Rethinking Smart Growth. Reclaiming Community Design’s Radical Roots

Rethinking Smart Growth. Reclaiming Community Design’s Radical Roots

Rethinking Smart Growth. Reclaiming Community Design’s Radical Roots

by Chris Joyell

About a year ago, I reached out to Andrea Golden and Rocio Alviter, community organizers with PODER Emma — a community group working to prevent displacement in the Emma neighborhood north of Patton Avenue in Buncombe County. PODER Emma was weighing the City of Asheville’s proposal to change the zoning of a large, defunct K-Mart lot on Patton that served as a gateway to their community. The City’s proposal would encourage dense development and result in more housing, retail space, and amenities on the edge of the Emma neighborhood. I contacted PODER Emma to see if they were interested in working with MountainTrue to advocate for more sidewalks, greenways and green space to connect the neighborhood to this new destination. Much to my surprise, they said no.

Most of Emma lies just outside the city line in Buncombe County. It’s a diverse neighborhood and well represented by Asheville’s Latinx community, as well as a sizable Croatian population and a Belarusian contingent. As the Director of the Asheville Design Center (ADC), I had engaged the community in 2009 when the I-26 Connector project was slated to plow through the neighborhood. While we were successful in creating a design that would spare the neighborhood from highway construction, a new threat to Emma began to arise — gentrification.

Addressing the forces that drive gentrification and racial and economic displacement should be central to the mission of Design Centers today, as they once were in the 1960s. Given their origins, Design Centers should not be neutral in the face of social injustice or the destruction of the environment.

Just across Patton Avenue, rents and real estate prices have skyrocketed in West Asheville over the past decade. What was once a modest residential community with a small commercial corridor is fast becoming a tonier neighborhood replete with luxury condos, boutiques, breweries and restaurants. As the real estate market in West Asheville tightens, developers have begun to investigate redevelopment opportunities in Emma.

For both hungry developers and cost-conscious first-time home buyers, Emma is ripe for investment. The neighborhood offers quick access to downtown and Asheville’s major transportation arteries, and land is relatively cheap with a mix of modest single-family homes and mobile home communities. Absent a massive downturn in Asheville’s housing market, it’s hard not to imagine Emma changing dramatically, and any of the numerous mobile home communities in Emma being displaced to make way for upscale housing in the next wave of development.

Certainly, the planned upgrade to the K-Mart site would invite more real estate speculation in Emma. Thus PODER Emma’s reluctance to embrace the City’s ambitious plans in the absence of policies to protect against the harmful effects of gentrification.

What are the responsibilities of Design Centers when it comes to gentrification?

Community Design Centers date back to the 1960s. They were a response to racial and economic injustice and a rejection of the top-down approach employed by urban planners, architects and bureaucrats during the first half of the twentieth century. Redlining and urban renewal had gutted poor, Black and immigrant neighborhoods and displaced their communities. And white flight had left behind vast tracts of urban sprawl.

Urban planners and architects of the modernist tradition had drawn up ambitious new blueprints for how cities would be organized and where massive new highways would be constructed with little concern, and sometimes with outright hostility, toward the people whose homes, businesses and churches stood in the way. It was a sterile approach that prioritized the visions of professionals over the needs and concerns of impacted communities.

Community Design Centers sought to flip this design process on its head to “offer design and planning services to enable the poor to define and implement their own planning goals.”1 This meant developing more democratic processes that put community involvement front and center, while also bridging the gap between the design of physical environments and the social and economic needs of the communities involved.

In this sense, addressing the forces that drive gentrification and racial and economic displacement should be central to the mission of Design Centers today, as they once were in the 1960s. Given their origins, Design Centers should not be neutral in the face of social injustice or the destruction of the environment.

Robert Moses looks over a model of the Battery Bridge. From the 1930s to the 1950s, he changed shorelines, built roadways in the sky, and cleared out ethnic enclaves to make way for his grand designs. Unfortunately, his approach influenced a generation of engineers, architects, and urban planners who spread his philosophies to cities and towns across the nation.

Despite these origins, many centers have seen their roles in addressing social justice diminished as they have been pushed to respond to powerful local interests and watch while the community design process has been co-opted by the wealthy and influential. In the 1980s, design centers faced diminished funding, and many organizations made the pragmatic shift to fee-for-service contracts and direct service delivery. Over the past several decades, design centers have also felt pressure from all sides to narrow their mission. Grantors impose funding deadlines that demand immediate results, undermining the necessary and long-term work of building trust and gaining acceptance in historically disadvantaged communities. And affluent neighborhoods have learned to redirect the power of community-driven design to serve their own interests, participating with well-organized gusto in the community engagement process to thwart progressive projects and initiatives that design centers were originally intended to serve.

As a result, many design centers, including ADC, have adopted a project-oriented approach, where our focus is directed towards the built environment and less so on those inhabiting it. For the Asheville Design Center, that has translated into a mission of partnering with and assisting communities to create designs that adhere to a set of ten “Smart Growth” principles. These principles are intended to encourage walkable, compact neighborhoods connected to open space by a network of greenways, bike lanes and sidewalks — what’s not to love?

First, let’s interrogate the concept of “walkability.” Evidence suggests that living in a walkable neighborhood can lower transportation and healthcare costs and allow for a wider range of housing types. But that only tells one side of the story.

Walkability is also a prized metric within the real estate industry. A city’s walkability, according to Walk Score, is determined by analyzing how many errands can be done without a car, and cities with the highest scores (like Boston, New York and San Francisco) often come with an incredibly steep cost of living. In a survey of 14 US cities, the brokerage site Redfin found that a one-point rise in Walk Score adds nearly one percent to the price of a home. One recent study has also shown that homes within 600 feet of a greenway saw an increase in value of five percent.

