How is it possible for a town to exist where the median household income is about $73,000, but the median home price is about $4,000,000? In Aspen and the American Dream: How One Town Manages Inequality in the Era of Supergentrification (U California Press, 2021), Dr. Jenny Stuber digs into the "impossible" math of Aspen, Colorado by exploring how middle-class people have found a way to live in this supergentrified town. Interviewing a range of residents, policymakers, and officials, Stuber shows that what resolves the math equation between incomes and home values in Aspen, Colorado—the X-factor that makes middle-class life possible—is the careful orchestration of diverse class interests within local politics and the community. She explores how this is achieved through a highly regulatory and extractive land use code that provides symbolic and material value to highly affluent investors and part-year residents, as well as less-affluent locals, many of whom benefit from an array of subsidies—including an extensive affordable housing program—that redistribute economic resources in ways that make it possible for middle-class residents to live there.
Stuber further examines how Latinos, who provide much of the service work in Aspen and who tend to live outside the town, fit into the social geography of one of the most unequal places in the country. Overall, Stuber argues that the Aspen's ability to balance the interests of its diverse class constituencies is not a foregone conclusion; rather, it is the result of efforts by local stakeholders—citizens, government, developers, and vacationers—to preserve the town’s unique feel and value, and "keep Aspen, Aspen" in all its complex dynamics.
Michael O. Johnston, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at William Penn University. His most recent research, “The Queen and Her Royal Court: A Content Analysis of Doing Gender at a Tulip Queen Pageant,” was published in Gender Issues Journal. He researches culture, social identity, placemaking, and collective representation as it is presented in everyday social life. He is currently studying the social representations that media create and reconstruct about two annual festivals that occur during the summer months along the banks of the Mississippi River. You can learn more about him on his website, Google Scholar, follow him on Twitter @ProfessorJohnst, or email him at email@example.com.
Michael O. Johnston, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at William Penn University.