Okay- you want to quibble about that 32,000 estimate, after all the art of quibblage is an fundamental Aspen sport. Count the number of cars coming round the S curves- I say 32K- but I’ll give you odds on 16K. Feel better?

When you look at the S curves ask yourself this simple question. Do you want to see Aspen with 16,000 more families? They would be diverse working class residents. They would force more real people retail like $5 food and shoes. They would make us less seasonal.  Right now our guests never see the man behind the curtain, or the maid in the grocery store or the plumber at the deli.

We, like Epcot, have multiple secret doors behind which the servants hide while the paying punters walk the streets. The servants are only visible when they commute. Can you envision 16,000+ more people living inside the city limits? If you need a reminder go to the Historical Society and look at a few pictures of 19th century Silver Boom Aspen.

Is more government built housing the answer? Nope. Not when the affordable house starts at $1,000,000. You’d have to make $240K a year to afford that house payment even at current interest rates.

But we love our little town we want to keep it small  and we love our skiing and music and mountains. If we want it all then we pay the price in traffic or…. the servants need to live in the palace and walk to work.

What would make a sustainable Aspen? How could employers house their own employees? How do we enable that scenario in our big balloon real estate market? The top floor wasn’t always a penthouse, not in the pre transferable development rights (TDR) and Burlingame years. Our well intentioned government housing incentives targeting development resulted in a wild west real estate market and a wider social divide between rich and poor. We have never taken a long hard look at what it takes to support a sustainable community.  Let’s do that. Now.

Monday, August 1, 2016

You can't handle the truth, letter to the editor

Let me be abundantly clear. Point one: the top of Mill is my home. What happens at the top of Mill, Monarch and Aspen directly effects me.  Point two: I create visual presentations for a living. I know when pictures lie.

This may be the point at which we need a P&Z with serious 3D skills to strip a developer’s dream down to what matters for the town.

Gorsuch Haus…. Lordy Lordy, Lordy…

There are epic visual presentations from both sides of the argument

and both fluff the truth.

Here is what I want to see in a visual presentation- for starters -  no unrealistic Point of View- standard eye level of 5.5’ please -do not use negative space to make things look smaller- do not use forced perspective to make things look larger -  no wider angle than human vision- no color cuing- existing and proposed buildings the same value and hue please. Don’t use camera tricks like “dumping” a big red blob down on the top of Aspen street and don’t use soft fuzzy pastels to make the building look all cozy and friendly.

1. What do *all* the proposed buildings look like- this includes what the Browns are pitching-  from the following vantage points:
2. What do the proposed buildings look like from the North end of Wagner Park?
3. What do the proposed buildings look like from the lower Catwalk (aka summer road)?
4 What does the FIS finish look like- from town, from the stands and - for extra credit- as it will be televised?
5. What does a line of 100 skiers at the proposed lift 1A look like? A simulation of skiing Norway to the new lift could be done for extra credit.
6. Create simulations of a skier accessing 1A from Mill, Monarch and Aspen - starting from Wagner Park.

Pictures lie. We need the truth.  I bet a 3D simulation of all of the above will cost less than a referendum.

Visualization lies- for beginners
Curbed Appeal (Architectural Renderings are Probably Lying to You- podcast)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

City Hall, again, letter to the editor

Last Tuesday at City Hall was VEEP worthy.

Bert suggested we turn the Wheeler into City Hall offices - because- I kid you not- it's also historic.

Lest you think this was some sort of Bertian humor there is precedent. Bert's suggestion was building a performing arts center on Galena Plaza in exchange for abandoning the Wheeler to government offices. For those who have not suffered through the bazillion votes on that property- one which we bought through popular vote and threw CAPP's auto out to occupy- the original intent was a performing arts center. That was the RETT vote- upkeep on the Wheeler and support the Arts with a second ballot question authorizing a new performing arts center in addition to and complementing the restored Wheeler. The performing arts center did not pass, the RETT did.

We've waffled on what to do with that parcel since we bought it. No to the performing arts center, no to the art museum, no to city hall, no to everything. Performing Arts moved to the District Theatre, the Black Box, the Tent(s), The art museum supplanted the 'Stube and who knows where City Hall will split it's seams if we don't stuff it into the Galena parcel.

