Mountain News: Ski towns still defining the new norm 

ASPEN, Colo. - The Great Recession has had even the well-heeled grabbing for the railings. That has had no small impact on the upper-crust ski towns.

Now, reflecting on the decade that was, many voices see the need to reposition themselves.

In Aspen, Mayor Mick Ireland continues to push for a return to the tourism that he found when he got there in the 1970s, working first as a dishwasher and bus driver. His vision of Aspen includes lower price points and less real estate carved out for the exclusive use of a few.

"I think we've gotten the community talking about economic future in a way that wasn't done in the past," Ireland told the Aspen Times in a year-end interview. "We need to build an economy that's not so boom or bust, but one that has more flexibility and a broader base."

One way to create affordability, he said, is to ensure that city-approved developments include short-term accommodations. "When you look at development, you have to make sure you aren't creating cold beds. You have to have an access point for people to come here."

He also wants to see more affordable housing. "If we are serious about housing our workforce... the time and place for that is not when you are in crisis mode, but when there is competition (for construction work)," he said.

In Jackson, Wyo., there was a backlash to the mansions of the last 20 years. In a letter published in the Jackson Hole News & Guide , John Pistono says enough is enough. The last four houses he worked on "were simply too much: too many resources used for too few people," says Pistono, who identifies himself as a construction worker of some sort.

Yes, he says, some of the folks who owned some of the houses worked hard and made clever decisions to make money. "They deserve to be comfortable," he adds, "but ..."

In an editorial, the same newspaper takes a somewhat broader view: "Given the past year's economic tumult, it is clear Jackson Hole has a choice: continue to embrace material excess or find a sustainable socioeconomic model."

Jonathan Schechter, also in the News & Guide , argues for the need to transition to a "new, humbler economic reality." He sees the next decade as an opportunity to foster a new sustainability ethic.

Alas, sustainability is a pickle of a term to define. Schechter sees the need for environmentalists to recognize that economic health is part of true sustainability, while dyed-in-the-wool free-marketers must recognize that unregulated markets invariably collapse under the weight of their own greed. And, he adds, environmental health is the basis for all wealth, so it cannot be trampled.

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