“We do work with cities all over the country, and we have to think of every community as very distinct, and at the same time shaped by shared sets of opportunities and challenges,” says David Dixon, leader of the team picked to create a new Downtown Master Plan for “growth and sustainability” over the next 10 years in Asheville. “This will be particularly important for Asheville, because it’s such a literally, richly diverse community.”
Dixon directs planning and urban design for Goody Clancy, the Boston-based firm selected by an advisory committee of city and county staff and Downtown Commission members on Feb. 8. The $170,000 contract was on the Feb. 19 City Council agenda; if approved, the consultants will start gathering information next month and begin holding public events in April. The target date for completing the plan is late October.
“This plan for downtown will be a transportation plan, a small-business retention-and-development plan … a historic preservation plan, a tourism [and] sort of an economic opportunity plan,” Dixon says.
The first step will be interviews involving a cross section of the community, “so we can get a gut-level sense of what is important to people, and what is driving the kind of decisions that they want out of this process,” explains the planner. “What are the anxieties, opportunities, challenges?”
The next step: a community-engagement process that Dixon calls “absolutely critical” in order to create a plan that is “great from many perspectives at the same time.” The objective is to “create situations in which people are talking and we are learning, and they’re learning from us.”
Dixon says past Goody Clancy projects have offered numerous lessons in the ways different communities perceive and respond to—or don’t respond to—challenges that they share, emphasizing that cities are shaped around constituencies that look at issues differently. Developers may be geared around a relatively short timeframe based on financing, whereas a university planning the revitalization of a neighborhood may be thinking on a 100-year span. An elected official may only consider two to four years—the election cycle. The planner’s task, he says, it to incorporate all of those perspectives.
Dixon’s work has also involved planning for heritage tourism, a sector actively pursued in Asheville. His team includes Mary Means and Associates of Alexandria, Va., creator of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street program, and the Asheville-based Heritage Directions, which specializes in heritage development.
In Dixon’s opinion, well-managed cultural—or heritage—tourism means attracting people who don’t come “just to go to great bars.” They’re likely to “spend more money” than the average tourist and be “much more interested in what is authentic about a place.” Heritage development, he asserts, contributes to stronger wages and offers opportunities for “people who have no intention of living conventional lives,” such as artists for whom such tourism provides a market.
Dixon will also focus on the “nonfranchise retail economy” and the role of local entrepreneurs. “There are all sorts of examples across the country—and Asheville is a terrific one—of places that have found ways to mediate between the challenge of promoting locally based small businesses and the desirability to do that,” he says.
Goody Clancy’s proposal to the city cited Asheville’s “unique character” and pledged to work toward attracting new investment, residents and visitors while promoting a sustainable environment.
For additional information, contact Sasha Vrtunski, the city’s project manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 232-4599.