Defining sustainable growth for Asheville

What a truly positive turn City Council took when it responded favorably to the sustainable-growth plan presented by Jack Cecil and David Kolzow on Jan. 18. And what genuine reasons we have to be concerned about urban sprawl and unplanned growth.

Since I moved here more than 15 years ago, I have seen and experienced blatant frustration in “rush hour” traffic. Granted, we can’t be compared to cities like Atlanta on this issue, but it’s all relative to what you are used to — and, certainly, most natives or long-term area residents are well aware of this unplanned, invading growth.

I used to listen to the cows snore at night when I first moved to the Beaverdam Valley, where a beautiful, pristine farm once stood undisturbed. Now we have a multiplicity of condominiums taking over that same beautiful mountainside.

Is this smart growth? If we are simply stewards of this land, then why do we act as if we owned it? When you think back, we did not create this land: It was created for us. We were put here to take care of it, in peace and harmony. The land and the trees were here way before you and I were! I would have to vote this great, green earth as our Elder, Our Mother Superior, if you will! Raping the land and calling it ownership is a personal action that’s resulting in a communitywide, nationwide, international assault.

Let’s look at the phrase: “Think globally, act locally, commit personally.” Committing personally means walking the path of sustainable growth, rather than talking it. We won’t see genuine sustainable growth until both the big picture is drawn out (as Jack and Dave have done), and the specifics (or parts) that make up that big picture (or whole) are acted upon in a way that does not harm the future generations of this earth (meaning plants, animals and humans — the entire ecological equilibrium).

Sustainability is about treating the earth as a community of beings that are affected by the very act of cutting down a precious old tree, in order to build a 3,000-square-foot home for Joe Blow! Imagine this one single act as one that would greatly affect the whole community. The community, in turn, would take steps to keep it from happening. This act of conscious consideration for the earth would come naturally, rather than be forced by the statistics that tell us how we have polluted our earth, and that we need to stop.

Obviously, we are not there yet. It takes a conscious understanding from all of us.

For example, were the buildings of Biltmore Park built with environmentally safe, renewable materials? If they weren’t, then it was not an act of sustainable growth. “Green” or eco-conscious building is a very important specific part of the big picture. The very principle of smart growth refers not only to what we choose to bring into our existing community, but also to what we do with it. The construction industry is responsible for more than 2.5 tons of waste per home, most of which ends up in landfills. We all know what an impact our landfills have on the earth — i.e., toxic runoff into local waters. More than one-third of the lumber consumed in the United States is used for housing. The average family residence uses more than 11,000 board feet of lumber per house. This is big. This is rape — of the land that is our natural resource, our wisdom, peace and re-creation!

Focusing on the big stuff — such as whether to target the region along the French Broad River for new growth — is a great start. But what about the ongoing construction of new structures (residential and commercial) in Asheville? What are the present and future consequences of building with toxic, nonrenewable materials? Building eco-consciously means building with toxin-free, recycled and natural materials, where possible. And because we spend 90 percent of our time indoors, building structures in a sustainable way not only benefits our earth and the very ground we walk on, it benefits us and our children, pets and even plants! To quote Ray Anderson, the CEO of Interface Carpet, and the mastermind behind educating this society on what sustainable growth really means: “Take nothing from the earth that is not renewable.” His goal with Interface is “to never take another drop of oil from the earth.” Now that’s talking sustainable growth!

While Jack Cecil and Dave Kolzow are offering a great overall solution to creating a sustainable community, I still question whether specific actions and solutions are being talked, not walked. Perhaps we need to focus on creating a definition of sustainability as it relates specifically to sustainable growth in our community. After all, there are many definitions of sustainability; one of the most articulate I’ve heard is Ray Anderson’s “Don’t build at all” — although I don’t think that applies to our definition of smart growth or sustainable growth for Asheville. I admit that some of our growth is good growth or smart growth.

So, perhaps we should educate our community on this issue and understand the specific parts before we create the whole. I read about government roundtables on sustainability all the time. As I understand it, sustainable practice involves inclusion of all and not exclusion of any. Maybe we should have a roundtable for the citizens in this community on sustainable growth. Treat it like an event that everyone would want to see, like our annual Home Show.

Let’s get the whole community involved in the definition, meaning and application of sustainable growth. This will, indeed, celebrate the true essence of community and the true definition of sustainability.

[A public meeting on the city’s Sustainable Economic Development Strategic Plan has been scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 23 at 5:30 p.m., at the Public Works Building on Charlotte Street. For more information, call 259-5433.]

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