Finally some good news has arrived with the recent one-year moratorium ban on new hotel projects as well as the denial of the Create 72 Broadway. For those who care, Create 72 Broadway was an exceptional example of a developer using every tool in the arsenal to make what was a large-tectonic-closed structure seem open and creative. It is a prime example of ignoring the civic environment and using commercial spin to make the building seem progressive and forward-thinking. It was not.
If Asheville’s community is indeed creative, we ought not believe any developer using such spin when such a behemoth of a building is proposed. There are standards one can find in other larger metropolitan areas that show just how critical open structures are to maintaining the natural flow between people and environment. This project failed on those accounts.
So in saying all of this, what are some important points we all should be considering with the new city hotel planning and its public comment period? Because we need to reach beyond the obvious here and seize this period as a true opportunity to make our city sustainable. Therefore, the idea here is to consider things that will impact our city over a longer term, given the challenges with tourism but also the climate crisis as more human migration will be occurring as well as environmental changes for midcentury and beyond.
First, consider the whole and not just the parts. A hotel is just a single part, and a critical one at that, but the whole is how our city will actually function for everyone, and so any decision like a hotel ought to be tied to the larger context of our city, etc. For example, right now each hotel functions more like an island, given they are commercial properties. But what if each hotel project was directly tied to infrastructure improvements and changes? What if it wasn’t a one-time investment either? How about a carbon tax?
Efficiency in the future will need to take into account the increased pollution, and so why not use a hotel as a gold standard for being carbon neutral? If we choose, we can make tourism the engine of having a carbon-neutral economy in Asheville. But we need to make the investment now, and so any master plan ought to consider this, and hotels are a fine example of getting started etc.
Second, envision future sustainable growth as something other than tourism. Why not make Asheville known for its progressive thinking on an environmental and social front? As the city grows, why not fund citywide health care plans? Similar to subsidizing a utility. Health care in the mountains has gotten tougher, and now with our only hospital being for-profit, we ought to ask about having subsidized resident health care rates. Again, funding here can be from different fronts, including the carbon tax on hotels and other industry, but also the many breweries that would benefit greatly from such changes as their employees might find living here more affordable.
Lastly, living in the mountains isn’t going to get any easier. As the climate crisis accelerates, this country has a choice to make. Either it quickly reinvents its economy around carbon-neutral technology or it doesn’t. With so many young families in the Asheville region, every person ought to realize what a 3-4 degree Celsius warming looks like in the next 50-80 years. It means life as we currently live it will not be possible. So the time is now to use what leverage we have for making Asheville’s future either in line or ahead of what will be required for the kids today to live somewhat stable and productive lives.
The solutions we are faced with are coming too late to roll all of the CO2 back to preindustrial levels, but our politicians are still scared to admit it. This is why as citizens, we ought to have the power to signal to those leaders that we are ready and demand the changes needed to make the near future somewhat manageable. I know saying this is not mainstream yet, and many will think we still have 100-plus years to get all this going, but the science shows otherwise, including the fact that much of the science (by its own admission) is turning out to be quite conservative, etc.
Asheville is in some of the oldest mountains and rivers in the world (arguably the oldest). Wouldn’t it be nice if our city saw its master plan as an integral one with environmental stewardship at the center, human sustainability, human mobility and infrastructure coming after? Because it isn’t enough to hear every city councilperson say time and time again that they support tourism. It is high time that we as a city make the real investments in the near term now and not wait. If there is any progressive cell in the city’s collective body, it will use this master plan as an opportunity to reach beyond tourism and consider the very real environmental challenges we face.
— Mason Cooley