The Slums of Aspen: Immigrants vs. the Environment in America's Eden

The Slums of Aspen: Immigrants vs. the Environment in America's Eden

The Slums of Aspen: Immigrants vs. the Environment in America's Eden

The Slums of Aspen: Immigrants vs. the Environment in America's Eden

Synopsis

Environmentalism usually calls to mind images of peace and serenity, a oneness with nature, and a shared sense of responsibility.nbsp; But one town in Colorado, under the guise of environmental protection, passed a resolution limiting immigration, bolstering the privilege of the wealthy and scapegoating Latin American newcomers for the area's current and future ecological problems. This might have escaped attention, save for the fact that this wasn't some rinky-dink backwater. It was Aspen, Colorado, playground of the rich and famous and the West's most elite ski town.

Tracking the lives of immigrant laborers through several years of exhaustive fieldwork and archival digging, The Slums of Aspen tells a story that brings together some of the most pressing social problems of the day: environmental crises, immigration, and social inequality. Park and Pellow demonstrate how these issues are intertwined in the everyday experiences of people who work and live in this wealthy tourist community. Developing the idea of "environmental privilege"--the economic, political, and cultural power that some groups enjoy, which enables them exclusive access to coveted environmental amenities such as forests, parks, mountains, rivers, coastal property, open lands, and elite neighborhoods--they argue that this odd marriage of environmental and nativist groups occurs because of population fears--both want less people, especially if they are the brown sort.

Excerpt

On December 13, 1999, the City Council of Aspen, Colorado—one of the country’s most exclusive recreational sites for some of the world’s wealthiest people—unanimously passed a resolution petitioning the U.S. Congress and the president to restrict the number of immigrants entering the United States. the language of the resolution suggests that this goal could be achieved by enforcing laws regulating undocumented immigration and reducing authorized immigration to 175,000 persons per year, down from the current annual level of between 700,000 and one million. One of their primary reasons for encouraging tougher immigration laws was the purported negative impact of immigrants on the nation’s ecosystems.

Concerns about immigration’s environmental impacts generally include such broad issues as urban/suburban sprawl, the loss of urban green space, and overdevelopment of wilderness and agricultural lands. in Aspen, more specific complaints include everything from car exhaust pollution associated with older model vehicles many immigrants drive (since workers drive anywhere from thirty to one hundred miles to labor in Aspen’s tourist industry), littering in mountain caves where some homeless immigrant workers sleep since affordable housing is nonexistent (the average sale price of a single family home in Aspen in 2000 was $3.8 million), to having too many babies (i.e., overpopulation), which some fear will contaminate the pristine culture that accompanies the stunning ecology of the Rocky Mountains. With an unemployment rate of 1.5 percent (in . . .

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