Buzzworm news briefs

Finding Neverland

Imagine: You’re not from here, but you’ve come in search of something. Maybe you’re a well-heeled yuppie or senior citizen from out of state who has read about our fair Asheville wants to hunt antiques. Or, perhaps you’re a bohemian who’s tired of Taos and in search of a new vortex — or a reasonably priced pair of Birkenstocks and a kickin’ veggie burrito. Maybe you’re gay or lesbian and can’t find your way around our famed Rainbow City. Then again, maybe you’re just regular folk coming up from the stripped-mall lowlands in search of a little autumnal color, not to mention some authentic Appalachian tchotchkes or a tasty trout dinner with a side of bluegrass.

Sure, finding your way to downtown Asheville is pretty simple. But when it comes to the city’s less pedestrian-friendly periphery — say, Biltmore Village, the up-and-coming West Asheville, or the nascent River Arts District — the navigation becomes a bit trickier for visitors.

An effort to improve “wayfinding” in the city and make these areas, and the city as a whole, more attractive to visitors is one reason why noted tourism expert Roger Brooks is coming to town this week, says Stephanie Monson, an urban planner with the city’s Office of Economic Development. Monson’s office, along with the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority and several business associations are paying Brooks $6,500, plus expenses, to come to Asheville for a site assessment. Brooks, CEO of Olympia, Wash.-based Destination Development Inc., will look at the city from the eyes of a visitor, and then report on what he sees and how to improve our imperfections and build on our strengths.

“We’re looking at destination districts, where there is a critical mass of retail, restaurants, [and] offices, and [at] mixed-use development areas where we want to promote increasing mixed use,” says Monson. “And we want those districts and community members to determine for themselves what tourism will look like in their areas.”

Other goals of the visit are to show how elected officials and local government can be tourism leaders, how to protect and enhance the city’s uniqueness and sense of place, how to build bridges and partnerships with various stakeholder groups and increase citizen awareness of the importance of tourism to Asheville.

The bottom line says a lot: According to the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, overnight leisure visitation in Buncombe County accounts for an economic impact of approximately $1.06 billion annually. But more than the economic impact, says Monson, catering to visitors can make a city more vigilant in protecting and enhancing those qualities that make it special for everyone — a walkable downtown, unmarred vistas, lively arts, festivals and nightlife, distinctive architecture, and so forth.

A public get-together with Brooks will be held at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 4, at Phil Mechanics Studios (109 Roberts St. in the River Arts District). Brooks’ presentation will be followed by a gallery reception with refreshments. The event is free.

— Hal Millard

Outer Space for All

There was a time when the far reaches of space were only for the aliens, astronauts and astrophysicists. But since the Pisgah Astronomical Research Center opened its doors in 1999, any earthling who can make it to the not-so-remote reaches of Rosman, near Brevard, can find their way to the cutting edge of exploration.

At PARI, a unique blend of astronomical enthusiasts — novices, students and professionals — has come together to forge one of the nation’s pre-eminent centers for public-interest space research. Wanna see a far-away star? Or track radio waves that are coursing through the universe? With its vast array of government-built telescopes, radomes and other far-out gear, PARI has got a way to do it. And all you have to do is show up on Space Day — this Saturday, May 6 — to get a taste of how they do it every day.

“Space Day is the time we set aside our regular duties and host a large, family-oriented open house,” explains David Clavier, PARI’s vice president of administration and development. It’s a special-access day, to be sure — the only time each year when any member of the public can drive into the facility unannounced and unscheduled. It’s also an opportunity to find a way to come back, since the nonprofit PARI depends on a sizable battery of volunteers for everything from keeping the library in order to helping calibrate some of the most advanced research instruments on the planet.

Grownups run the place, but kids are both welcome and high on the agenda. Among the many ways the younger set can dive into space is the StarLab Planetarium, an inflatable dome that brings the great beyond to their virtual front yard.

A highlight at this year’s Space Day will be the debut showings of Observing the Diverse Sky, a new documentary funded by the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina.

Space Day is free and runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information and directions, call (828) 862-5554 or visit www.pari.edu.

— Jon Elliston

It’s hard work

Those who have experienced politics as something more than a spectator sport can affirm that the sweat, paper cuts and dog-tired feet are only half the fun. There’s real work involved — work that’s probably best done by those who understand community organizing from the ground up.

