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Aspen's "slums": New book stirs outrage among town's glitterati

Categories: Media, Politics

slums of aspen.jpg
It's holiday week in Aspen, and this New Year's weekend is shaping up as the busiest party binge at the resort in years -- a time for Hollywood celebs and other one-percenters to pack the slopes and the clubs, to ogle and to be ogled, and call 911 about Charlie Sheen's ex-wives. But the prevailing buzz in this Gucci-padded wonderland this season is about slums.

Yes, slums.

A new book by two sociology professors at the University of Minnesota, blasting the Aspen way of life for fostering "environmental racism," is stirring up indignation and mea culpas among the glitterati. The Slums of Aspen: Immigrants vs. the Environment in America's Eden, by Lisa Sun-Hee Park and David Naguib Pellow, is a ten-year study of the use of immigrant labor in the ski town that focuses on the stark contrasts between the good life of superwealthy "locals" -- many of them absentee landowners who are around only a few weeks of the year -- and the legions of foreign-born workers who live in trailer parks and dilapidated rentals "down valley" and commute to menial but essential jobs at the resort.

The authors contend that the privileged have ample use of the beauty and recreational opportunities of the Roaring Fork Valley while systematically excluding the lower-income workers from sharing in that bounty. "This is a bizarre story of a town that prides itself on being environmentally conscious," they write, "whose city council can approve the construction of yet another 10,000-square-foot vacation home with a heated outdoor driveway, and simultaneously decry as an eyesore the 'ugly' trailer homes where low-income immigrants live."

According to this article, Park and Pellow began their research a decade ago, in response to a local resolution linking mass immigration to environmental degradation. That led the two authors to conduct extensive interviews with Latino workers, who talked about how locals sought out their services but also "just wanted them to disappear."

Response to the authors' charges have been heated, with some locals denouncing illegal immigration and "scab labor" -- while others have pointed out that the book doesn't give much attention to the town's efforts to develop affordable housing and improve living conditions for seasonal workers. The town of Basalt recently signed off on a deal to purchase a trailer park in a floodplain, redevelop it as open space and relocate the residents to better housing.

But Park and Pellow see the notion of "affordable" housing in Aspen to be problematic, at best -- kind of like the prissy locals who complain about the older, high-polluting cars driven by immigrant laborers while tooling around themselves in shiny new Range Rovers. Nothing about a bubble of privilege like Aspen is simple, especially at this time of year.

Someone else might have made your bed, baby, but you still have to lie in it.

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6 comments
uptonsinclair
uptonsinclair

john, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.   it is a valley shaped by glaciers so it is very wide which allows for tons of sunlight.  aspen is unique in the sense of being surrounded by nearly 270' of national forest.   it is in a truly spectacular setting.  for me, in the us, only telluride and ouray surpass...

hightower:   Not since the Gilded Age, which preceded and precipitated the Great Depression, have so few amassed so much of our nation's riches. Having learned nothing from 1929's devastating crash, nor from their own bank failures in 2008 that crushed our economy, the wealthiest of the wealthy fully intend to keep taking more for themselves at our expense.

this is the feeling of the workers in aspen.  i get we're all really lucky but a dude flew over my house today in a helicopter  on his way to his private plane.   but worse, is our 1% here in aspen are total fascists.   they love to ban singers, songs, newspapers, or people that annoy or upset them.   it's becoming so sterile and frankly, corporate. 

John
John

The funny aspect of the Aspen situation is that it is really a very ugly valley (by Colorado standards). And Aspen Mountain is not really much of a ski resort. I have long been astounded that anyone was willing to live in those trailer parks and pay the crazy money it costs to live in those hovels.

Timmy
Timmy

End all illegal immigration, let the laws of economics force Aspen to pay whatever is necessary to get legal citizens to live and work there. Problem solved.  

Lan
Lan

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Rd1885
Rd1885

I read half of the 27 page introduction which is available by clicking on 'new book' and following the links. The authors are clearly open boarder advocates and throw around derogatory terms like 'racist', 'hate crime' and 'nativism' to characterize anyone that dares assert that laws against illegal immigration should be enforced. A little research will reveal that the positive reviews quoted are all from like minded open boarder types.  I am not going to spend $30 on some hate filled propaganda piece.

Huffy
Huffy

Wow, they thought of this 10 years ago?  I guess slapping the word "Aspen" on it makes it so new and different than what's been going on for a hundred years on Hilton Head Island.

Newsflash:  menial labor is paid a menial wage, servants use the back entrance, and trailers are ugly.  Film at 11.

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