Telluride Institute: Ideas Festival 2016, Housing Our Community

Telluride Institute: Ideas Festival 2016, Housing Our Community

The Telluride Institute’s Ideas Festival 2016, “Housing Our Community” opens Friday, September 9, 3:15 – 9:40 p.m. (dinner break, 5 – 7 p.m.) at the Sheridan Opera House, continues all-day Saturday September 10, and concludes Sunday afternoon, September 11. Admission is free but online seat reservations can be made now here. Full schedule here. (Homepage, click “Schedule”).

Scroll down to hear more in a podcast featuring Ideas Festival director Alec Jacobson and assistant director, Kris Holstrom.


The Free Box remains a defiant reminder of days of yore when “chic” in Telluride rhymed with “second hand.” Dogs roamed dusty streets off-leash, no questions, no biggie, alongside an equal abundance of oddball residents, the occasional miner who didn’t get the memo about Idarado, an old cowboy, and bands of hippies and ski bums.

In the 1970s, the ski lifts opened for business and the Telluride Council on Arts & Humanities (now Telluride Arts) birthed the Telluride Film Festival (also Telluride Chamber Music and Telluride Bluegrass), so our box canyon oasis was, well, outed, just like other small picture postcard resort towns with big-time access to wilderness and adventure.

Then, in the mid-1980s, came the Telluride Academy, which triggered the first wave of second homeowners who parachuted into their new playground for shortish visits. This phenomenon was aided by the opening of the Telluride Airport in late 1985.

Game on.

Still, for a long time, the whine of private jets was a pretty rare occurrence and there were (and still are, amen) no name brand retail stores, no chains, no traffic lights in the Telluride region.

But for years, and despite the fact Town and Mountain Village (adjacent communities, even mesas), have long been prime real estate, a person in need could still scan the classifieds and find subsidized housing; funky and fab coexisted.

Lately, not so much: the Free Box still has just about everything anyone might need or fancy – except warm beds.

Last winter, Telluride Magazine published a story in response to what has become a housing crisis, hitting not just Telluride, but other resort towns, and not just our workforce, but also local business owners, everyone where it hurts the most, challenging not just revenues, but our diversity.

“… Suddenly, there are almost none of those old shanties left—those classic, vintage ‘ski bum’ houses where a group of friends and their dogs could shack up affordably for the season, staking their claim to a prime spot in town a short walk or ride from the ski lifts. Most of them have been remodeled, and if they are rented, it’s to the more lucrative market of Air BnB or VRBO short-term vacationers.  Which is good news if you’re a homeowner; but if you’re a renter, not so much. “It’s never been this bad,” says Shirley Diaz, the executive director of the San Miguel Regional Housing Authority. “Rentals have gone away or become over-priced. There used to be houses where groups of people, four or five unrelated adults, could share a rental for the season. Some of that has gone away, and that matters. It has a huge impact,” wrote Deb Dion, co-owner and editor-in-chief, Telluride Magazine.

The bottom line of Dion’s story, “Housing in Paradise”? Today it is hell to pay if you are a would-be worker and renter – or an employer looking for help in our service economy. Help shows up – there are generally lots of applicants for open slots – but where do they bed down after the store or restaurant or ski runs close for the day? Campsites and cars are ok in summer; in winter, meh.

Today the private sector struggles to find ways to participate. New housing forms, like tiny housing, can’t meet land use code standards. Undeveloped private land in the region is running out and getting more expensive. New construction technologies could be embraced, but we don’t know how. Passive House design can create net zero energy homes if  it is affordable. And again, local businesses are damaged because they cannot find employees who already have housing.

Is all lost?

Not at all. Problems are only solutions waiting to happen.

What are our options?

Find out how the Telluride region might provide a steady supply of housing that matches demand and affordability when you attend the Telluride Institute’s Ideas Festival 2016: “Housing Our Community.” The big event takes place September 9-11. The Big Idea? Harness our brainpower and energy to generate and support new and creative solutions to house our community effectively through the short-, middle- and long-term future. 

The 2016 Ideas Festival on housing is not the Institute’s first time at bat in this arena.

“It’s been 31 years since Telluride Institute introduced the Ideas Festival, since imitated by The Aspen Institute and others, to foreground issues we consider to be of current concern, whether local, national or global,” explained Pam Zoline.“Twenty-seven years ago, in 1989, we put on the original Ideas Festival about housing in the Telluride community, which proved a catalyst for pulling together regional interests in affordable housing. Before that Ideas Festival, there were just eight units of public housing in the region; five years later, 50% of our year-round residents were living in deed-restricted housing. That marked a huge victory for the community and showed what can be done when all the stakeholders have the vision and energy to work together.”

Last year, in response to the housing challenge, Kris Holstrom, a candidate for country commissioner and longtime face of sustainability in the region, founded Telluride Area Creative Team or TACT. Kris, who also served for years as Sustainability Director of the Telluride Institute, believes the idea for the resurrected Ideas Festival – it has been 16 years since the last such gathering – came about when Telluride Institute co-founder Pam Zoline attended a TACT meeting.

“…Kris Holstrom, a member of the San Miguel County Planning Commission, floated a proposal to the town for a temporary solution: ‘Tiny Houses,’ a handful of 8’x20’ manufactured homes that could occupy a vacant lot in town this winter and house some people. It was a grassroots out-of-the-box idea for inside-the-box living that local officials might have scoffed at, but during this current crisis, it was instead met with interest,” wrote Telluride Magazine.

Kris and Alec Jacobson, founder, San Juan Independent, (a primary online resource for community and regional news all about News Before Profit), are respectively assistant director and director of the 2016 Ideas Festival.

