Why are European cities and ski towns so much cooler? After spending a day strolling the cobblestone streets of Paris, marveling at the Mona Lisa (as well as the hoard of people taking photos of just that one particular painting as if seeing her was on a vital bucket list that can now be checked off), and straining to ogle at yet another gorgeously designed building, John and I sat in a cafe this afternoon and tried to put our finger on it.
The quaintness found in European cities and ski towns is just what American ski areas try to emulate: the curving sidewalks, the outdoor brasseries, the impossible stylish people. Why can’t we bring this same feeling to the base of Crystal Mountain?
Forest Service restrictions notwithstanding, Euro quaintness can’t be replicated. At least not with the same panache. And not with any authenticity.
But why not?
Do American architects simply lack the vision? Have American towns been built too hastily, with the wrong sort of convenience in mind–plenty of parking and stroller-friendly sidewalks?
We also have building codes that put the kibosh on authentic growth. Look at any ski town or purpose-built village. While the interior, walker-friendly streets might be reminiscent of what I’m talking about, there’s a false backside where supplies are delivered Walmart style and most of the businesses are owned by the company town.
We have regulation sidewalk widths, fire hydrants, wheelchair ramps, and streets wide enough for two or three fire engines in the event of an emergency. While we’ve focused so keenly on access, we might have forgotten style and quaintness. Can’t we have both?
Take Chamonix. Or Zermatt. Or even Paris. Millions of people visit these cities every year. And it’s not because of the ease of getting around. They each have their own signature, with one eye towards style and another towards their own unique purpose.
Maybe U.S. ski towns should stop trying to be something they aren’t. Or maybe we don’t need to make room for every man, woman, child and their vehicle, plus enough room for every contingency. We’ve planned our living style around emergency management. It’s time to rethink the cookie-cutter ski village.