Neighborhood activists have CAN-do attitude

Over the past two decades, the Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods, composed of residents and local business owners, has repeatedly come down in favor of thoughtfully regulated development, simultaneously embracing increased commercialization along corridor roads and decrying lapses in enforcement of the city’s Unified Development Ordinance.

Pedestrian friendliness: CAN has been a major mover in slowing motion on neighborhood streets, advocating traffic-calming amenities like this island on Murdock Avenue. photo by Jonathan Welch

And in a move that might be described as “not in my back yard and not in your back yard either,” CAN held its first Congress of Asheville Neighborhoods last spring. More than 100 city residents came together to envision their dream neighborhoods. Building on last year’s work, the second annual congress will be held Saturday, May 5, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Randolph Learning Center (90 Montford Ave.).

“Last year, we compiled a word picture of what the community should look like,” co-organizer Marianna Bailey explained. “This year, we’re following up on the topics identified at the first congress, to show residents how to start taking those steps.”

Bailey and her husband, Bill, also worked on last year’s congress, because they wanted to “do something positive for the community,” she noted.

This year’s event will feature introductory talks by Mayor Terry Bellamy and CAN President Joe Minicozzi and a lunchtime keynote address by Mountain Xpress Publisher Jeff Fobes. Fobes said he plans to draw on his experience in local media. “After 18 years of journalistic effort, the Green Line/Mountain Xpress experiment is a success—but it required people who didn’t care particularly about building careers or garnering the usual accolades. [It] required a unique community that supported independent thinking, and needed tremendous financial support from people who didn’t care if there was a return on their investment.”

Among the presenters will be activists from CAN and other local groups, city staffers, green builders, historic preservationists and law-enforcement professionals. Multiple concurrent breakout sessions will support each topic. Nearly 30 local businesses have contributed financial or in-kind support to the event.

“The old warhorse neighborhood organizations who have been successful over the years will offer help to newbies, teaching them how to organize and how to achieve positive results,” Minicozzi told Xpress. “Neighborhood organization can be a foundation of our government, and a healthy neighborhood strengthens the Asheville community.”

Nuts and bolts

Each topical session will comprise breakout sessions on specific subjects. “How to Create the Ideal Neighborhood,” (11 to 11:45 a.m.) will include: a discussion of affordable housing by city staffer Community Development Director Charlotte Caplan; Director Bob Smith of the Asheville-Buncombe Community Relations Council on ethnic diversity; Assistant Planning Director Shannon Tuch on the UDO; and self-described “Silicon Valley escapee” Marianne Kilkenny on creating intentional neighborhoods for the second half of life.

“Tools for Better Neighborhoods” (12:45 to 1:30 p.m.) will feature: city staffer Ken Putnam and CAN member Robert Zeiber on traffic calming and street safety; Minicozzi on creating “human-scale neighborhoods”; a session on how to form a neighborhood association with CAN members Bill Bailey and Barb Verni-Lau; and Asheville Police Department representatives Shad Waters and Teresa McPherson on keeping illegal drugs out of neighborhoods.

In “Creating our Future Neighborhoods” (1:45 to 2:30 p.m.): city Budget Manager Tony McDowell will speak on state- and local-government bond issues; Harry Weiss of Public Interest Projects and Director Stacy Merten of the Historic Resources Commission of Asheville and Buncombe County will talk about historic preservation; and Leslie Fay and Alice Oglesby of the Aesthetics Advisory Committee for the I-26 connector project will present innovative options for the project. In addition, CAN board members Barber Melton and Heather Rayburn will discuss how regional issues affect neighborhoods; and Peter Harrison and Rachel Della Valla of the Western North Carolina Green Building Council will explore how climate change interfaces with neighborhood decisions.

The event will conclude with Verni-Lau’s “Conversation on the Future” and a raffle drawing.

Participants may have a hard time deciding which sessions to attend, but the event seems designed to tackle some of the thorniest issues confronting this or any other boomtown.

A neighborhood powwow

CAN’s second annual Congress of Asheville Neighborhoods will be held Saturday, May 5, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Randolph Learning Center (90 Montford Ave.). The $5 fee includes lunch; advance registration is encouraged to help organizers with meal planning and child-care arrangements (free with preregistration). For more information or to register, contact Judy Williamson (277-2010) or Mike Lewis (252-3684).

About Cecil Bothwell
A writer for Mountain Xpress since three years before there WAS an MX--back in the days of GreenLine. Former managing editor of the paper, founding editor of the Warren Wilson College environmental journal, Heartstone, member of the national editorial board of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, publisher of Brave Ulysses Books, radio host of "Blows Against the Empire" on WPVM-LP 103.5 FM, co-author of the best selling guide Finding your way in Asheville. Lives with three cats, macs and cacti. His other car is a canoe. Paints, plays music and for the past five years has been researching and soon to publish a critical biography--Billy Graham: Prince of War:

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