“Friday night, we will lay a base of background information focus on developing new, concrete solutions. On Saturday, and Sunday, we will work the weekend’s gains into an action agenda,” explains Jacobsen. “Audience participation is at the core of the Festival, with opportunities throughout to engage stage presenters and work alongside experts to develop solutions. This year’s Ideas Festival will have a vivid, inclusive, memorable and entertaining style, making use of our successful past format including lectures, panels, debates, the Bureau of New Mistakes, the Marketplace of Ideas, and more, and will provide everyone the opportunity to share their ideas with the festival as a whole.”

Speakers for 2016 “Housing Our Community”:

Jonathan Rose will present the keynote address on Saturday. Over nearly 25 years, Rose has worked nationwide in numerous housing, workplace and transit projects.  Jonathan Rose Companies is a multidisciplinary real-estate planning, developing and investing firm that aims to “repair the fabric of communities,” by working with cities and nonprofits to build housing, health, cultural and educational infrastructure. Rose’s appearance in town coincides with the release of his new book, “The Well-Tempered City: What Modern Science, Ancient Civilizations, Human Behavior, Teach Us About the Future of Urban Life.” Telluride is Rose’s first stop on a nationwide tour.

Peter Bell will talk about applicable financial models. Bell is the president and owner of Dworbell, Inc., a trade association management firm providing public policy analysis and advocacy. He serves as CEO for several national trade associations, including the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association (NRMLA), National Aging in Place Council (NAIPC), Council for Energy Friendly Affordable Housing (CEFAH), HOPE VI and Mixed Finance Council, Historic Preservation Development Council (HPDC), the National Council of Housing Market Analysts (NCHMA), and the National Housing & Rehabilitation Association (NH&RA).

Ben Preston will discuss the economic forces underlying unaffordability and consider different models for developing architecturally exciting housing. Preston is a principal at Ockham Residential, a company based in Aukland, New Zealand that focuses on treating housing as infrastructure allows us to focus on the long-term outcomes of development rather than just the short-term bottom line.

Marc Nager will lead a series of small work group sessions that will bring the audience and experts together to develop concrete solutions. Nager built Startup Weekend, which has reached over 300k individuals in over 130 countries to date. He and the community behind Startup Weekend helped create the world’s largest pre-accelerator, Startup Next.  He is now the Managing Director at the Telluride Venture Accelerator and the Telluride Foundation’s Innovation Director.

Paul Major will present the Telluride Foundation’s findings on how to build public/private partnerships to develop workforce housing in the Telluride region. Major is the CEO of the Telluride Foundation.

For more, listen to this podcast with Alec and Kris:

About the Festival directors

Alec Jacobson:


Alec Jacobson grew up in Vermont. At Amherst College, he studied anthropology, French, and Arabic, then went on to work internationally as a photojournalist. His decision to move to Telluride was based on the need for a home base with bomber outdoor access out the door and a cosmopolitan core. The idea was to put down roots and write grants to travel. About the time Alec received a Young Explorer grant from National Geographic, The Watch newspaper, where he had been working, was bought out. As the saying goes, one door closes, another opens: Alec saw an opportunity to work with people he liked by building a news source that carries what he and his friends want to read. The San Juan Independent was born.

Because Alec became involved in town politics from the get-go and earlier this spring he did a series of videos on Telluride’s future, he was asked to come to the initial planning meetings for the 2016 Ideas Festival. The invitation to become Festival Director followed.

“I’m excited to have national speakers bringing fresh new ideas to our table and for local players to make new connections. I trust we have done a good job building a weekend that will be stimulating cerebrally and also inspire direct action.”

Kris Holstrom:


Kris Holstrom came to Telluride back in 1987 to see Jerry Jeff Walker at the Fly Me to the Moon Saloon. After the concert, she went over to the Roma, where she John Holstrom.

“The next weekend I came up to photograph a cross country ski race. John had invited me to visit. He was care-taking the Lavenders’ cabin behind the airport – which was ski in only, so I skied in and got snowed in on Valentine’s Day…… The rest is history. We bought our land on Hastings Mesa that fall and have been here ever since.”

Many years ago, Kris worked as Sustainability Director for Telluride Institute and maintained a friendship and relationship with the Lifton-Zolines and the Institute.

“Pam had come to at least one of the TACT (Telluride Area Creative Team) meetings about housing that I hosted. We met separately along the way and I believe that’s when the idea for this Ideas Festival came about. I knew we would need a good team to put the Festival together. We had been impressed with Alec and his work, so we were all happy when he agreed to take the lead on the event.”

Over the years Kris has worked on workforce housing challenges  from several angles: community engagement; application for a tiny home village in town; brainstorming with Jim Burleigh on urban farming concepts and designs; teaming with Steve Cieciuch on an aquaponic greenhouse concept with some housing.

“I am excited to be bringing in some expertise from other areas for a fresh perspective. And I am pleased about having a venue that will focus on brainstorming a path forward to address this major regional challenge. I have always maintained there is a huge amount of creative talent in our region. This Ideas Festival is a unique way to bring some of those great minds together to focus on the housing issue in a way that generally does not happen through government processes.” 

Kris has long believed the Telluride region needed an avenue for broader regional planning on housing.

“We know the issue affects all the surrounding communities. We have the Regional Transportation Authority ballot question coming up this fall. And after attending those meetings, it became clear that the RTA efforts go hand in hand with affordable housing considerations. It is all connected. And we believe the Ideas Festival will provide a great venue for discussion and for creating solid paths forward for those interested in a comprehensive perspective and affirmative action.”

As a candidate for county commissioner, Kris understands that diving into the challenge of “Housing Our Community” is an important part of work that needs to be done.

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