Behind the Big Ideas

Our grandest local institutions, structures and policies all started out as ideas. Sometimes they were small ideas that blossomed in unexpected directions. Other times people were thinking big from the get-go. In this week’s cover package, we look at some of the ideas that have shaped the Asheville area in enduring ways.

In several cases, plans hatched a century ago continue to be cornerstones of our local identity and economy. The Biltmore Estate. The Grove Park Inn. The Blue Ridge Parkway. All seen as wild schemes by critics in their day, these internationally renowned institutions helped draw countless travelers and billions of dollars to the area over the years, affecting nearly every resident in one way or another.

Other ideas have manifested in the form of epic cultural and political clashes, such as the slowly progressing integration of the local school system and the ongoing fight for LGBT equality.

Some of the ideas that have had the biggest positive impact in the long run have been thrust on us by those from outside the area, such as lawmakers in Raleigh who forced local officials to improve Buncombe County schools after national media branded the system one of the “Dirty Dozen” worst in the country. Others, such as the preservation and revitalization of downtown, have been more homegrown.

And some ideas, while sounding good to some, are bad news for others: Witness the ongoing debate over building an Interstate 26 connector, which has polarized some business and neighborhood leaders for decades.

But regardless of where you stand on history’s local fault lines, the old saying seems as true now as ever: “You don’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been.”

What was the Big Idea? From struggles for equal rights to grand building projects, a look at some of the ideas that have played a major role in making the Asheville of today.

Big Ideas Timeline: A brief history of Asheville, told through its Big Ideas.

Big Ideas in quotes: Some local notables share what Big Ideas they think made an impact over the years.


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