Downtown Asheville lures uptown planners

The search for a consultant to help develop Asheville’s Downtown Master Plan has attracted what one local architect called “a veritable who’s who” in planning.

By the Nov. 8 deadline, 33 mostly high-profile firms from across the United States and even Canada had responded to the city’s request for qualifications. A project of the Office of Economic Development, it’s being developed with input from the Downtown Commission and other stakeholders. The goal is to create an urban-design and economic-development guide that will keep Asheville on “its path toward being the premier small city in the nation for urban livability.”

“I think it presents an incredible opportunity for this community,” says Joe Minicozzi of the Asheville-based Public Interest Projects. The respondents, he notes, include “some of the most talented firms in the [business] right now”—both established leaders in the field and new firms on the way up. “It’s pretty exciting.”

The firms run the gamut from the locally based Design Workshop to Crandall Arambula of Portland, Ore., to The Planning Partnership of Toronto.

“I think Asheville is one of the finest cities in the country,” declares urban-design specialist Allison Platt (Allison Platt & Associates, Baltimore, Md.). “I’ve been working in North Carolina for about 15 years in the eastern part of the state,” she notes, adding that she just bought a house in Goldsboro and will soon be North Carolina-bound. “The whole state is nice, and it’s growing.”

Timothy Keane of the Charleston, S.C.-based Keane and Co. says this may be “the city in the South [that], over the last century-and-a-half, has had the best designers in the country working [there].” And if that weren’t enough, he adds, “We love Asheville so much.”

“When you think of all the cities in the country,” says urban planner Kathryn Madden, a principal with Sasaki Associates of Watertown, Mass., “Asheville has a great reputation for arts and culture. The city has a beautiful setting—it’s just unbelievable. It’s just this vibrant little center sitting in the mountains, [with] beautiful architecture and then the views.” What’s more, she notes, the vision statement included in the request for qualifications shows that the city did its homework.

Minicozzi and other observers also complimented the language of the RFQ, which emphasizes “innovative and artisanlike attention to our city” rather than “cookie-cutter” solutions. Aiming straight at the hearts of professional planners, he notes, the document states, “We expect this project to be a great opportunity for you, for all the reasons you are passionate about your work.”

By Nov. 30, the Downtown Master Plan Advisory Committee (made up of city staff and Downtown Commission members) will produce a shortlist, with a final selection to follow by year’s end.

The ultimate goal is to create a guide that will foster sustainable economic growth utilizing green-design standards. The process will review public infrastructure needs, linkages, downtown gateways and corridors, sustainable transportation, and policy recommendations for promoting a “healthy mix of land uses.”

A process for involving the community is slated for February 2008, with a draft plan to follow by April.

“It’s a great opportunity for those who do the work, but also a great opportunity for us to be visionary. It’s an opportunity to really kind of do something wonderful,” says Minicozzi.


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19 thoughts on “Downtown Asheville lures uptown planners

  1. orulz

    There are a lot of important, extremely interesting, extremely hot topics that I presume this downtown master plan will address. When was the last time the city had it’s downtown plan refreshed?

    The new downtown plan might address:
    1. Parking
    2. Location of the civic center
    3. Architectural guidelines/height restrictions (should they exist?)
    4. Transit possibilities downtown
    5. Gentrification
    6. Development of underutilized city and county-owned parcels

    The catch is, to come up with answers to all of the above.. that take fiscal constraints into account.

    I’d like to see some of these top-notch planners reach into the past, to John Nolen’s 1922 plan for Asheville.

    Many of the issues in the 1922 plan do not apply today, but there are a number of (IMO) pretty damn good ideas here. They include:

    * Three new “Squares” to serve as focus areas on the periphery of downtown:
    -Patton Square, at Patton & Clingman
    -Chestnut Circle, at Broadway & Chestnut
    -Southside Plaza, at Biltmore & Southside

    * Generally fill in a few gaps in the street grid

    * Locate a civic center at the corner of College and Spruce (Advice from 85 years ago!) Today this would be the Renaissance Hotel’s parking lot – the ideal location!

  2. I’d also like to see more parks –
    More green space in downtown would be a marvelous thing and would sure brighten up all the concrete.

  3. Trolls live under bridges. According to your rhetoric I deserve a cookie, a hug and a free cellphone. Where do I collect, guru?

  4. Carrie

    How about cleaning up the parks we have? When’s the last time anyone who wants more parks in downtown actually hung out in Pritchard Park?

  5. Carrie –

    Green space and Prichard Park are not even in the same playing field.

    I don’t know about your homeless-phobia, but I personally hang out there at LEAST once a week.
    Yup, this yuppified hippie-hearted drum lovin’ guru is heading down there even this very evening to bang out the eardrums of every conceded affluent condo owner in sight. I even bail at the moon on occasion too!

    What I mean is, we need to get more green space downtown. At least during 1920’s victorian boom some lovely arcitecture was added to the city. But this modern arcitecture is just an eyesore! There is no design to it, just form following the function of how many folks can you stuff into an overpriced highrise. It would be nice if a little green came and it wasn’t in the form of money.

    More trees (and for heaven’s sake save the old ones that are already here!), more planters, heck even roof top gardens would be a step in the right direction.

    There was a petition last year to turn the old parking lot across from St. Lawrence basilica into a park, what a wonderful idea! A great spot to take kids to play or have a downtown picnic on a sunny day. I wonder, whatever became of that notion?

    Bigger and smarter cities than ours have seen the sense in protecting and encouraging green parks in their urban planning. In fact, Central Park is the most prized piece of real estate in the entire country, not to mention one of the greatest parks in the world.

