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Small Town Politics

I've been staying in a lot of small towns on this extended road trip. Largely that's been due to coronavirus but also, since cities are easy to get to, it makes sense to take advantage of this road-trip by going to the off-the-wall places I wouldn't visit otherwise. 

woman walking on a grassy mountain

As charming and unique as these places have been, I could never actually live in a small town. I need gyms and culture and entertainment and lots of people to meet and accessibility to other great places. 

Then there's small town politics...too much drama. And Silverton is small. Not only is the town small, but Silverton is almost the only municipality in all of San Juan county. In 2019, there were 534 Silverton residents and 589 county residents total. This article from the Colorado Sun states: "Because Silverton is so small, there is an unusually incestuous employment and town-official pool." There's a lot of conflict of interest in the multiple positions people hold.

And as soon as I arrived in Silverton, I noticed signs protesting the mayor hanging in a lot of windows. I'm not going to get into the specifics of the hot topic of controversy surrounding him right now (you can read about it here), but rather some of the other obvious issues, like the generation gap.

political protest signs against a mayor

Silverton is turning young. I feel bad for the old folks, but they can't expect their way of life to persist forever. If new families don't move to places like this, it will die out. I don't favor protectionism of any kind, like all these old industries and brands complaining that millennials are "killing them". Times change. That's just how it is.

But you do have to balance traditions - like OHVs rolling down main street (a huge driver of tourism dollars) and "rough-and-tumble events like skijoring where horses pull careening skiers through the snow-packed town streets" - with progress. I was a little dismayed to find how many more boutique, frou-frou "gift" shops and art galleries have sprung up in this out-of-the-way little town since I was last here. It is starting to get that artificial Colorado ski town vibe that I can't stand. 

signs for OHV lanes on town streets

The most telling factor that Silverton is being taken over by people with big money (like the mayor who is from New York City) is the price of housing. My AirBnB was purchased in April 2020 for $192,000. It is a three-bedroom, one-bathroom, 1,100 sq foot house. The week after I got here in July 2021, the house next door, which is a two-bedroom, one-bathroom, 900 sq foot place went up for sale for $360,000. Yes, the lot is slightly larger, but no, there aren't any renovations inside that would explain the price. In fact, the windows are thin, single pane and would all need replacing to withstand a winter here. There's also an 1,110 square foot, three-bedroom, two-bathroom mobile home for sale for $410,000. A mobile home. And an 800 sq ft, two-bedroom one-bath home for sale for $600,000! It's had some renovations done, but is not a luxury home by any stretch of the imagination. It's a very modest home, very modest. 

So how is the bartender working at the Shady Lady Saloon going to afford to continue to live here? She's not. She'll have to live in Durango an hour away (because that's the only option) and commute. And who is going to do that? Hopefully no one. If there's one bright spot coming out of the pandemic, it's that workers are sick of the shit and are standing up for themselves by simply refusing to work. And good for them. 

Affordable housing has long been an issue in Colorado ski towns. It's an issue in Boulder, too, and many other towns across Colorado. We want people to work for $7/hour cleaning and flipping burgers and stocking retail shelves and watching out kids and working in the shitty, benefit-less gig economy so they can't afford a decent working automobile to get to these jobs but also freak out at the idea that they should have housing they can afford at that salary near their place of employment. People should stop accepting jobs under these conditions. With the enormous and growing gap in this country between the rich and the poor, we are heading straight for the French Revolution, only with a lot more fire power in the hands of the frustrated have-nots. And no, taking their guns away is not the correct solution to this particular problem.

Okay, this post, like my other politically-inclined ones, has gone a bit off the rails. I suppose I'm no longer talking just about small town politics, but if small town America is no longer an affordable alternative to the big city, what's left? And Silverton, as all the rest of Colorado, is now largely unaffordable. So I understand why people here, primarily the older people, are mad as younger people are moving in and driving up prices. What's the solution? Residency requirements before you can purchase housing? I don't know. But I do wish Silverton's fancy new liberal New York City mayor would spend less time worrying about people saying the pledge of allegiance and more time figuring out solutions to real problems.