After reading this article [“From AVL Watchdog: A Post-pandemic Asheville Faces a Daunting Return,” April 20, Xpress], I felt that I had to respond because, even though I have grown cynical about city politics, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Also shame on Brian Turner for using the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to scold county residents for being rightfully angry about the impacts of overtourism.
There’s a famous saying that’s attributed to Albert Einstein: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” And I kept thinking that as I read this article. COVID-19 has made the argument of service workers and city residents clear. Basing a significant portion of a city’s economy on tourism alone makes Asheville unnecessarily vulnerable to economic downturns. Simply returning to the way things were before will only cause us to repeat our mistakes. It’s hard to adapt to catastrophe when your city’s income inequality is so bad it resembles a Charles Dickens novel, and narcissistic politicians perpetuate it in order to further their careers.
At the end of this article, I was struck by what Byron Greiner said about Asheville. “We’ve always been a tourism-driven town from the turn-of-the-century on and we’ve always been a playground for the wealthy.” And he’s right: We are a playground for the wealthy. But that playground is built on the exploitation of our marginalized populations. And the virus has put this fact into stark relief.
We either move to a more diversified economic base and true workplace democracy or Asheville’s “character” will be no more. Can this city really call itself “progressive” when hotels aren’t used to house the homeless, or the TDA won’t pay unemployed service workers? I don’t think so, and history won’t be kind to Asheville if the powerful continue to make the choices they’re making.
— Justin Reid