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.