The de-greening of Asheville

Have you noticed all the concrete being poured in and around Asheville? It's got to be enough to build a couple of small Third World cities.

For starters, the amount spent on the architectural monument to bad taste that will soon replace all the green space that once graced City/County Plaza would surely have been put to better use building streets and libraries in some Third World country, but I digress. The various commissions, commissioners and City Council have decided in their wisdom that what's needed to increase Asheville's tax base and the economic viability of the city and county is not more green space but more CONCRETE — exactly what tourists come here to see.

Interesting choice. The hotel/condo tower going up on the former Chamber of Commerce site, the hotel proposed by the McKibbon chain (which would block the historic Basilica of St. Lawrence), and the Ellington hotel and condos (approved but yet to break ground): Man, that's a lot of concrete!

I'm sensing a pattern here. Maybe our commissions and elected officials have a grand strategic plan that they're saving to surprise us with — like the statistics used to justify approving building after development after building in the midst of an economic recession/depression (depending on your point of view). I am, of course, being facetious: It's obvious these leaders are out of their depth when it comes to city planning in the new economic reality, and we're on a rudderless — and, more importantly, leaderless — ship of state.

But sometimes, the answer to a problem such as stopping the wholesale development, sale and paving over of where we live is very simple indeed. During a recent conversation with others of like mind — you know, those hippie tree-hugging progress-obstructers — one of them observed, "The greenest building is the one already built." How obvious, particularly given developers' penchant for dangling the "green carrot" in front of City Council, the Board of Commissioners and the various planning bodies. Every one of these projects, it seems, will be LEED-certified and will feature affordable housing, solar hot water, trees, etc. — everything the developers feel commissioners and Council members need to hear in order to justify approval.

Ironically, however, by pursuing more and more high-rise, high-density projects, with their inherent and inevitable destruction and "de-greening" of the environment, these developers defeat whatever negligible benefits the green carrot might provide.

But what if some of the developers now salivating over the gold mine that they perceive Asheville to be took existing local buildings and made them LEED-certified and green, using what's already here instead of using up more natural resources and destroying ever more of the environment? Recycle, as it were.

There are many local structures that could be rehabbed and/or renovated — sparing our remaining green space (which is Asheville/Buncombe's real economic engine) the environmental trauma of being paved and concreted over.

A critic observed that if people like me had their way, Asheville would never progress but would be stuck in the past economically — and I would probably not have been able to live here. Maybe so. Having been in far less desirable places, however, I know how fragile and precious a thing a place like this is. We need leadership that also understands this, and their prime directive and political motivation should be to preserve what we have.

The recent political three-card monte scheme that City Council is trying to slip by us in the Downtown Master Plan merely emphasizes our current political morass. Allowing commissions composed of (what else?) developers, real-estate and other business interests to have the final say concerning proposed downtown development would abrogate Council's responsibility and limit public input.

And yet, though it may not seem so, I remain optimistic, in spite of the insultingly transparent attempts by certain political leaders to jury-rig the approval process so they can avoid confronting tough decisions. I've lived long enough to see signs saying "colored in the balcony" give way to the United States' first African-American president — and to see myself living in the South and loving it. So I still have faith, if perhaps not much patience. We have an election approaching, and hey — things could change.

It's not easy being green, but green is the color of spring, and green can be cool and friendly like, and green can be big like an ocean or important like a mountain or tall like a tree. And if green is all there is to be, it can make you wonder. But why wonder, why wonder? I want Asheville green. It's beautiful, and it's what it should be (apologies to Kermit).

I could be wrong, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Arden resident Jesse Junior is a retired civil servant and former WPVM radio show host.

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33 thoughts on “The de-greening of Asheville

  1. hauntedheadnc

    Okay… So we finally have someone willing to admit that any growth at all is too much. Glad we could finally clear that up. I’m glad also that Mr. Junior is willing to admit that his basic problem is the same that so many other anti-growth activists struggle with in Asheville: he’s furious — furious, I tell you — that people kept moving here even after he himself had arrived.

