Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer expressed the importance of growth and development for the city’s vitality, despite concerns over aesthetics of the mountain region. Community leaders and organizations are increasingly recognizing the interconnected nature of issues like housing, public safety, mental and physical health, and the economy. Advocacy groups like MountainTrue and Asheville for All are proposing initiatives to enhance housing options and confront related environmental and equity concerns.
Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer’s Take on Growth
At the Aug. 23 Leadership Asheville Forum, Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer addressed the issue of growth, a subject community leaders often find difficult to articulate clearly.
When asked about restricting development to conserve mountain region aesthetics, Manheimer reminded everyone that the state severely limits municipal regulatory options. Though safety and stormwater management have steep-slope ordinances in effect, she stated, “If you’re saying, ‘Can we put a stop to development?’ no, I don’t think we can do that. Nor would we want to,”. The Mayor believes cities are either vibrant and growing, or they are atrophying.
Residents often feel their personal priorities are being overlooked by elected officials. This creates a difficulty for those whose positions depend on the consent of the governed. For communities to grow and prosper, policies and programs need to be implemented to address and resolve crises causing a sense of brokenness.
Dealing with existential threats like climate change, recurring pandemics, and wealth disparities require us to work together towards aligning purpose and performance. Housing is a critical issue, and one that is connected to public safety, mental and physical health, the tourism economy, and more.
Economic Development and Housing
As pointed out in a recent article in the Watchdog series, adequate housing is a crucial factor for potential employers when evaluating a city. “One of the things those folks look at is ‘Do I have a workforce there?’ And that workforce needs housing.” says Zach Wallace, vice president of public policy for the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce.
Housing for all
MountainTrue, one of Western North Carolina’s largest environmental advocacy organizations, is adding a housing initiative to its roster. They aim to influence policy change to facilitate building homes closer to town and city centers, thereby minimizing the environmental impact of housing demand.
The initiative titled Neighbors for More Neighbors WNC, aims to decrease carbon emissions, prevent loss of green spaces, and promote urban living with easier access to education, employment, and entertainment.
Several local entities like Asheville for All, Thrive Asheville, Pisgah Legal Services and the Dogwood Health Trust are now echoing similar sentiments, recognizing how housing intersects with their respective equity and health care concerns.
With the energy for change gaining momentum, it’s hoped that the next time a housing project is proposed in a neighborhood, residents will consider the potential benefits instead of fearing a loss. This new perspective, spurred by these collective efforts, promises to usher in a vibrant and growing Asheville.