I believe that Asheville is one of the most enlightened cities per capita in America. I also think it’s now clear to most enlightened folk that to achieve a truly sustainable civilization, we need carefully controlled levels of development, population and pollution.
So how do I explain our recent election in which Elaine Lite, the clear anti-overdevelopment candidate, lost, and pro-rampant-growth blokes won? My take is that we’re dealing with a fundamentalist belief in unlimited property rights that is more powerful than the fundamentalism of snake-handling Christians. This economic subservience is all the more blind in that it thinks it’s a science, not a leap-of-faith religion, and because it has most of the money and political power. Thus we must currently trust Asheville’s future to a developmental bubble blown up by irrational exuberance, sustained by a coalition of greed and stock-marketed by an insatiable bull stampede.
A closer look at the election shows that we have about 5,000 stoically enlightened voters in Asheville: those who voted for Ms. Lite. Then there are the enlightened who are tired of losing and so vote for candidates who sit on the development fence. In the past two years, it could be their votes that have authorized what is probably the most environmentally devastating, most explosive growth in the history of Asheville.
In addition, there’s the over 44,000 registered who didn’t vote—about 75 percent of the electorate. Some are enlightened but believe that a New Age miracle will transform drumming, prayers and random kindness into strict zoning laws and social justice. Some are too disillusioned. If we weren’t still in the democratic Dark Ages, we’d require them to vote and give them time off to do it.
In my discouragement, I offer 10 good reasons for celebrating The Ellington, our giant new shrine to the worship of unlimited property rights:
10. We can steer all downtown panhandlers to it, knowing those renting its exorbitantly expensive rooms have plenty to share.
9. It embodies that old maxim that building size is often in inverse proportion to the size of the developer’s self esteem and other things.
8. The length of time necessary for construction obstructions may destroy the precarious existence of the too-weird local businesses in the area.
7. It will help raise all Asheville property-tax rates, perhaps destroying many more of those weird businesses and artists, replacing our prickly edginess with comforting conformity.
6. Downtown Asheville may never have another day’s boring tranquility because of the nail guns exploding, bulldozers emoting and I-beams colliding from endless development.
5. Earth First! will have the perfect place to harass, sabotage and hang banners.
4. We get to imagine the late downtown philanthropist Julian Price quietly shaking his tall head as his Public Interest Projects legacy is swept away. (Price subsidized only recycled buildings and small, locally-owned businesses and affordable housing.)
3. We now know that if it’s LEED-approved, City Council will cut down almost any tree, pave most every green space and greenwash any developments.
2. Council will also kowtow to any big money, including the hype-inflated, gated communities of the Vanderbilts [né Cecils] and the gold, hotel commodes of the Groves [né Beck Group].
And the number-one reason we should be happy about The Ellington:
1. Given the current election, it’s clear as a 23-story building that the 13 percent of Ashevilleans needed to win the election have chosen to grow as fast as possible with only the most superficial environmental restraints. Watch out Charlotte, here we come.
— Bill Branyon