    The problem with this approach is that people are going to continue to want to move here, and move here they will, and what do we have? We have activists and city council candidates too busy trying to prepare for the collapse of Western civilization to be bothered with dealing with the city’s present problems. And by doing so, they’ll be doing a lot more to harm the greenery around here by driving growth out of the city and into the county, than they would by drawing and encouraging the right kind of urban growth in town where we could at least get some parking lots built over.

  2. who

    The green rhetoric is becoming a monster in and of itself that sometimes lacks reason. Let’s just jump on the green bandwagon, say something thoughtfull, it’s easy; “save the trees, the green space”,”tall buildings are symbols of corporate evil”,”elevators are bad because of their carbon footprint”(yes, somebody who is running for city council, actually said that), and let’s not pour too much concrete. Think of all of those third world countries that could use it – a new spin on eat your vegetables. Better yet, let’s become a third world country and then we can all appease our concious. Let’s have sporadic sprawl and make it hard for people to build and live and visit the city. It is changing everywhere, and all this is is a case of NIMBY. Nobody wants their little worlds ruined. Like HHNC says, we need the right kind of urban growth. Invest in the city wisely and use imagination – density = green. People don’t come into the city of Asheville to soak in mother nature, “Hey, let’s go downtown, maybe we will see a bear”. That experience surrounds Asheville. A lot of “progressive” people think that going green is a regression of civilization; technology, progress, and developement is inherently bad and we should all go back to riding horses and trading turnips for bread down on the corner.

  3. Mysterylogger

    Go ahead and buy into the Snake Oil known as going green or Global Warming. I remember when it was Global Cooling, there are always people that are eager to cough up their money for no good reason.

  4. John A. Smolkin

    I too am opposed to rampant over-development of Asheville and surrounding areas. Often by Florida based speculators. I hate to see this great town ruined by these locusts. First we’ve had to put up with all the tourists from the sunshine state (who by and large really cannot drive!) each summer. Now we have the same developers who ruined Florida move up to pave over the mountains. ENOUGH!

    Vote for Cecil Bothwell for city council. He is a man who loves Asheville and will fight these over-developers.

  5. Tired if all

    The slogan for Asheville used to be “Cool, green and Shady”….do you all get it yet?

  6. Jesse Junior

    Unfortunetly some folks don’t get it and perhaps they never will, if you can’t make the connection between houses sliding off the side of mountains and raging fires in the hills of California and see that it could happen here just as easily, if you don’t get it that the era of the Hummer is over and that the American “DREAM” has to be replaced with the American “REALITY” then nothing much I can say will convince you.
    If you missed the experiments that showed what happens when you crowd to many animals into a confined space how civility breaks down, if the laws of diminishing returns is just an abstract concept to you then you wont understand my commentary. If you still think that we can somehow disconnect our actions from cause and effect that there is no limit to what we can build, consume and indulge and you believe in Manifest Destiny then of course my words make no sense. But this should, if we continue to let politicians and business dictate what Asheville and the County becomes soon you and many others will be looking for another Asheville and reminising about the old days and missed opportunities. There is only so much any economic/eco-system can sustain and we are at the tipping point. When teachers are being laid off and children may have to walk a mile or two to catch schools buses and there are no summer programs/jobs for idle summer youth but we have 16 plus million dollars for that insult to the Parthenon being erectd in pack square,if there is nothing wrong with that equation to you then hey maybe it’s me, but hey one thing I’m not is furious, as one blogger suggested, my time on the planet is way to short for that.and I don’t have a problem with people moving here as long as it’s with the understanding, keep your carbon footprint as unobtrusive as possible, stay off the slopes, no Mc Mansions and multi million dollars condo’s sprouting up all over downtown, no one moved here for that, is that too much to ask? that there be a place on the planet where development is controlled and the quaility of life is somehow sustained. I write because I care and I know the value of “Green” Hell I loved in NYC for most of my adult life….Namaste

  7. hauntedheadnc

    If the notion of a growing city upsets so many of you so badly why not find a city that isn’t growing, where you wouldn’t have to worry about it?

    I hate to resort to Smolkin-esque tactics, but really… If growth makes your guts churn that badly, could it be that Asheville isn’t for you? Why not explore Detroit? Perhaps Youngstown? Buffalo? Flint? You certainly won’t be troubled by growth there. In fact, those cities and many more have plans to demolish as much as half of their built environment. Think of the glow you’d get watching house after house come down.

