I read tonight that Forbes magazine named Asheville as the only city in North Carolina to be among the 30 most beautiful cities in America.
Well, I’d known that my adopted hometown since 2008 had changed, but I’m surprised that now even Forbes thinks it’s cool. Nowadays, I consider this as an omen I don’t want to read about, especially because Forbes is not my type of magazine. I would rather read about us in a rag like Mother Jones, if we had to be reported on anywhere.
When I think of Forbes, I envision very wealthy people sipping their mimosas at a gentrified sidewalk cafe. Well, I guess that is us today.
I think of an ordered society of finely dressed patrons of the arts. Maybe sometimes in Asheville when the symphony entertains.
Or dressed-up executives rushing to work at big, incentivized corporations. Yep, that’s Asheville. Think Raytheon’s Pratt & Whitney, which will even soon have its own exit off Interstate 26.
Has Forbes seen our workers downtown struggling to make enough to pay their rent this month because many of the apartments in which they used to live have been converted into Airbnbs or torn down to make room for big-box expensive apartments very few can afford? Have they seen the people on our streets who sleep there, too? Or in their cars or along the river?
And do they realize that Asheville often criminalizes the homeless and even those who advocate for them by food sharing? Do they know that some even face charges now of felony littering and have been banned from all of Asheville’s city parks for three years, and they haven’t even been convicted yet? All because they did just that at Aston Park on Christmas night 2021.
Or how about charging second-degree trespassing on a writer and videographer who represented a longtime online investigative publication? Do they realize that even the ACLU is challenging Asheville on both these cases because they threaten our rights of assembly and having a free press?
And do our visitors know that soon they’ll be under surveillance if they hang around Pritchard Park and North Lexington Avenue? Or that a huge Duke substation is in the works to be built right above Lexington Avenue?
And then there are the water problems. If you preferred bottled water, you were in the right spot here during the holidays when more than 36,000 households and even our esteemed restaurants lost water or had to boil what they had in some parts of our area till Jan. 4.
Oh, how life has changed since my arrival here less than 14 years ago when my rent was $400 a month, when the South Slope was pretty much just that without all the breweries, when there were a few restaurants that catered to the locals with plain home cooking at reasonable prices. There are still a few of these, but some recently have had to call it quits.
When I moved here, we prided ourselves as a diamond in the rough. Once a writer spoke at Malaprop’s about a book he’d written regarding the happiest people around the world, from little islands in the Pacific to cold, majestic areas along the Alps. As a side note, he added, “And I’ve heard that you guys in Asheville are among the happiest in this country.” We all laughed, but we agreed. We were proud of our city with only two hotels downtown at the time. Then the tourism development people started advertising our weirdness, our drum circle, our buskers, our eclectic downtown. Too many “discovered” us.
Now we lament with our brother and sister homeless friends downtown that Asheville has outgrown its kindness, its friendliness and toleration over the years. Fame has gone to some of our leaders’ heads. They now make decisions in closed rooms where the sun doesn’t shine in. They sign nondisclosure agreements and give away millions of dollars to entice multinational corporations to move here.
Then some folks come down from Forbes magazine, and you know the rest of the story.
— Rachael Bliss