Letter writer: Tiny homes and the Boulderification of Asheville

Graphic by Lori Deaton

On Sept. 3, there appeared an ad on Asheville’s Craigslist for a tiny house/shed for rent. It is 220 square feet and costs $500/month, so almost $2/square foot. Is this outrageous? Maybe, maybe not.

Everything depends on which side of the fence you are sitting. If you’re rich, maybe “roughing” it in Asheville this way is your cup of tea; if you’re poor, this is an obvious offense by the upper classes that made this town from an artist mecca into a hipster/yuppie theme park.

I usually sit on the latter side, but this time, I find that I don’t care all that much. For many years now, artists have been struggling with rents in and outside of the River Arts District. Eventually the rents climb so high that they get kicked out; there is a brief stink about it; then everyone forgets and everyone returns to “business as usual.”

I live in California now, a place where this process started sometime in the ’80s or even earlier. Let’s call this process “Boulderification” because I can’t think of a better example of what happens to a mountain town once it is “discovered” and also because it has a nice ring to it.

Asheville, like Boulder, like Ashland, like Aspen, is already nicely Boulderified, and it might be literally too late to do anything about it. The tiny house, when it first came on the scene, was supposed to be an alternative to expensive living. The house forced one to downsize, to make do with less, to be less of a burden on the environment. The tiny house today is already a “thing.”

Tiny houses are manufactured like cars out here, designed by professional architects and decked out with brand names inside and out; they become top stories in design magazines and blogs.

What was once an alternative for the disaffected and the disenfranchised is again only a play toy of the wealthy fascinated by some “lifestyle.” And again, I find myself going “meh” and shrugging my shoulders.

America is so in love with its boom and bust economy, it will take any old teat to squeeze it completely dry. So far, we have not run out of teats yet, but who knows what the future holds.

I learned from a friend of mine that somewhere in Berlin, when wealthy people began to move into a traditionally poor and working-class neighborhood hoping to kick-start a gentrification process that would make their new home more palatable, the residents reacted by letting their dogs crap on the streets without picking it up, hoping that the wealthy would think twice about stepping into their streets filled with excrement. I’m not sure whether it worked or not, but at least it’s a fun story about fighting back in interesting ways and doesn’t make me go “so what!”

― Tom Pazderka
Goleta, Ca.
(formerly of Asheville)

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5 thoughts on “Letter writer: Tiny homes and the Boulderification of Asheville

  1. sonny

    “Cashing in” is cloaked behind the Bohemian Communal sphere that Asheville appears to be. Ive been here for 11 years and if I could sum one thing up about this town its that NOBODY WANTS TO SPEAK TO YOU UNLESS YOU HAVE MONEY.

  2. avlbou

    having lived in Boulder for 8 years prior to moving to Asheville, I agree with the author and see many similarities between the two cities. An imperfect comparison is that Asheville today is what Boulder was 15-20 years ago. However, I think there’s a limit to the Boulderification of our city; Boulder sits on Colorado’s Front Range surrounded closely by 4 million people and has a healthy number of high-paying white collar jobs. The tech industry (See: Google, IBM. Ball, etc., etc.) employees thousands of engineers of all stripes. These jobs and their salaries have, in my opinion, raised the barrier for entry into Boulder far above what is possible in a tourism-dependent city like Asheville. As long as the largest slice of our workforce is earning $10-12/hour, there will be a ceiling to our Boulderification. From a “Boulderification” perspective, that’s probably a good thing. For the people stuck in those jobs and the domination of our local economy and politics by the tourism and hotel industry, that’s probably not a good thing. (The other factor driving Boulder’s exclusiveness is, of course, the large number of rich-beyond-our-wildest-dreams types from California and other locales; they are a sizeable presence [and influence]. We have those in Asheville too, but not nearly as many.). I agree with the author’s premise that there’s not much we can do about the changing face of Asheville (and in some cases, I’d argue it can be a good thing), but looking at a strict interpretation of the Boulderification leads me to believe we will not end up as the Boulder of the South. Thank goodness.

  3. That Guy

    A city of 80K people really doesn’t matter, but go on pretending that you matter. Nobody is listening, is that OK?

  4. NFB

    Part of Boulder’s problem was that something voters passed a referendum passing a new sales tax to be used for the city to buy up and preserve undeveloped land. This effected supply and demand. The result has been very expensive housing. Something to think about whenever you hear people in Asheville demanding a new park on every street corner.

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