Letter: Missing the old Asheville

Graphic by Lori Deaton

I was in tears reading this week’s letters about the changes in Asheville [June 23, Xpress]. Tears because all of it is so true. Been here over 40 years and watched it change from the beautiful mountain retreat and little town it was then.

Downtown did need help, but it didn’t need to be turned into the tourist-oriented, overbuilt, overdeveloped mess that it has become.

I came here because of what it was. I was leaving behind the kind of place it now is. I sorely miss the Asheville I moved here to live in.

— Patricia Wald


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4 thoughts on “Letter: Missing the old Asheville

  1. LowerCrust

    Let us not be blind to the reality of “the old Asheville” of 40 years ago being romanticized by the writer. 1980 was in many ways a low point for Asheville, capping off 50 years of economic, social and cultural stagnation and decline. Where many cities experienced a post war boom, Asheville just experienced further economic hardship and displacement of businesses and people. It never really pulled out of the depression until downtown began to become revitalized and attract the business investment, visitors and new residents the writer now decries. Prior to that, not only was the city not growing, it had lost 10% of its population in the decades leading up to 1980.

    Downtown needed more than “help.” It was mainly boarded up. As we know, most of downtown barely escaped being leveled for construction of a mall. The Grove Arcade had hurricane fencing around it and sat idle for years once the Federal Government returned ownership to the City of Asheville. The displacement of people which resulted from urban renewal programs fell disproportionately on the city’s African-American population and historically black neighborhoods. And it wasn’t just downtown which needed help. Showcase neighborhoods from Asheville’s earlier boom, like Montford, had numerous abandoned homes. Some became brothels, some became crack houses. Others were turned into substandard group housing. Ah yes… “the good ol’ days.”

    Go back further in time, and an entirely different Asheville existed. As the letter writer describes, it WAS once a “mountain retreat.” That was because between about 1880 and 1940 it was a nationally, and even world famous place for people infected with tuberculosis to come in an effort to recover. Were these “tourists” with infectious diseases preferable to those coming today?

    As early as 1900 Asheville was the third most populous city in the state, behind Wilmington and Charlotte. And by the 1920s, when so many of the very large buildings we still value were built, and when it had the most extensive street car system in the country for a city of its size, there was little about life here which could be described as quiet or quaint.

    So, in the end, I guess we all choose which Asheville we want to romanticize. The initial boom city of the earlier 1900s? The city of the 20s which was outpacing just about every city in the state in growth, construction, impressive architecture, etc. The stagnant town of the 30s and 40s? The decline and desperation of the 50s through the 80s – or, the boom and growing pains of the 2000s. The point is, never was Asheville ever so idyllic, or so bad, that we should try to have that period frozen in time. The city has had it dynamic booms and dramatic and depressing declines. Be active in trying to shape decisions which impact the present and the future of the city, but don’t just sit around lamenting the loss of an Asheville which probably never really existed as it is being imagined and remembered.

      • luther blissett

        Yes, excellent, especially the conclusion: the city is what we make it. Some things will be completely out of our control, but others aren’t.

        I’d add one thing: cities are not the same thing to all their residents at any one time. Some people are genuinely nostalgic for the days when downtown was boarded up and what’s now the Fine Arts showed dirty movies, and you have to respect those feelings. Some people who’ve not been here long are excited and finding their own interests and communities with the aim of staying here for the next 40 years. You have to respect those feelings too.

    • North Asheville

      Thank you to Lower Crust for this articulate summary of changing conditions in Asheville over the last 50 years and the history of Asheville before that.

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