Can Cities Be Saved From 'Supergentrification'?

For other cities struggling with sky-high real estate prices, Colorado’s resort town offers some instructive lessons on what’s working — and what isn’t.

April 28, 2021, 7:00 AM PDT

By rkaufman


Aspen

Beelde Photography / Shutterstock

The first time Jenny Stuber ever visited Aspen, it was on rock legend John Denver’s private jet, called the “Windstar.” She had been living with her mother, on welfare and eligible for free-and-reduced lunch at school. But when her father moved to Aspen in 1976, she began to visit him in the summers. Aspen introduced her to a new world — one of extreme contradictions. Whereas many locals, like her father, were able to get by on middle-class salaries and lived in affordable homes, others spent $2 million on second, third, or even fourth homes. This experience, in part, inspired her to become a sociologist, and to turn her lens on questions of social class and how it’s formed.

In her new book, “Aspen and the American Dream: How One Town Manages Inequality in the Era of Supergentrification,” Stuber, an associate professor of sociology at the University of North Florida, explores how the Aspen of her childhood has shifted in an era of “supergentrification.” While the city has managed to maintain a working middle class, thanks in large part to an affordable housing program established in the 1970s, progressive political leadership and creative urban planning, moneyed interests threaten to tip the scales in favor of high-end development. In 2016, the City Council announced a complete moratorium on development. Over 10 months, it rewrote the land-use code to favor residents over developers.

Stuber spoke with Next City about her book, what supergentrification looks like on the ground, and what other cities and communities can learn from places like Aspen. This interview has been lightly edited.

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