Democracy for America, a national grassroots organization that grew out of Dean for America, which rallied behind 2004 presidential candidate Howard Dean, has developed training programs for political activists dubbed “Fifty Ways to Turn Red States Blue.” This weekend, the WNC chapter is hosting a regional training session at UNCA’s Highsmith Center.

Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, an organizer of the event, calls it a “chance to hone your skills, network with other progressives and strategize to take back the South [from the Republicans], one community at a time.”

Classes include “Online Organizing” — with locals Matthew Raker and Tip Kilby; “Southern Success Stories” — lunch-time discussions with state Rep. Susan Fisher and Asheville City Council members Brownie Newman and Robin Cape; and “Turning the South Blue” — a panel discussion featuring Buncombe County Black Democratic Caucus Chair Isaac Coleman, state Democratic Party Chair Jerry Meeks and 2004 congressional candidate Patsy Keever.

Seating is limited to 150, and advance registration is encouraged. General tuition is $60 in advance/$70 at the door, with a special student/low income rate of $25 in advance/$30 at the door. Meals are included.

For more information on the DFA sessions, which run on Saturday and Sunday, May 6 and 7, visit www.dfalink.com/nctraining.

— Cecil Bothwell

Calling all neighborhoods

The activist spirit that erupted in the lead-up to last November’s Asheville City Council elections and was much evidenced at a January 12 city-wide forum hosted by Mayor Terry Bellamy continues to ripple through the community.

Now, the Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods has chosen to ramp up the rhetoric by calling a Congress of Asheville Neighborhoods at the Randolph Learning Center in Montford on Saturday, May 6, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Organizers say the day-long event will cover a wide range of topics, from the broad question of “What are the essential elements of an ideal neighborhood?” to particulars about organizing and political action.

The event will begin with words of inspiration from Rev. Maggie Lauterer. Throughout the day, information and resource tables will be staffed by neighborhood associations, area nonprofits and local-government departments. Bellamy will deliver a lunchtime keynote address.

Workshops include “How To” presentations on running a neighborhood association, working with local government, effecting policy changes — even getting one’s neighborhood on television. “What’s really noteworthy is the quality of the trainers at the workshops,” CAN President Chris Pelly tells Xpress. “These are people who have in-depth experience working on a wealth of development-related issues.”

The Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods is an umbrella organization serving some 30 Asheville neighborhood associations. A $5 registration fee includes lunch and free day care (advance notice is preferred).

For more information or to register in advance, contact Chris Pelly at 231-3704 or cpelly@buncombe.main.nc.us.

— Cecil Bothwell

Eyewitness to war

Christopher Hitchens, the alternately loved and loathed journalist, social critic, intellectual and contrarian, will speak in Asheville on Monday, May 15, in a visit sponsored by the John Locke Foundation.

So why is this lapsed leftie, a former acolyte of Trotsky and admirer of Noam Chomsky, speaking to the right-leaning nonprofit foundation? Since the 9/11 attacks, Hitchens — who remains leftish in many ways — has nonetheless been one of the foremost opponents of “Islamofacism” and a hearty proponent of the war on terror. And while he’s not a huge fan of President Bush, the British-born Hitchens remains solidly behind the war in Iraq, even though a majority of Americans now oppose it. There are even some war critics within the John Locke Foundation, says Director of Communications Mitch Kokai.

“I’m sure if you asked everyone in the room, each would probably have something different to say,” Kokai comments. Hitchens’ perspective “will give them something to think about,” he predicts. “One of the nice things about the Locke Foundation is that we don’t have a set script that everyone has to read to. … I think if you polled everybody at the foundation about the war, you’d get a lot of different opinions.”

Besides, Kokai adds, “the fact that we have someone like Christopher Hitchens coming who isn’t part of the perceived vast right-wing conspiracy shows that we’re open to what a lot of different people have to say.”.

The foundation, a Raleigh-based think-tank, dwells largely on property rights, economic development and other classical conservative issues as they relate to North Carolina politics. It invited Hitchens precisely because he is not a boilerplate conservative, neo or otherwise, and is decidedly left-leaning on many topics outside the war. In addition, Hitchens is one of the few journalists who has reported from all points along the “Axis of Evil” — Baghdad, Tehran and Pyongyang. In fact, Hitchens’ talk is entitled “The War on Terror Observed.”

