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)