Robert Puentes, a Metropolitan Fellow with the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, addressed a gathering hosted by the Asheville Downtown Association at UNCA’s Reuter Center Monday evening. He offered ideas from other cities and an analysis of Asheville’s demographic trends based primarily on 2000 U.S. Census figures.
A few highlights:
• By 2030, half of U.S. residents will live in housing built since 2000, so changes in design standards can have a huge effect on our future communities.
• In the past, people moved to find jobs, but now most people move to communities they deem to have a high quality of life, and then jobs follow. So attracting employers is less important than attracting people.
• The Asheville region has an excess of high-speed highways and a shortfall of useful local roads compared to municipalities nationwide.
• Downtown Asheville is home to about one half of one percent of the population of the four-county metropolitan area, compared to two to four percent downtown residency in most successful cities. Puente argued that raising the downtown population to two percent would be a useful goal for municipal policy makers.
• One of his slides offered two overhead views of a section of Trenton, N.J., the first of which was from the past and bore strong resemblance to the present day loop-de-loop where Patton Ave., I-240 and I-26 meet in West Asheville. The second view was of Trenton today, after the huge highway interchange was eliminated and the highway through town replaced with an urban boulevard. Puentes said “Trenton has become the new Newark,” which didn’t draw much reaction from an audience unfamiliar with New Jersey development trends (Newark was once a poster child for urban blight but underwent a renaissance in the late 1990s and is now considered by planners to be a model livable large city).
Puentes is slated to confer with City Council members today.
— Cecil Bothwell, staff writer