    We can’t offer you that experience here in Asheville. People want to live here, and we need to prepare to accommodate them, while fixing the problems that hold this city back and which cannot be fixed without growth and change. Asheville can’t remain an underpaid, overpriced tourist town — it needs more and better jobs. That’s growth. There’s no logical reason to trap so much downtown land under the pavement of parking lots — building something better is growth. Asheville is legally required to fling water lines out to all its sprawl and the only way we can preserve the rural county is to make the city a better place to build and develop. That’s growth.

    Go ahead and dream your happy dreams about Asheville ceasing to grow, but the only places where you’ll be able to live your dreams are the places I listed. You won’t live it here.

  8. hauntedheadnc

    I’ve just been thinking about that old slogan for Asheville, which also used to sport such nicknames (if we’re looking to the past here) as “Little Miami of the Mountains.”

    Cool, green, and shady, you say. Admirable. Something we ought to return to. However, how shady are those parking lots downtown? All those grimy little buildings that are neither historic nor architecturally important? All that sprawl on the fringes of downtown, such as Oak Plaza?

    Would it not be a greener idea to build up those areas, replace those bad ideas and that barren concrete with homes and businesses where people could walk around and not drive, and where they, as urban dwellers tend to do, use fewer resources and less water?

    Fact is, urban growth is smart growth and a green way to accommodate more taxpayers, more customers for local shops and artistic offerings, more and better jobs, and a way to build Asheville into a city of opportunity.

  9. hauntedheadnc

    Why would you? It’s still land wasted on the temporary storage of cars. If you’re going to do growth right, you’re going to need to make every spare inch of land downtown do a lot more than just that.

  10. Mysterylogger

    How about another bland, over-hyped retirement community? That seems to fit.

  11. Piffy!

    hhnc, what do you think of closing downtown heywood to all non-emergency and non-business traffic? Sort of like madison wisconson. Delivery trucks and cop cars, but no one else.

  12. hauntedheadnc

    PFKap, if you were to allow taxis as well, that might be a workable idea, but closing streets to traffic generally hurts more than it helps. I can think of many, many more instances where it’s killed the street than I can where it’s helped. Just recently down in Raleigh, for instance, they tore up the Fayetteville Street Mall and returned it to regular street traffic.

  13. Piffy!

    Yes, taxis and busses and the like are generally allowed as well.

    Since you say you can think of “many, many instances”, could you supply a few more?

    It seems to work well in Madison, Charlottesville VA, Burlington, Ithaca, Boulder, and Boston, just to name the ones i have actually been to. Most business owners say that it actually improves their business, despite their initial fears to the contrary.

    I’m not saying it needs to happen in asheville. I’m just saying that if we are gong to talk about “mak(ing) every spare inch of land downtown do a lot more (than house cars)” that we might want to think about some alternatives, yes?

    Since you made the statement, what would you suggest? Or do you only poo-poo ideas, not supply them?

  14. hauntedheadnc

    Do you generally approach a debate with this kind of belligerence, or am I special somehow? You were doing great in that whole “exchange of ideas” thing I thought we had going on here until you let your inner jerk shine through in the last question.

    Since you brought it up, Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall is often looked to as an example precisely because so many other attempts at pedestrianized streets in America fail. Cities study it to try to repilcate it, and usually they can’t because they can’t replicate all the unique factors that make it thrive. Asheville has many of those factors, so perhaps one would work here, but it’s a big step and it still may not be right for this city in that location.

    Speaking of Boulder, here’s an article from their daily paper which notes that Pearl Street is a rarity and that of the 200 attempts at pedestrian malls, only about 30 were successful:

    http://web.dailycamera.com/pearl/19xwor.html

  15. hauntedheadnc

    And now that you and I have that out of our systems, PFKaP, would you like to have a reasoned and thoughtful discussion about whether or not a pedestrian mall might be a good idea for downtown Asheville, and where one might go?

  16. Jack S,

    Makin Asheville built up is flatout dum. For one thing there aint the money to invest. Bob, you have to move to Charlotte if you want job in construction cause there just aint the money to built it here. Lucky us.

