Archives of Headwaters XVIII

Resort Communities in the Great 21st

Century Transition

November 2-4, 2007, at Western State College (various locations)

The 21st Century in America promises to be a time of a “Great Transition” in American society, from a consumptive, petroleum-based economic society with a low level of environmental sensitivity, to a more sustainable and environmentally aware society relying primarily on renewable and carbon-neutral energy resources.

This “Great Transition” is likely to be even more important for communities that are “marginal” in our economic society, either geographically or economically, or both, and dependent on amenity-based tourism —places like the mountain resort communities of the Southwest’s “headwaters region,” geographically remote communities with median incomes, for the most part, that are inversely proportional to their altitudes.

Other "transitions" also seem likely given the West's history of boom and bust economic cycles, renewed emphasis on energy extraction, current real estate market perturbations, and demographic trends. What can our communities do to prepare for such transitions? What are we already doing? How can we avoid becoming like former boom towns that are now ghost towns?

The conference will address these questions in a variety of formats providing numerous opportunities to both listen to community representatives and contribute to the discussion.

The Focus for Headwaters XVIII:

Resort Communities in the Great 21st Century Transition

Headwaters XVIII – November 2-4, 2007

Communities in the American West have a long history of boom and bust economies. The onset of the booms generally occur quickly, the glory days are brief (however fondly remembered), and the busts sudden. Collapse of commodity prices, completion or removal of rail lines, changes in medical practices, and accounting decisions in boardrooms far from the community are only a few of the reasons that once thriving Headwaters communities have suddenly been forced to adjust to new economic realities. As a report by the Center of the American West noted, “…the West has offered an advanced curriculum in the uncertainty and impermanence of success. If Westerners paid attention to history, nobody would need to be surprised when periods of well-being took a turn toward trouble.  We might even be able to prepare intelligently in anticipation of the trouble.”

For many, the turn toward resort or amenity-based tourism economies has represented a new era of greater security—at least as long as aggressive marketing is continually pursued and sufficient funds wrangled out of voters for airline subsidies. And, like those before us, we tend to regard the successes and prosperity of the current era  as evidence that past vagaries have been overcome (surely we’re smarter than we were last time….surely this business will succeed even though the previous one didn’t….). As we consider the implications of the climate change/peak oil vise for economies dependent on large numbers of people driving and flying to distant destinations, however, and reflect on our history long enough to recall the variety of reasons economies have suddenly changed, it seems wise to “prepare intelligently”. Even those with faith the market will deliver us from catastrophes believe that higher fuel prices will drive modifications in behavior such as reduced willingness to drive long distances for vacations.

What are we doing in the Headwaters either to prepare our resort and amenity-based economies for unexpected transitions, or to plan for those that seem more predictable? What attributes do our communities have in common with resort communities in the past that have successfully adapted to such transitions? Or are we more like those that failed in the past and now form part of our relict landscape? Might historical experiences of communities that successfully weathered such transitions—or those that did not—guide us in preparing for similar transitions in the future? What can we continue doing, and what might we need to give up? Can we apply our own knowledge and tools of economic and demographic analysis to the task of planning for such transitions as seem likely in the not too distant future?  What do our communities need to be building or reinforcing now in order to have the resilience to adjust to unexpected futures?

The 18th Headwaters Conference (Nov. 2-4, 2007) will explore the challenges facing the region’s resort communities as they imagine, plan for, and respond to fundamental changes in demographics and our economy—whether due to climate crisis,, adjustments due to peak oil problems, ramping up of new extractive endeavors, changes in real estate trends, or other not-yet-envisioned changes in the status quo.

Our exploration of these questions will begin with what may be a novel approach for the Conference. This year’s opening on Friday night will feature a performance of “Enemies Rehearsed” an adaptation by Western State Theatre Professor Paul Edwards of Henrik Ibsen’s “Enemy of the People.” The play focuses on a theatre troupe in a small, mountain resort community preparing for its performance of Ibsen’s 1887 play  exploring tensions between economic and environmental health concerns in a small, hot springs tourism-based community.  Resort tourism, resource extraction, economic growth, community vitality, and construction of discourse are all featured in the play which promises to provoke reflection on historical precedents for our contemporary situation, the complexity of maintaining community health, and productively planning for the future. Note that these opening night activities will be held in the Taylor Hall Auditorium (on the 2nd floor) not in the usual college union location.

On Saturday we’ll return to a panel and discussion format, beginning with a discussion of insights from the play relevant to our Headwaters situation facilitated by Director Paul Edwards of Western State College. Additional panels on ‘The State of our Communities’ and ‘The Resilient Community’ are also planned. Our tradition of inviting poets to share their work throughout the weekend, a “Headwaters Café”, and the Saturday evening banquet and “Passing of the Gourd” will once again be featured elements of the conference.