    Honestly, don’t you agree that the one green space downtown in City Plaza really just needs to be paved over for another condo?
    And that old magnolia tree there? Well I’m sure someone from Woolworth Walk could turn it into something really neat that we could hang in the city capitol building. Maybe even a throne for city council members!

    We pledge ourselves to be “green” and some of us dare say “progressive” – but honestly all we are is trendy.

    I would like to say that if Asheville is going to talk the talk it needs to walk the walk – but I don’t even know what we’re talking about in this city anymore.

  6. Carrie

    JBo: Most of what you say sounds nice to me. I love the drum circle and don’t want some whiney new condo owners to shut it down. However, going to the drumming on Friday night is totally different from every other day in Pritchard park. It’s not homeless-phobia…it’s homeless annoyance. Try having a downtown picnic there. So that parking lot becomes another park where you can’t go to unless you have a bag a spare change.
    Also, not sure how you can bring up Central Park and at the same time wonder “how many folks you can stuff in an overpriced high-rise”. Strange. The reason CP exists is the money from all those condo owners.

  7. Nam Vet

    I’d like to see this Master Plan for downtown. LEAVE IT AS IT IS! We have a wonderful historic downtown because our LOCAL Council members of old rejected federal urban renewal money in the early 70s. Our current social engineers will only gum up the works and mess up Asheville. Leave well enough alone!

  8. withinreason

    I’m all for parks and such, but do we really need more parks downtown when you can’t park your car anywhere to visit them. I live outside of town and when I want to have a picnic the last place I think of to have it is downtown. WE LIVE IN A GIANT GREENSPACE!! There are literally thousands of places outside of downtown to have a picnic or hike or any number of outdoor activities.

  9. “I’m all for parks and such, but do we really need more parks downtown when you can’t park your car anywhere to visit them.”

    There’s tons of parking downtown.


  10. orulz

    Nam Vet,

    I suspect the downtown master plan is not about how to tear up & redo what’s already there. The Biltmore, Lexington, Haywood, and Grove Arcade Areas should and probably will be left pretty much alone.

    An ideal master plan for downtown would come up with suggestions for how to let peripheral areas (Asheland, Coxe, South Charlotte, Hilliard, Patton Avenue past the New Federal bldg, etc) “fill out” and eventually become like extensions of downtown over the next 25 years.

  11. emma

    “Central Park was the first landscaped public park in the United States. Advocates of creating the park–primarily wealthy merchants and landowners urged that New York needed a facility to establish its international reputation. A public park, they argued, would offer their own families an attractive setting for carriage rides and provide working-class New Yorkers with a healthy alternative to the saloon.”

    “Creating the park, however, required displacing roughly 1,600 poor residents, including Irish pig farmers and German gardeners, who lived in shanties on the site. At Eighth Avenue and 82nd Street, Seneca Village had been one of the city’s most stable African-American settlements, with three churches and a school.”

    Hmmm. I guess Carrie has something there…

  12. So why not tell the master planner to displace all the folks in Prichard Park and turn it into a green space for all of the affluent condo owners of the S&W;and Battery Park?
    I see your point but I find the logic invalid.
    I’m not comparing us to NYC, but rather making a point about how a good park can be priceless.

    My point is that a green space is worth more than concrete. The difference in value comes in a quality of life. It’s all around healthier to have green parks – and I support the idea of a pedestrian mall.

    The closest natural areas to downtown are the UNC-A Urban Forest (currently being developed so that will soon be out) and Aston Park which is unfortunately most notable for crack-deals.

    If there is a problem with panhandlers and crack-heads in the parks than perhaps the APD needs to start a serious crack-down (no pun intended) on the crimes that hurt our community and keep the poor destitute rather than go around tasing people who within their first amendment rights hang upside-down flags.

    As far as parking, I never have a problem finding parking downtown unless there is a gun show, a craft fair, and a country singer all happening at the same time. It’s about knowing when and where to park and about not fretting when you have to walk 3 blocks to get to the other side of downtown.

  13. “As far as parking, I never have a problem finding parking downtown unless there is a gun show, a craft fair, and a country singer all happening at the same time. It’s about knowing when and where to park and about not fretting when you have to walk 3 blocks to get to the other side of downtown.”

    I’m big and slothful. If I can walk a couple of blocks to my store, ANYBODY can walk a couple of blocks downtown!


  14. Nam Vet

    We DO NOT need more parks in Asheville!. Like a couple of posters stated above, we are surrounded by greenspace…extraordinairily beautiful green space. This not a big northeastern city. You yankee transplants change your pace and realize this. Your upnorth whining ruts will have to change here because this is a world apart from where you came from…thank God. And please, before you become “active” here, take the time to blend in and appreciate the culture here. We are friendly with strangers, we smile, we are charitable, we trust each other. We are not overly serious. These are all yankee traits that don’t fit in here. So take a look around and realize what is here already. OK?

    What is attractive about Asheville is that we are a small historic city, stuck in the 1950s. Changing it will not only not improve anything, but will take away the very reason many have moved here from someplace else. Leave well enough alone. After all, the Northeasterners, Californians, and Floridians have ruined their home areas. Why come here and repeat your mistakes?

  15. Travis

    I like the idea of having parks and plazas and streets without cars (or at least streets that are only open to traffic in the early mornings or during delivery times). People can park on the outskirts in parking decks and walk into town, or better yet take trams. Most European cities get by very well with this model. I think Asheville should bring back the trolley in the form of those cool, thin, fast, little European free trams. The buses are too big, loud and polluting.

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