Letters to the editor

The mark that spoils

A few weeks ago, at the height of the leaf season, I took a leisurely drive with my wife out to Hot Springs. It was my birthday, and I could not think of a better gift than the one that Mother Nature gives me every year: the glorious, fiery colors of the changing leaves.

It was a perfect day. The sun was smiling down on us as we drove out Leicester Highway. There were very few cars on the road. The day was mine. Along the way, we stopped at a number of scenic overlooks. You know the ones, for they are everywhere in our beautiful mountains.

The views were magnificent. The colors were at their peak. At that moment, I was part of it all. I was one with nature. I looked across at the mountains and down into the valley below, and wondered how many other people had come to this spot and had the same experience?

It did not take me long to discover that I was not the first to be there, for the ground below me was littered with trash that previous visitors had left behind. I could not believe my eyes. No, I am not naive; I know that people litter. But here? Here, in this place, where people come to view and experience the best that nature has to offer — how could they? I know that animals leave their mark wherever they go. Was this man’s way of saying, “I’ve been here?”

The drive home was nowhere near as enjoyable. There was litter wherever people stopped to view the scenery. At one overlook, I felt like that Native American in the TV commercial who looks down upon his littered land and a tear comes to his eye. I, too, was saddened to think that people had so little regard for their environment.

Look around: Look at our streets and highways, from mountaintops to creek beds. You can find everything from cigarette butts to refrigerators strewn about the landscape. This city, state and country are shared by all of us. It is our backyard to play in and enjoy; we should honor and cherish it.

The next time you are thinking about dropping another piece of paper on the ground or throwing a beer can out of your car, think twice! Animals mark their territory; it is their nature — but not humans, for we are responsible for our actions. Please, don’t spoil another person’s birthday.

— Richard Puia

Save the (built) environment

It is unfortunate that, in a city with such a variety and quantity of architectural gems, that there is so little public discourse about current architecture. The steady growth of the city and region brings significant additions to our built environment, and we all play a role in shaping the quality of these additions. Are we less inclined to shop or dine in buildings that are cheap, unattractive, or poorly designed and built? Do we honor attractive, well-designed and -constructed projects?

A [Nov. 1] story in the Citizen-Times pictured a new office building nearing completion, not far from the grand structures on East Chestnut Street and visible (unfortunately) from the interstate. The story focused on the recent addition of new office spaces, but the equally significant issue of another bland, poorly articulated and insensitive building in an area rich with architectural references was ignored.

Other news stories about the failing/falling bricks at the elderly housing building next to the Civic Center also ignored discussion about why the wonderfully articulated original brick and terra-cotta facades were stripped, only to be replaced by ugly, poorly designed-and-constructed blank brick walls. I imagine the original skin would not be in need of costly repairs, had it been left in place. The parties responsible should be held accountable for this aesthetic and technical failure.

Does the lack of a front parapet or rear evergreen hedge to hide the rooftop HVAC units of the recent strip-shopping-center addition at Citizens Hardware (Blockbuster) bother anyone else but me?

The proposed Pritchard Park redesign is a stunning reconfiguration of how we will experience this part of our downtown, but very little attention to the functional and aesthetic elements of the plan have been presented in the press.

Perhaps the Mountain Xpress can fill this void by offering occasional knowledgeable and insightful architectural commentary to complement Ashely Siegel’s movie reviews. By presenting thoughtful discussion about the quality of new additions to our architectural fabric, you may play a small part in raising the consciousness of realtors, contractors, developers and architects, and the quality of the architectural legacy we will leave.

— Michael McDonough

Beware the surveillance, more than the diversity

Thank you so much for your article on the situation at Pack Square [“No Shirt, No Shoes — No Rights?”, Nov. 11]. I work in a third-floor office in the BB&T building with a window looking over Pack Square. From this bird’s-eye view, I have been watching the square on an almost daily basis for many years.

There is no doubt in my mind that discrimination based on appearances takes place. Time after time, I have seen “alternative” looking people run off the square, while people who look conventional are left to do as they please.

The fact that a formal complaint of harassment has not been made does not surprise me. Why should people who are feeling victimized by a system have faith in the willingness of that system to understand their concerns?

I was horrified to read that business owners like Ted Prosser think that “ordinances should be passed that prohibit that type of loitering and living, basically.” I, personally, am a lot more scared of a type of living that promotes surveillance cameras on our street corners than I am of a group of kids enjoying themselves in a public place. While I strongly agree that businesses have a right to decide who uses their restrooms, I feel equally strongly that private businesses have no right to decide how people on the public street are supposed to dress.

If people are actively behaving in a way that is wrong, they should be stopped. But what should be stopped are the actions that are harmful. You don’t get to eliminate an entire class of people because you, or even some of your customers, don’t like the way they look.

The idea that people are not being allowed to sit in an open public place is supposedly justified because it affects someone’s business profits. Although I find this a morally reprehensible excuse for infringing on a basic freedom, I think it may also be a false one. I live near downtown Asheville and work in the middle of it. I patronize many downtown businesses, do much shopping, and regularly eat at many downtown restaurants for both lunch and dinner. I frequently host business visitors from out of town, and I often used to take them to the Cafe on the Square for lunch. I have joked that the Chamber of Commerce owes me a commission for all the people I have talked into visiting, and even moving to, Asheville. In other words, I spend — and encourage others to spend — lots of money in downtown Asheville.

And if I had to cite one aspect more than any other which makes me want to spend my time and money in downtown Asheville, it would be the openness and diversity that I have always loved here. It has genuinely brought joy to my day to walk through town at lunch time and see the kids and the business people and the tourists all mingling on the square and streets.

Sure, there are people downtown I don’t feel comfortable with. Some of them are dirty and have funny hair. Some of them wear suits. But the coexistence of so many different kinds of people adds an essential energy which could never be found if we all looked and thought alike. We in Asheville need to be very careful that we do not allow our city to become a sanitized, regimented and controlled shadow of the vital place it is capable of being.

— Terry Wyszynski

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