  17. entopticon

    Ashevillains have truly landed in a strange predicament. It is actually a bit strange and disturbing that there are environmentalists fighting vertical development here.

    Vertical development is the crux of environmentalism. It is the one and only real solution for sprawl. A concentrated urban center is vastly, vastly more resource and energy efficient than sprawl. Vertical development is virtually always a vastly more environmentally sound choice than sprawl.

    It seems that nimbyism has run amuck here. We all share a planet, and people have to live somewhere. People are not going to want to stop living in Avl any time soon, so fighting vertical development literally guarantees increased sprawl. There is nothing environmental about fighting vertical development.

    We should encourage new construction to be as green as possible, and do everything that we can to ensure fair housing opportunities and diversity, but if we are going to be true environmentalists, we have to encourage responsible vertical development in cities across the world, and that includes Asheville.

  18. Piffy!

    i wasnt aware i was being any more ‘belligerent’ than you, hhnc. Sorry if you took it that way. its the interwebs. dont get too huffy. Now, take a deep breath and board harder.

    so, back to the subject…

  19. hauntedheadnc

    “Board harder”? As in surfboard? Good heavens… That’s a nasty little mental image there. I wonder how many bones I’d break…

    Anyway, it’s all good. Sorry if we got off on the wrong paw there.

    I’m guessing that you’ve put some thought into the idea of a pedestrian mall. What about Haywood Street makes it seem like a workable idea to you? I can see cutting it off from all but essential vehicle traffic from College up to the Civic Center, but I wonder if there’s the critical mass of restaurants and things to generate the street life to make it work. Asheville seems to do alright for itself as it is, especially in areas with wide sidewalks where the cafe tables can spill out.

  20. bobaloo

    entop,
    Though you and I often disagree with a passion, you are absolutely right.
    Building up not out is the only way to combat urban sprawl in this area. If Asheville residents want to truly preserve the mountains and beauty of our area then they must accept the fact that Asheville must grow.
    Anything else is irresponsible and a case of not wanting it in their backyards. No matter what you do, Asheville will not stop growing.

  21. entopticon

    I completely agree with you bobaloo. Unfortunately many of my friends here are vehemently against virtually any vertical development in Asheville, even though they are environmentalists on every other issue, and it continually surprises me. Vertical development is at the core of environmental sustainability for a great many reasons, from sprawl, to efficiency of building materials, to public transportation and energy consumption.

    I think many Ashevillains have fallen into the “not in my backyard” nimbyism of those that they criticize. It reminds me of the people who are all for wind power, but not if they have to look at turbines. It is a very detached, non-systemic way of looking at things. The planet is our backyard.

    I can certainly sympathize with those who wish to keep Asheville quaint, but the environmental perils of fighting vertical development is far too high of a price to pay. Ironically, the people who are worried about their views of the mountains being blocked are not going to have anything worth viewing left if they keep fighting vertical development.

    I think the best compromise is to encourage green building practices. Asheville is in many ways an ideal place to serve as an example of responsible vertical development, and it could be a great boon for the exceptional green building industry here if done the right way. I would love to see a city with many living walls (check them out if you have never seen them because they are really cool), green roofs, responsible building materials, and a thriving urban center that encourages transportation by foot.

  22. MrsWorldwide

    I would like to recognize the Florida comment. I am from Florida and moved here recently to Hendersonville. I know that Floridians are not well liked here, heck I can’t stand too many myself, which is why I moved out of there. I want to say that the majority of us that are moving out are the ones that were natives and enjoyed living in “Old Florida”, not the concrete, wanna-be L.A. city that many of the beautful areas turned into. I came here because of the beauty and the sense of community, pride and respect for natural surroundings that came with it. I just got away from the destruction of a place I called home my whole life so please don’t lump all Floridians into one category. I promise not all of us are evil and some of us can drive. I can however sympathize with what you say. The ones that built like crazy down there are not natives and most have been there 10 years or less.

    I just hope that any development is done slowly and with careful thought as to maintain the uniquness and beauty that is WNC.

