The latest round of this discussion arose on Twitter, when local writer and web developer Josh Benson, in light of news that city officials were, for the second time in 16 years, considering re-opening a pedestrian walkway to Hillcrest, commented “Asheville remains a largely segregated city, something the tacitly liberal hippy/ hipster population chooses to ignore for the most part.”
I thought it was an interesting point, so I put out there for discussion. Responses ranged from agreement to assertions that while Asheville has vibrant minority communities, the city could stand to be better integrated — to contention with the main point (blogger Paul Van Heden shot back, “‘Segregated’ is a loaded term that does not apply to Asheville or the hippy/hipster scene.”) New media debates aside, this is far from the first time the issue has emerged.
According to the last census numbers, more than 20 percent of Asheville’s population — about 1 in 5 people — are minorities, mostly African-Americans (about 17 percent of the city). Mayor Terry Bellamy is African-American.
However, deep concerns do come forth, of which the debate about better integrating public housing projects is only one facet. Back in August 2008, a meeting intended to pitch the Downtown Master Plan to the African-American community turned bitter, with many attendees harshly criticizing the planners, the plan and city government while asserting that whatever urban plans got crafted, African-Americans inevitably came out on the losing end. Residents pointed out that the location of the meeting — the city’s Public Works Building — was part of an African-American neighborhood that had been demolished during the city’s official attempts at “urban renewal” in the 1970s.
Last year, Xpress’ coverage of the Burton Street community‘s struggle against an N.C. Department of Transportation plan that would have demolished a large piece of their neighborhood touched on the feeling many residents had that their concerns were often ignored by the city at large.
Asheville’s often touted as a diverse, forward-thinking city and in that climate, it’s easy for people to pat themselves on the back and not look at problems. So it’s worth asking the questions: Is Asheville a segregated city? If so, what causes this, and how can it be solved?