Middle Creek serves purpose | VailDaily.com

Middle Creek serves purpose

Alan Braunholtz

Predictably, the “what’s a planning meeting?” crowd is voicing disgust with the Middle Creek Village housing project as it nears completion. The metaphors are falling daggers: “It’s a prison!” “It’s a barracks!” “Concrete monstrosity!” Well, perhaps not daggers. Blunt clubs, maybe?Ignoring that the chemistry and discovery of cement and concrete is one of mankind’s more underestimated achievements, have these people ever spent much time near a barracks or prison? It’ll be interesting to hear what comparisons the proposed conference center elicits if it ever takes that shape.Yes Middle Creek Village is dense and large, but they look to have done a pretty decent job with rooflines, faux shutters, etc., and the layout of varying sized and styled buildings to break it up. Squint and it resembles some of the large buildings of central European towns, say an Innsbruck, clustered around a courtyard. Perhaps not that removed from the architects’ drawings for Vail Square in Lionshead, which look pretty good.Beauty does depend on one’s viewpoint, and I’m seeing much more than a building with Middle Creek. People able to walk to and from work with no need for a car, saving money and time in their lives. Workers on time for their jobs, since the road conditions don’t matter. Less pollution in our air and rivers, a small step to lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Fewer dead deer on the sides of a little less crowded roads. Perhaps one less grief-stricken family after a car wreck on the drive home following a night at a bar. That alone makes Middle Creek a beautiful building.Denser housing in the center of towns is at the heart of urban renewal, and Vail needs some youthful energy in its core. Urban density reduces sprawl in the suburbs, allowing all of us a little more open space. Historically, towns developed close to reliable food sources. Sprawl is destroying forever some of our most productive land. At present one-third of the planet’s land surface is used for food production. Best not to build on the good bits as the population grows.Sprawling, oversized houses leapfrogging into pristine lands are to me ugly and wasteful fashion statements eating up something much more beautiful – the land itself. True, some make the elusive step to beauty with an ethereal mix of design, function and sense of place, but more look like formula luxury-trimmed knock-offs. This could, of course, be sour grapes on my part. Hopefully, time will tell there.Time will also be the best judge of Middle Creek Village. It’s definitely affordable and nicely done inside, but will it instill some pride in the people who live there? Without it any place becomes a dump and with it wonders are worked. Some tenants undergo a strange malaise, quickly losing the ability to change light bulbs, take out garbage, shovel snow, park cars, unblock toilets, etc.Swiss architects designed some of the post-war tower blocks, and these worked in Switzerland as communal vertical villages. Memories of inner city England highlight a difference in cultural behavior. The English choice to take out the garbage (and TV sets, old refrigerators, etc.]) by the efficient if slightly messy method of dropping it off the balcony is so far removed from any Swiss norm that it was beyond the comprehension and possible foresight of the Swiss architects. Tower blocks didn’t work in England.Several affordable-housing projects have been built these past few years, and the current availability of housing is a pleasant change from years past when seasonal workers had a mad scramble to find a couch. Rents haven’t changed much these past five-10 years, still in that $500 to $600 per room range. Now seasonal rents are available and pets are sometimes allowed, which I find amazing. Years past, some unlucky soul signed a 12-month lease then all his roommates ran after six months, making the security deposit a lost cause, which didn’t bode well for the property. This is much healthier, though a swings and roundabouts game for employees. Housing may be easier, but with enough housing there’s no labor shortage to drive up wages as quickly as before. Employers are loving the bigger pool of people, though. Merely having a pulse is no longer enough to win a job. Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a weekly column for the Daily.Vail, Colorado