Plus, it doesn’t hurt that he’s a media superstar, regularly appearing on network and cable talk shows, and writes prolifically for Vanity Fair, Slate.com, Weekly Standard and a host of other publications, as well as penning books that have slammed everyone from Bill Clinton to Henry Kissinger to Mother Teresa. Whatever your ideological bent, Hitchens’ talk is likely to contain plenty that you agree with — and plenty you don’t.

Hitchens will speak at a luncheon at the Grove Park Inn at noon on Monday, May 15. The talk is open to the paying public; the $25 cost includes lunch. To register, visit www.johnlocke.org or call toll-free 1-866-JLF-INFO.

— Hal Millard

They call him the blogger

Crashing the Gate

If you have ever visited the world of blogs — Web logs, that is — and are unfamiliar with Daily Kos (www.dailykos.com), you haven’t been paying attention. Nabbing some one million unique visits per day, the site is the largest political blog in the world by a factor of three or four. The blogger behind the blog is Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, and his immodest goal is to reshape American politics from the ground up.

There are those who will tell you he already has, in tandem with co-conspirator (and now co-author) Jerome Armstrong (founder of MyDD.com, one of the first political blogs).

In addition to their pioneering work in the world of interactive commentary, the pair were active in the Howard Dean and Wesley Clark presidential campaigns. They helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for Paul Hackett’s congressional campaign in Ohio, an online insurgency that Newt Gingrich warned was “a wake-up call for the Republican Party.”

Moulitsas and Armstrong will be in Asheville this Friday for a book signing at Malaprop’s Bookstore and Cafe. Their book, Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics (Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2006), started out as a blogging primer but morphed into a blueprint for a populist takeover of the Democratic Party.

“Republicans have always been more responsive to their base because they have always been dependent on small-dollar donations, which is the irony,” Moulitsas recently told Xpress. “What I want to see is a Democratic Party that is more responsive to its base, and the way to do that is to buy those politicians. Who owns those politicians, 10,000 small donors or 100 millionaires?”

Moulitsas is adamant about the power of what he calls netroots — grassroots organizing via the Internet. For example, he helped the Dean campaign bypass the political-business-as-usual donor base and go straight to supporters for both money and ideas.

In Crashing the Gate, he notes: “Money talks loud and clear in electoral campaigns, and by June 2003 the party establishment was reeling from Dean’s second-quarter financial windfall … by September, the money war had become an all-out rout, with Dean hauling in $14.8 million to Kerry’s $4 million in the third quarter.”

“There’s a learning process, of course,” Moulitsas says. “It’s getting people used to the notion that 20 bucks is all you need and you can buy your party back.”

Moulitsas says he insisted that Asheville be included in the book tour, even canceling one of his few weekends at home with his family, because “I keep hearing good things about the progressive community in Asheville.”

Armstrong and Moulitsas will appear at Malaprop’s at 7 p.m. on Friday, May 5.

— Cecil Bothwell

The River Wild

Lonely figures, white water flowing through their veins, throw themselves into an unconquerable chaos of churning currents. It’s a romantic image of river culture — but it’s also rubbish.

Sure, paddlers and their ilk may share a passion; but out of the water, most want nothing more than to dry off, relax, listen to some tunes and spend a little QT with the family. For 9 years, the French Broad River Festival has provided just the place to do all of that.

Held at the Hot Springs Campground and Spa in Hot Springs, the festival runs from May 5 to 7 and invites river-lovers and their kin to enjoy a variety of activities both on and off the water. Funds raised by the FBRF benefit American Whitewater and Big Brothers/Big Sisters of WNC.

The festival’s main event is the Raft Race, a 9-mile white-water ride starting in Barnard. Another event, now in its second year, is the Mountain Bike Race, a 25-mile, multiterrain contest beginning at Tankard Gap. It all sounds exhausting, perhaps, but it’s not expensive: The $55 fee for the festival covers campsite rental and entrance fees for all racing events.

The FBRF isn’t all about competition. Festival goers can spend the day checking out the vendor booths, stretching out at yoga classes or picking up a few pointers during the “Paddle with the Pros” event. For those with lil’ paddlers, the festival also offers a Kid’s Village which features a variety of activities for kids 12 and under, including special guest Becky the Balloon Lady, a national balloon-turning champion.

Of course, if you’re going to have a festival, you’ve also got to have some music. This year’s lineup includes a number of local and regional favorites like Mofro, Stephanie’s Id, Toubab Krewe and Ras Alan, as well as many others.

For more information, visit www.frenchbroadriverfestival.com.

— Steve Shanafelt

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