Letter: The everlasting Pit of Despair

Graphic by Lori Deaton

After about five years of being one of Asheville’s main aesthetic statements, the Pit of Despair (the vacant lot across from the civic center) has become a hilarious hole, a guffawing gulley, the gravel graveyard of our progressive pretentions.

Do our millions of yearly visitors think it’s some kind of modern art? Maybe Rockpile Impressionism, a Christo creation or abstract nihilism? “How chic Asheville is,” says visiting Gertrude to hubby Harold. “Oh, I don’t know honey, at least back home, we put our stone quarries on the outskirts of town, not smack dab in the middle of it.”

The humiliating hole also shows tourists that our happy downtown facade camouflages a sad charade. They don’t know that the last two city elections have hinged in great part over whether to convert the property into a community-building pastoral park or another money-maximizing, rectangular flophouse.

If it’s fear of aggressive beggars that prevents our building a park, then let’s put a fence around it and charge a dollar to get in. Gramercy Park in New York City does something similar. Or we could pulverize the poverty the causes the fear.

But none of the options seem to ever happen. So the funny festering pit endlessly sits, loudly proclaiming Asheville’s political discomfit.

— Bill Branyon

Editor’s note: After this letter was submitted, City Council approved a contract with landscape architecture firm Nelson Byrd Woltz to develop up to three design alternatives for the city-owned properties at Haywood Street and Page Avenue. More info: avl.mx/6h5.


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4 thoughts on “Letter: The everlasting Pit of Despair

  1. K Smith

    Hey, it’s Asheville! Decisions take at least a decade, three rounds of analysis at a couple hundred grand a pop and then a council appointed commission with a survey. We’re getting there…

  2. Enlightened Enigma

    Housing the indigent in a fabulous new residential tower there is the highest and best use! Build it and they will come, city!

  3. Cecil Bothwell

    Yeah Bill, it has taken a long damn time. But sometimes the good guys win. The City has now contracted with the best landscape architectural firm on the planet (or at least arguably so) Nelson Byrd Woltz, to create a design for redevelopment of the public space between the Civic Center, the Grove Arcade and the Basilica of St. Lawrence. Using John Boyle’s nasty “Pit of Despair” is kind of funny, but it has never been an accurate description. The space has been a political issue for almost 20 years, and those of us fighting for its use as a public space are finally winning.

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