There has been a lot of hand-wringing and finger-pointing recently over the latest hot-button issues in the Roaring Fork. Whether it’s the entrance to Aspen (aka exit from), the airport improvements (keep out the hordes) or solar panels in Woody Creek (as long as I don’t have to look at it), you can always count on a surfeit of inflamed rhetoric on any given issue in the valley.
Digging back through the archives of our local newspapers, you can see that at least since the 1960s it’s same as it ever was. Each new perceived threat to our version of Shangri-La is viewed as a stand-alone event, a singular phenomenon, unique to this special place and the special people who live here.
It might be helpful, in trying to comprehend and address the challenges that face us, to recognize that we’re not so unique or special as we might like to think. The European mountain towns that have morphed into destination resorts over the last 100 years have come to realize that the transition of a quaint, rundown mountain town to a bustling destination resort is an identifiable process called a “tourist area cycle of evolution.”
That phrase was coined by Canadian professor R.W. Butler in 1980. The Butler Curve, which plots tourists per year over time, is an S curve that leads from growth, through consolidation and stagnation, to either rejuvenation or decline. Viewing a destination resort community’s problems through the lens of the Butler Curve doesn’t provide simple solutions to granular problems, but it does help put them into perspective, so they’re not viewed with a self-defeating, pre-Copernican mindset.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization has done some good work on “sustainable mountain tourism.” If you google their 2018 report, you can see that, just like our little planet is nowhere near the center of the galaxy, much less the universe, Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley are just two of hundreds if not thousands of communities around the world facing the same pressures of growth, environmental degradation, income inequality, affordability and preservation of the magic that brought most of us here in the first place.
It might be helpful to those decision and policymakers who are grappling with the challenges we face to realize that in many ways we are not the first, we are not unique, and we are not alone.