Oh, so many irons in the fire... the Armory Community Center , the RETT,'s a simple war of attrition. Create as many alternatives as possible, force studies on each alternative, delay any decision and the "no" vote wins. (Mayor Skadron raises the same objection as he did with the Power House proposals - the funds are not in place for the Armory Community Center- may I humbly remind the Mayor that to date our non-profits raise money and build faster than the City)

But allow me to reel things back in to the core question. Should City Hall be a "one roof" solution on Galena Plaza? Yes, because interaction between City departments is key. Easier "one stop shopping" for citizen interaction with City Gov. is "huuuuuuge". If I fault this one roof plan at any point it's that it isn't comprehensive enough... all departments should have a presence where any Aspenite can walk in and talk to a person in that department .. all departments are not under the current Galena one roof proposal.

Does City Hall need to be built on Galena Plaza? No,but it needs to be within the City limits and with only that one caveat little orphan Galena Plaza is the most economical and least disruptive option.

The image which keeps floating up in my mind is the joiners table at the 'Stube. A cup of coffee mit schlag and a Belgian waffle makes solving the world's problems much more congenial. We lost the 'Stube because of referendumitus and knee jerk no... fool me once....

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Fear, we can work with fear

“We can work with fear.” say the Underwoods in House of Cards.  Lest you think that is only a Brexit or a Trumpian problem I ask you to look closer to home.

 We have our very own Boris Johnsons.  How different is “Keep Aspen Aspen” from Make Aspen Great Again”? Fear has had unfettered success so far. Referendum 1 passed- albeit in a split election- the Powerplant has been squashed - sorry tabled indefinitely- and now the paranoia patrol have set their sights on City Hall. Government is too big!  Don’t let “them"- those evil politicians and City staff gather in one building- they will plot against “us” the public. Should the council not bend to the will of the Boris Brigade then there is always the threat of referendum. Add to this a Mayor who is on the eve of an election and those vocal “no” votes may be too big a temptation to resist.

So what’s the argument against City Hall on Galena Plaza?

“The building is too big” It’s still just a drawing and if you think it is too big then redraw the silly thing -design something which works instead of just saying “no I hate it”.

“Government is too big” Do you realize that consolidating City government in one building actually reduces the size of government? Think of it like a merger- there will be redundancies.

“It costs too much.” Sorry- wrong again- keeping City Government where it is and spreading the other departments around town will actually cost $10 million dollars more. Ten Million- hey- I can buy a house for that in Aspen!

“I want City Hall in the Center of town.” Get a map. City Hall will move- literally- across the street. If you’ve been walking around Aspen trying to find where the County offices have relocated during their own game of musical chairs you might appreciate consolidating government in one spot.  (I swear finding the County Clerk was like “button button who’s got the button?”).

“I don’t want another big building downtown!” Yeah saying “no” is easy and solutions are hard. We said no to the Art Museum on Galena Plaza and got the box on Hyman instead. How’s that “no to everything” been workin’ for ya?

The arguments  for the new City Hall? First, ask anyone who works in the current City Hall. I dare you- ask a worker bee- and they will tell you what a “joy” that building is. Then remember how you felt when you walked into the last Council meeting. Did it feel like a welcoming comfortable place where we could gather and calmly voice our mutual concerns? No?  Architecture does matter. (Grrrrrrrrr…Given…biting tongue)

I could go on and on about designing a functional building for a specific purpose and how much less it would cost in time and money

 but what good is logic when trying to counter the politics of fear?  

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Groasis update- 2016

Planted in May of 2013 with a bare root choke cherry from Cold Stream Farm this is beauty has sprouted a "shooter" outside the groasis boxx. Wow. Just wow.

The rest are still alive- which is success in this climate. 

There are two boxxes which are damaged- the sides split and they don't hold water- but even in those the choke cherries are still alive- probably because of the shade and the fact that the heavy clay soil does hold onto the water a long time once its saturated.

You can just see the green leaves inside the boxx.

