Social Capital in Basalt, Colorado: Government by the People
February, 2008

More than 30% of Basalt's population has been involved with the community social capital program in the past four years, bringing invaluable originality and resourcefulness to the table while building a mutual trust in the process. This is Social Capital at its best, engaging the creative energy of local citizens to resolve community issues and shape public policy. The Town seeks citizen involvement in all its major governing decisions and provides staff support for groups and committees that form around specific issues and projects. Basalt citizens have worked together on the Master Plan, River Stewardship Master Plan, River Master Plan Implementation, Open Space & Riverfront Parks, Community Housing, Technology, Neighborhood Safety, Water Rates, and Emergency Management, to name just a few Town Issue Groups.

Social Capital Defined in Basalt

Social Capital refers to the features of Basalt that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit.  It comprises the community of people in a self-defined geographic area; their survival networks of friends, families and associates; and their living patterns, routines and approach in which they solve issues (e.g. civic culture).  Communities with an intact, undepleted stock of social capital have a rich cultural infrastructure and web of mutually supportive interrelationships; a high capacity and motivation among residents to predict, participate in and control their own environment in a manner that enhances community life.  Individuals, informal networks and groups who feel empowered to choose, adapt and implement a preferred future consistently contribute to an atmosphere of cooperation and trust at Basalt Town Hall. Rich in Social Capital, the Basalt Town Council and staff actively make the most of this unique and precious resource. There is a staff position devoted to this work, and staff and Town Councilors make an effort to be out in the community listening to and interacting informally with local residents and businesses.

Central to Town's Master Plan

Civic Engagement and Social Capital are major topics of Basalt's Master Plan. What can government do to facilitate Social Capital?

The Town has developed a Social Capital Matrix to assist the Town to achieve its two main sets of goals:  maintain its small-town characteristics and attain its Top Ten Priorities.

Horizontal, Informal Model

The informal, "horizontal" model of civic engagement is part of the Town Master Plan's goals and objectives, involving citizen participation on as many levels as possible. Citizen volunteer groups have a safe place to informally work out kinks and come up with creative solutions before coming to the Town decision-makers (Council). Citizens' informal networks catch and resolve issues as they emerge, thus preventing them from growing into disruptive issues at the Council level. This is the polar opposite of the formal, "vertical" model of dependency and authority, which often fosters an "us and them" attitude between citizens and town governments.

"Buffer" of Involved Citizens

A major benefit of community-based public policies is the solid group of involved citizens who have achieved consensus for workable solutions, and then buffer the Council from the verbal assaults of people with personal agendas at public meetings. The return gift is a set of policies based in community beliefs and traditions with large-scale involvement and buy-in.

Celebrating Social Capital

To recognize volunteer citizens and groups who have given their time, energy and creativity to help Basalt be its best, Community Service Acknowledgement Awards are presented regularly at Basalt Town Council meetings. Consequently, Basalt Town Hall has become a favorite meeting place in the community – where Social Capital is honored and celebrated every day.


Social Capital IS ALIVE in Basalt, Colorado. It all happens at Town Hall! (Top left) a Basalt citizen volunteer receives a Community Service Award at a Council meeting, (top right) Basalt citizens working together at the River Corridor Plan Charrette, and (left) Community Potluck Party in the Council meeting room.

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