As 2010 draws to a close, rather than adding one more strident voice to the general holiday hubbub, we thought it might be fun to look back over 12 months of rants, postulations and pleas by assorted members of this astonishingly diverse, emphatically opinionated and sometimes tragically divided community and try to identify some high points.
Having worked with almost all the writers whose work graced this section, I was drafted for the task. What follows are excerpts from three commentaries that appeared in Xpress this year, along with my reasons for choosing them. We invite you to sample, ponder and, if you feel inspired, revisit these pieces in their entirety on our website. — Peter Gregutt, senior editor
We are not TV
Why local public-access television is failing
by Nelda Holder
(Published June 23)
The recent headlines announcing the impending demise of URTV come as no surprise. The stories accompanying those headlines, however, claim the station (now an arm of the WNC Community Media Center, which manages public-access television for Asheville and Buncombe County) is failing because it lacks sufficient funding. I beg to differ.
Unfortunately, URTV failed long ago. And money had nothing to do with it.
I was around — and was a vocal advocate of public-access — when the city of Asheville and Buncombe County were negotiating cable contracts with Charter Communications, starting in the late 1990s. I don't remember it as a particularly easy sell, this peculiar animal called public access. Some officials and administrators seemed leery of creating a television channel open to people of any and all persuasions — creating an electronic soapbox, as it was called. How on earth would they maintain control of the message if "the people" were free to say what they thought and have it shot to the entire community via cable? Then there were the members of the public who feared that this "free speech” merely guaranteed that all manner of vile material, including outright pornography, would enter their homes through that insidious black wire…
Editor’s note: Tackling a hot-button topic — this community’s bumpy ride with public-access TV — Nelda Holder keeps her tone civil yet doesn’t pull her punches. Addressing what was very much a local issue, she invites readers to expand their own perspectives by providing valuable context. And speaking to a subject that is clearly very dear to her own heart, she nonetheless manages to avoid easy finger-pointing.
Poor and poorer
Don’t trash the middle class in the name of affordable housing
by Mike Lewis
(Published Aug. 18)
At this writing, the city’s Planning And Zoning Commission is poised to consider a revised version of the [proposed UDO] amendment that would exempt single-family neighborhoods, restrict the changes to areas along major transit routes and perhaps include some process for notifying neighboring residents. I would support affordable housing in these areas; what I don’t support is imposing big concentrations of multifamily housing on single-family neighborhoods.
For most middle-class Americans, their home is their most valuable asset. Few dispute that the American middle class is under great pressure, yet the proposed amendment would largely reward the have-nots at the expense of folks who’ve worked hard for what they have and feel it slipping through their fingers day by day. Asheville’s single-family homeowners should not be made into unwilling players in a zero-sum game.
Finally, affordable housing is just one aspect of Asheville’s economic conundrum. The other part is jobs. If more people could earn a living wage here, affordable housing would be less of an issue…
Editor’s note: Mike Lewis’ cogent take on a proposed amendment to Asheville’s Unified Development Ordinance that would allow multi-unit housing in single-family neighborhoods stakes out a position at odds with both current city policy and, most likely, the views of a significant percentage of Xpress readers. Rather than simply paroting clichés or resorting to name-calling, however, Lewis produces a thoughtful, fact-based response to Robin Merrell’s July 14 commentary on the same subject (”Priced Out”) that respects and even partly agrees with her while illuminating points she didn’t raise.
Holidays invite us all to join the parade
by Jerry Sternberg
(Published Dec. 1)
The most exhilarating moment was when you heard the magic beat of the award-winning Stephens-Lee Band. The crowd noise exploded, and no one seemed to notice that these extremely talented black musicians were wearing hand-me-down uniforms from the white schools or that some boasted only a uniform hat. …
The spectacle was mesmerizing, and as the chills ran up our spines, many of us would fall right in behind them, marching proudly in step till the end of the parade as if, for those brief moments, we were truly one.
AND THEN THE MUSIC STOPPED.
As we watched the band members pack up their instruments, it never occurred to us (and possibly not even to some of them) that perhaps there was something wrong with the fact that we were now going for a soda at the Woolworth’s counter, where they could not be served. Or that if we went to a movie at the Plaza Theater, we could enter by the front door but their only access was through the back. They had to climb up to the balcony, and if they took the bus home, they’d have to sit in the back. …
After all, why did the black kids need an education when most would be hired only for menial jobs, and few had any hope of making it to the front office?
Editor’s note: Asheville native Jerry Sternberg, a longtime observer of the local scene, here depicts a social order fundamentally at odds with the way many current residents perceive this city. Serving as a kind of freelance community conscience, Sternberg blends his own strong opinions with striking snapshots of an era that, if not exactly vanished, sheds telling light on the challenges Asheville faces today.