How Vail helped create Aspen’s pedestrian malls

Vail and Aspen are focusing on their car free villages.

ASPEN, Colo. — Aspen came before Vail as a ski town by about 15 years, but in one respect, creating a pedestrian-friendly mall, Aspen learned from Vail.

Aspen was shaped by people from the Midwest in the 1880s, and they created a rectangular street grid pattern in the relatively broad valley where Aspen is located. When horse and buggies gave way to cars, the streets were readily converted. But even in the mid-1950s, a decade after ski area operations, the streets remained unpaved.

Why not turn Mill Street into a walking mall “where regular street fairs could take place?” That was the recommendation by a 1956 University of Utah architecture class. Continuing on into the 1960s, there was a growing national awareness of a walkable city as being part of a higher quality of life, according to a new account in the Aspen Daily News.

Still, business owners pushed back. Bil (yes, he used just one “l”) Dunaway, the long-time publisher of The Aspen Times, countered with an argument that Vail was more pedestrian friendly than Aspen. Even then, when Vail was just a decade old, there was a sense of rivalry.

“Aside from skiing, the most successful aspect of Vail is the pedestrian-oriented village center, where four or five blocks are reserved for walkers… and the vehicular-free atmosphere is tranquil and conducive to leisurely strolling or shopping,” he wrote.
Finally, in 1976, Aspen’s car-free, outdoor malls were opened.

Now, the malls must be transformed again. The pavers originally acquired from St. Louis for the malls need to be replaced. Such bricks are in short supply, explains the Daily News, and the challenge will be to find surface pavers that meet the community’s expectations regarding the
bricks’ ambiance.