Keeping the dream alive in a growing resort community

Jackson Hole resident shares insight on sustaining the Golden Goose

The world’s population is growing at an exponential rate. In the last 50 years the population increased by more than three and a half billion, adding more people to the planet than the entire population of the last 2,000 years.

 

 

“Where are all these people going to live?” asked Jonathan Schechter, director of the Charture Institute, a non-profit public policy think-tank based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
He says many of those 3.5 billion new people are moving to resort communities with valuable natural resources, amenities and a high quality of life. Communities like Crested Butte.
But with the sudden influx of people, how can these communities sustain that high quality of life and remain unique?
Schechter says the solution is to figure out what the community’s shared ideals are, to define those in a measurable way, and to actively pass those ideas on to future generations and residents.
It may sound like a daunting task, but Schechter says Crested Butte is already making efforts to achieve it.
Schechter was invited by Crested Butte Mountain Resort to give his presentation on “Sustaining the Golden Goose—the dynamics of growth in resort communities and what they can do about it.”
More than 100 people came to attend the hour-long presentation at the Mountaineer Square Conference Center on Tuesday, December 2.
Schechter began his presentation by identifying the problems resort communities like Crested Butte are facing—the most predominant issue being the recent population boom and flood of new residents.
In 1960 the population of Gunnison County was the same as it was in 1900, he said. But once CBMR opened in the early ’60s, the area experienced a sudden surge in population. Today, the population of Gunnison County is actually growing faster than the population of the rest of the world.
Schechter said an effect of the population increase is the economies in resort communities across the country are constantly changing. A hundred years ago the economy in Gunnison County was based on mining and agriculture. Once the ski area opened, the economy showed more of an emphasis on tourism. Hundreds of second homes and condos were built, and people would come from far and wide to spend a brief time in the area.
Today the change is toward a “lifestyle” economy. Those people who were once tourists are now residents. The second homes are now primary residences. And more and more people living in the community are making their money through financial investments and knowledge-based services that rely not on tourism, but rather on other people in the community.
Schechter said this change “creates a lot of stress on the community and a lot of stress on the people who were living here before these booms got going.”
Schechter asked the audience how many people moved to the area because they were forced to, or had to move to find work. Nobody in the audience raised their hand.
He then asked how many people had worn a tie in the last month, and three people raised their hands.
“A generation ago that was impossible,” Schechter said. “We’re operating this high level of sophistication, but were doing it casually. What people in big cities aspire to, we already have in spades.”
Schechter said the two reasons people are suddenly moving to resort towns are because they want to, and because they can.
He said people want to move to resort towns because of their quality of life, beautiful scenery, and desirable amenities.
Mt. Crested Butte mayor William Buck agrees that amenities like fancy restaurants, recreational outlets, and art galleries are what people want. “Those are the kind of services these lifestyle people are looking for,” Buck says.
Buck says encouraging those kinds of services to set up shop in Mt. Crested Butte is one of his goals, but the town is struggling to find ways to afford its amenities. In Mt. Crested Butte’s case, the town has historically been heavily dependent on sales tax revenues, but recent fluctuations in tourist numbers are making sales tax less dependable.
The town unsuccessfully attempted to pass a property tax increase this November to help finance new amenities and services.
“Tourist amenities bring full-time residents, and residents have to pay for services. That’s the bottom line,” Buck says.
But regardless of whether or not communities like Mt. Crested Butte have desirable amenities in place, Schechter said there is an ample supply of people ready to move into the valley simply because they can.
He said people “can” move from Anywhere, U.S.A. to a resort like Crested Butte partly because technological advancements and ease of transportation. Cell phones, laptop computers and Internet businesses were unheard of 20 years ago. But today they’re commonplace.
“This makes it easier to sever the umbilical cord between where you live and where you work… It makes it easier to live where you want to live, not where you have to,” Schechter said.
But people who choose to live in the same place often aren’t Zdoing it for the same reasons, and may have a different idea of what the community should be. “If I want to make a change in this community that makes it different from the reasons it excites you, you’re going to get mad and fight me to stop it,” Schechter said.
In the face of such differing ideals, Schechter said, another challenge facing resort towns was keeping their unique identity. “There are going to be tremendous homogenization efforts to make us like other places,” Schechter said. “It’s going to increase pressure on our communities to identify the things we care about.”
Schechter said he was particularly impressed by the foresight CBMR showed in completing a recent branding study of the resort and the community. The study identified features such as the town of Crested Butte’s colorful historical buildings, quirky festivals, and unpretentious attitude as core values of the community.
He also complimented programs like 1 Percent for Open Space, a voluntary sales tax charged by many businesses in the Crested Butte area that helps preserve undeveloped lands.
In fact, Schechter said Crested Butte’s 1 Percent for Open Space program was implemented before a similar program in Jackson Hole called 1 Percent for the Tetons, and even before the internationally recognized 1 Percent for the Planet program was developed. “Hats off to you,” Schechter said. “Thank you for blazing a trail we are drafting behind.”
Community-based efforts like the Open Space program are integral to long-term sustainability, Schechter said. He said residents shouldn’t rely on the government to find the solutions to rapid change. “When we are in times of trouble we tend to look to government to solve problems,” he said. “Our political leaders are trying very hard to cope with things,” he said, noting that they are nonetheless often underprepared and overwhelmed by rapid changes.
In summary, Schechter said the keys to long-term sustainability are for a community to “clearly identify the qualities it wants to pass on, unambiguously define those so they can be measured, and systematically pass those values on to future residents.”
“It’s about recognizing that you have something truly unique. If you can help preserve it and bring that preservation to the outside world you’ll find success… Maintaining uniqueness and a true sense of community will be the differentiator for today’s special towns.”
A copy of Schechter’s Crested Butte presentation will be up on the Charture website soon, at www.charture.org. In the meantime the website has a number of similar presentations tailored to other mountain communities in the west.

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