  23. Piffy!

    “[b]What about Haywood Street makes it seem like a workable idea to you? [/b]

    nothing, really., i just thought we were talking about how to make better use of downtown with fewer cars. and i think it would be cool. (but yes, most likely quite impractical)

    “[b]”board harder[/b]” its a Forums term. kind like, ‘may the force be with you’ or ‘rock on’ or the like. consider yourself one of the club now.

    [b]bobaloo and entop[/b]-although i agree with your sentiment in regards to up vs. out, isnt the building in question some kind of luxury hotel (basillica)?

    i mean, if it were housing for regular people, i can see how that would combat sprawl. but a lot of these high-rise deals seem to me to be taxpayer subsidized scams for developers, while turning downtown asheville into some weird condo haven that [i]does[/i] fundamentally change the ‘character’ of the city.

  24. hauntedheadnc

    Oh, I get it, PFKaP. Board harder. Now I’m a member of the club — the fat, unpopular kid who gets to hang around the cool kids because I always bring beer. I understand my station in life. Gotcha.

    Anyhoo… Whether or not any streets downtown could be turned into pedestrian-only enclaves, concentrating the city’s growth downtown makes better use of downtown with fewer cars just by default.

    I agree with you that until the economic downturn, the growth downtown and all over town was way too concentrated on the Thad and Bootsie golf dolt set. I would prefer that Asheville be built up for the people who live here and would like to work here, not for the people who want a condo to spend maybe six weekends a year in.

    On the other hand, a hotel, whether it’s luxury or the Downtown Inn and Suites’s bastard stepchild, provides jobs (not necessarily ones that pay good, but employment’s employment) and put the tourists in a place where they can hit the streets with their feet, not clog them up driving their rental cars.

    As far as this particular project goes, I’m not at all opposed to a hotel on that location provided that a public plaza or park is included, and provided that they actually give us architecture worth of downtown. If they’re not willing to do either of those things, my support evaporates. Every time this issue comes up though, it always turns into an argument about growth itself downtown and I come out sounding like I’m all for anything any idiot wants to heap up anywhere downtown.

    To address something you mentioned though, I’m totally for housing for normal people downtown. In fact, I think Elaine Lite had a great idea when she thought up requiring developers to include an affordable component in any new residential development. I’m all for that, even though I know that Lite is a NIMBY of the first order and was as likely to allow growth at all as she would be to allow random strangers to stick their fingers up her nose.

    However, requiring affordability could work. I’d like to see it done, and I’d like to see it help the middle class and families move into downtown by the hundreds.

  25. who

    Mountain Housing Opportunities is a good organization. May they prosper so that more people can get affordable homes. It would be cool if they bought, could afford, that property and put affordable,accessable to middle income, green built condos on it. Like they did with the Clingman Lofts. “In Town” property isn’t cheap.

  26. Biff Johnston

    PFK: “bobaloo and entop-although i agree with your sentiment in regards to up vs. out, isnt the building in question some kind of luxury hotel (basillica)? i mean, if it were housing for regular people, i can see how that would combat sprawl. but a lot of these high-rise deals seem to me to be taxpayer subsidized scams for developers, while turning downtown asheville into some weird condo haven that does fundamentally change the ‘character’ of the city.”

    Is there no continuity in the universe? Just when I thought me and the PFK could not agree on anything, the boy comes up with this. There is hope for you PFK…after you have finished growing up.

  27. Who the hell is the “Thad” of “Thad and Bootsie?” There’s someone else in Asheville named Thad besides me? And he’s an ass (like me)?

  28. grace singingheart

    I moved from atlanta years ago and now it seems it has followed to asheville with all the construction new buildings….the skyline no longer looks the same and the trees are disappearing along the ridge as we see those mystery homes whose windows look out onto the city. i saw in atlanta over the years watching the sunrise on top of stone mountain that turned into a brown haze over the city…..if we are not careful here and do some real PLANNNING then we will see the same thing and everyday we will need to watch the weather report for the SMOG index. IS that what we want in exchange for supposed money that will be made from the construction. where is the wisdom? where is the foresight?

  29. cemerging.com/

    What a wonderful idea! That’s a perfect way to honor your children and have a beautiful design as well. I’m really interested in hearing how much the design of the star means to people.cemerging.com/

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