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 I believe the root cause of this lies in the outdated paradigm in city and architectural design that is informed by the metaphor of the machine.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