At this point in the election cycle, it seems nearly crass to say that politics are divided in America. But this takes on a somewhat different meaning from our vantage point in the mountains. While our regions are, by broad statistical category, rural America and are impacted by issues typical of the West, ski towns appear as blue islands on the New York Times precinct-level map of 2016 voting data. So, in this issue of the Independent, we have stories that work to understand the distinct contrasts of mountain town politics.
Our goal is to step back from the conversation about whether there will be a blue wave or a show of Trumpist support in the Midterms, but to dig into the ways in which the national elections relate to the local issues we are deeply about.
And Mike Rogge, in an interview with Jeremy Jones, opines on the future of the outdoors in politics, hoping that some day, there might be a party that represents more directly the issues that we care about.
We hope, in the end to draw at least a bit of a line between national politics and their impact on our homes.
In surveys across mountain towns, housing consistently ranks among the most critical problems, with a lack of homes that are affordable to local works underpinning almost every other local issue. Many communities have been working to solve this problem for years, even decades, and yet it persists. So, with this issue of the Independent, we want to start to think about why.
We could delve farther into the fine grained details, but, really the issue is simple: we live in particularly nice places. And the result is that, short of really dramatic, mountain-leveling change in the scenery or the market, it is likely that there will always be demand for the dirt we live on. The median home sale price in Telluride in 2017 was $1.75 million, which puts it an order of magnitude higher than the national median and far out of reach for local workers with a median income of $79,000. Despite the challenges that that creates, when the town has surveyed the regional population, more people consistently want to move here than can fit. We have targets to house 60-70% of our workforce locally, but, unless demand drops, there’s probably always going to be a waiting list to live in town for the other 30-40%.
With that in mind, when we talk about solving the housing crisis we need to evaluate what exactly that means. What would it look like if the problem was solved? How would we know when we got there?
Setting numerical housing targets, need and demand gaps to fill, is useful for planning but it’s easy to get caught up in the numbers and forget to consider what they represent.
When we take action, we need to think not just in terms of how many heads might hit the pillows in the rooms we’re building, but in terms of the kinds of communities we want to live in when those minds come together. We live in amazing places and, as we seek to make them more perfect, it’s important that we take a long view and try to understand where the choices we make now will lead us.
So, in this issue we’ve combined a few data points to help compare town to town along with a series of articles and opinions that we hope will start a critical conversation about affordable housing beyond the numbers.
The public consensus is that we clearly want it. We at the Independent want to think about the end goal.
At the end of 2015, we launched the San Juan Independent out of Telluride with the core belief that the small towns of our region have big stories that deserve rich coverage. Sometimes, it’s critical to dive deeply into a single moment in time, while, in other cases, it’s useful to back away from the day to day decisions to look at the full arc of a complicated issue.
Here, in our first edition of the Mountain Independent, we aim to do both as we look at how our small, rural mountain communities relate to one of the biggest issues of our time: climate change.
In Aspen, the Canary Initiative has already measured an average temperature increase of 2.4°F since 1940 as well as a 34 day increase in the number of frost-free summer days since 1980. In Jackson, the Charture Institute has measured growing aridity, as rising temperatures have caused more rain in the winter, and faster evaporation and transpiration throughout the year. Following the same warming trend, the Mountain Pact lobbying group, notes that wildfires have burned 57% more land in the last decade than in the previous 40 years.
And this year, ski resorts around the West have delayed opening their slopes by weeks. In Telluride, where I live, we have only 37% of the snow that we would normally have to date and it has stayed too warm at night to fill in the gaps with the snow guns.
As small towns, where everybody knows their neighbors and every vote counts, we are nimble. If we decide to make changes, there are fewer hearts and minds to shift and fewer variables to adjust. Every vote counts and every voice can make a difference.
Even more importantly, when we move, people notice. Our communities are hotbeds of global intellectual activity, hosting heads of state and thought leaders at events like the Aspen Ideas Festival, Telluride Mountainfilm and Allen & Co.’s annual Sun Valley conference.
And because we are in a position to lead, we must continue to take significant action. Not because climate change threatens our sacred powder turns but because the same shifts are already driving conflict, mass exodus and massive destruction from the Sahara to the Maldives to America’s Gulf Coast.
In this first issue of the Mountain Independent, we cannot offer a comprehensive guide for our many communities to lead the charge against climate change, but we hope that we can, with the case studies presented, offer governments, organizations and individuals some paths forward and the inspiration to follow them.
We are small towns, but we have big voices. What will you do with yours?