Letter: Our land is more than a backdrop for development

Graphic by Lori Deaton

It is no mystery to any member of the Asheville community who is paying attention that contentious development projects are becoming ever more frequent. We hear calls for public input and requests to communicate with our City Council, yet the projects continue. I believe the root cause of this lies in the outdated paradigm in city and architectural design that is informed by the metaphor of the machine.

Let me elaborate. Development and design are currently viewed strictly through a business lens. Though one could argue that there is nothing wrong with this — people should aim to make profit in their endeavors —development is different from many businesses in that it requires vast space. In our context and through much of the world, this space takes the shape of land that is valuable for so many reasons besides its suitability to house a subdivision.

We are watching the destruction of priceless farmland, historic neighborhoods, centuries-old trees, wetlands and forests. Our community is feeling the pain of watching the mountaintops be cleared for vacation homes, seeing the streams fill with sediment and looking on helplessly as rows of $600,000 houses dominate a landscape that not long ago was valuable mountain farmland.

All this is to say: This attitude utterly neglects culture, ecology and sense of place, and in exchange, puts a high price on return per square foot. “At best, nature is seen as a picturesque backdrop to the dominant form, the piece of architecture itself,” says ecological designer Sim Van der Ryn in regard to the machine metaphor of design. We are watching a dominator mindset continue to wreak havoc in our communities both rural and urban.

We ask why the developers don’t care. They’ve been taught architecture as though project sites were interchangeable background slides projected behind the main subject: the man-made structure. So ultimately, I’d argue, they don’t care. But I don’t think that they know they don’t care. They don’t understand what it is to care about. Try telling a developer looking at the dollar line on their contract that the quality of their grandchildren’s lives will depend more upon soil than concrete. Best of luck.

This is an epistemology that not only developers are indoctrinated into. Many of us across many walks of life and occupations play a role in the dominator-minded culture. We are like fish in water; it can hard to see that this surrounds us when we’ve never experienced an alternative. Yet, across cultures, backgrounds and the ever-growing urban-rural divide, much of our community acknowledges that this issue is plaguing our landscape. Those who have the fire to speak out inside them cannot be discouraged by this or that project being approved. We need to call these issues what they are and not move forward until we’ve addressed the root cause.

— Noah Poulos


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Letters
We want to hear from you! Send your letters and commentary to letters@mountainx.com

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

7 thoughts on “Letter: Our land is more than a backdrop for development

  1. This letter is spot-on: The “dominator mindset” sees real estate as mere spaces on a map, to be erased of whatever was there before and filled in with My Vision.

    One measure Asheville’s new tree ordinance includes that hopefully will help address what our descendants will recognize as an ecocidal pathology is its requirement that a subdivision’s existing trees be surveyed, reported, and planned to be preserved/replaced/mitigated before development is approved.

  2. Bright

    Great thinking and an illuminating letter. Now, if the “people” who have dollars-for-brains would get some education so they understood the short sighted stance they embrace, we’d all be in a better place.

  3. Kira

    Completely agree. I feel sickened and helpless against the relentless tide of destruction and deforestation occurring in this town. Why must we continue to destroy our precious land, our old trees, and our neighborhoods so that some guy who lives in Florida can make even more bucks? For what? For whom? Isn’t there another way?

    • Enlightened Enigma

      how about building no new housing so existing supply sky rockets in cost ??? that’s another way Kira…

  4. indy499

    Where are the 40-50 million additional people who will be in the US by 2040 or so supposed to live?

    Mountain Express commenters generally oppose sprawl and in city dernsity. Need to pick 1.

    • Noah

      In city density is much better than sprawl. The issue, again, lies in design. There are strategies to increase city density while living a high quality of life. The issue is with everyone of those 20-40 million people needing their 3000 square foot house on 2 acres of lawn in what would otherwise be good farmland or wild spaces. Suburbia and sprawl come at a much greater cost than increasing city density.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.