A reminder that these wee little seedlings are planted, the boxx goes over them, and initial watering fills the boxx (about 3.5 gallons) and then you walk away. I've had to cage them to keep the deer away and a couple have chicken wire since the bunnies may be nibbling; but all in all you're putting plantings into unfriendly soil in a climate which qualifies as a desert, using moisture which would occur on that patch around the plant naturally plus some condensation created by the boxx and the shape of the lid. 

Here's the link to the earlier posts.

and the link to Groasis

Monday, June 6, 2016

3 years of Mooooooo

Last week of May and the pasture is looking good

 So here come the cows

Mowing the grass

After about a week of grazing and no rain the ground is showing.

They've cropped quite a bit 

My neighbors pasture on the left compared to my  pasture on the right: 
Right now the difference is a bit frightening.

Unlike the 2 previous years we didn't get rain during the grazing period and, although rain was predicted it's been 10 days of sun and no rain after the grazing. This will be a big test for the pasture. How will this viewpoint look in the Fall? That's the question.  

My hope is that enough of the old gray dead grass has been ground underfoot (or hoof) that when the rains do come (please let them come) the ground will be ready to soak it up instead of evaporating. 

Saturday, June 4, 2016

E-bike letter to the editor

Responding to Paul Anderson’s motorized bike editorial The big picture on this is do you want an alternative to the automobile?

Yes, I got an electric bike last year. Why? Because it's an 18 mile round trip from the ranch to Whole Foods

and I couldn't bike up the hill to Missouri Heights with 30 lbs of food when I was 16 much less now. Besides, I want to ride something which might move faster than the bear on the bike path…. you know… since I’m carrying food in those paniers. 

(Note to self- put berries on top to throw behind you- like you’re in a troika with wolves chasing you)

Electric is a good choice for those of us who don't wear spandex.

...and it's a great way to get down to the Woody Creek Distillery for some smoked salmon  - that's Flip (Open Fire Catering) smoking the salmon on the grill- yum.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Spring Hawk

The hawks are here year round but the ground squirrels pop up in the Spring, hence my fence sitter... looking for lunch...

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Powering up... or down... letter to the editor

First let me say I think the Power Plant has targeted the right demographic. We have great programs for our kids up to age 18 and then we throw them out of paradise. Multi-generational we are not.

Despite Mr. Cook’s assertion that transparency is paramount it appears the Power Plant has no business plan or at least not one which they wish to share with the public.

Their primary for profit partner, Aspen Brewing Co., appears to have a low profit potential- a conclusion from Duncan Clauss' remarks at the presentation that ABC’s profit margin is low. If the ABC cannot generate 80-100% of the first year’s expenses including the costs for the incubator space then they are not the right partner for the job. The City would wind up propping up an established low profit business as well as the unspecified starter businesses in their proposal. To put it more simply why have a “for profit” partner if they are not covering the expenses?

When pressed by Angie Callen the presenters changed their assertion that the Power Plant was a

to a “not for profit” (hobby). 

What if they don’t get their liquor license? What if they are unable to fill the start up desks?  If the reverse happens where do the “extra" revenues go? How much revenue do they have to generate to sustain the concept and where will this come from? Right now the sustainability - according to the Power Plant- depends on what the City would charge for rent. If they haven’t provided numbers to the City of what it takes to achieve sustainability then they haven’t run the numbers. In a hobby you don’t have to run the numbers in a business- you do- you run the numbers again and again until you find a working model and work towards that goal.

Add to this that the Power Plant is no longer offering to foot the bill for $700K of renovation ... remind me what the advantages are again?

Finally, when David Houggy asked about benchmarks it was revealed that there has been no discussion of oversight- either from the City or within the Consortium.

This should have been an easy presentation with answers at the ready for predictable questions. Instead what we got was a fluffy cloud of “what we need in Aspen…” a cursory nod to a "vocal minority" and a reaffirmation how much everybody loves living here.

Yep, I love living here too.

 I also have pretty solid experience of what it takes to stay here.  

I haven’t heard anything from the Power Plant which leads me to believe they can sustain themselves, much less offer sustainability to other start ups.

Get your heads out of the clouds boys. Do better next time.