Contrast the walk score for West Asheville center (86 – very walkable) to that of Emma (37 – car dependent). It is entirely foreseeable that once infrastructure improvements like sidewalks and greenways are installed in Emma, the neighborhood’s walk score would start to climb, along with housing prices and property taxes — displacing many renters and residents dependent on fixed incomes. Even some homeowners in Emma, especially those who rent the land beneath their mobile homes, are vulnerable to displacement and the whims of their landlords. In this context, the Emma community’s reluctance to welcome such improvements into the neighborhood is completely understandable.

At the Asheville Design Center, our design process has been very much grounded in the physical world. We typically begin with an examination of buildings, infrastructure, and open space. We directly engage residents to find out what works and what needs improvement. Our design solutions usually take the form of a physical structure or plan — an outdoor classroom, a neighborhood master plan — that addresses the problems identified by the community. We are very effective in addressing specific tangible problems in a neighborhood, but we struggle to tackle larger structural inequities.

Likewise, the application of Smart Growth principles is similarly constrained. Good designs are limited in what they can accomplish if a community’s underlying problems — poverty, income inequality, the legacy of redlining and urban renewal — remain unresolved. Worse, if applied uncritically, Smart Growth can direct capital into projects that set the stage for new, upscale development, rather than meeting the needs of neighbors. A new bike path or pocket park may sound appealing on its face, but can drive economic forces that lead to gentrification and displacement.

The Bikepath Forward

Conversations about racial and economic inequality are reverberating throughout society, including within the design community. To address inequity head-on, design centers must shift their focus from the built environment to the communities that reside within it.

Often, we find ourselves attempting to fix the problems brought on by social injustice, rather than addressing inequity at its source. In some respects, we need to return to some of the more radical approaches of the early proponents of community design and challenge the institutions and funders that have encouraged so many of us to operate simply as facilitators within the development process — a process that is inherently stacked in favor of the powerful. To get back to our roots, design centers will need to shift from problem solving to community building.

I’m not proposing throwing out Smart Growth Principles altogether. But for Smart Growth to benefit existing communities, designers and planners must consider more than a community’s structures, roads and public spaces. We must also begin advocating for adequate protections, policies and tools to help stave off gentrification and instead build generational wealth within communities.

For instance, in Washington D.C., city leaders have enacted “right to own” laws that give tenants preference to buy buildings when they’re up for sale. Building owners wanting to sell tenant-occupied buildings in the district are required by law to inform their tenants and give them the right to buy their building at a market rate. In a study of seven buildings where renters used this law as a tool to stay put after 2000, research showed that an average of half of the units remained occupied by the same tenants.

San Francisco recently passed a similar law providing a right of first refusal to nonprofit housing associations. And in New York, we can find examples of how credit unions and other community development financial institutions can equitably extend credit to support local, minority-owned businesses.

Cities have had success creating incentives for anchor institutions like hospitals, universities and other place-based institutions to use local procurement and hiring practices to keep jobs and wealth in communities. And we can point to many examples of communities that have found ways to encourage economic inclusion, like establishing limited-equity housing programs where tenants can rent-to-own.

Here in Buncombe County, we welcomed the launch of the county’s first community land trust last year. Community land trusts are nonprofit, community-controlled agencies that buy and lease land, while selling the homes on the land to individuals or families at an affordable price — separating the cost of the land from the cost of housing. ADC recently worked with the Asheville-Buncombe Community Land Trust (ABCLT) to evaluate City-owned parcels in Asheville that would be suitable for small-scale affordable housing (think duplexes and cottage clusters). ABCLT will be looking to secure properties in Buncombe County’s neighborhoods that are most vulnerable to gentrification.

However, such programs are often undercapitalized and added together cannot fix the problem. Gentrification is the symptom; structural inequality is the cause. As community design professionals, we can’t rely on design alone for solutions. We need to embrace political action and advocate in partnerships with low-income people and communities of color for greater economic equality, reparations and closing the wealth gap. This means that design centers need to listen to the community, advocate for funding that can expand the universe of possibilities and lead to truly ambitious projects and policies that address poverty, homelessness, climate change and environmental justice.

Neighborhoods already have the agency and resourcefulness to assess their most pressing needs. They also have the real-life experiences that best inform solutions that will improve their quality of life. Instead of attempting to solve a community’s problems directly, design centers should support communities with the tools, resources, facilitation and technical expertise needed for them to realize their own vision. Ultimately, by renewing our commitment to community building, design centers can help foster neighborhood self-reliance and self-determination.

ADC’s work with the Emma community will mark a departure from our traditional approach, where we would typically advocate for Smart Growth improvements like sidewalks and greenspace. Instead, we intend to support PODER Emma in developing and implementing new programs and policies that will prevent displacement and stabilize housing for their legacy residents. Once that is accomplished, then we can look to Smart Growth principles to inform improvements to their community in a more responsible and attuned way.

Community design was never meant to be neutral, safe or inoffensive. In its earliest days, it was a direct response to the racism and injustice of redlining, segregation and urban renewal. Our path forward must restore our practice as a movement in solidarity with the poor, the unrepresented and the displaced.

 


Ed. note: MountainTrue is in the process of defining our Strategic Plan for the next ten years of work. We are also analyzing our work to see where we can do more to address the twin threats of inequity and climate change. To read more about how our organization is working to be more diverse, inclusive and focused on equity, check out mountaintrue.org/equity.

1 Sanoff, Henry “Origins of Community Design” Planners Network, January 2, 2006 https://www.plannersnetwork.org/2006/01/origins-of-community-design/

 

 


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

The I-26 Connector Project, 20 Years in the Making

The I-26 Connector Project, 20 Years in the Making

The I-26 Connector Project, 20 Years in the Making

For two years, the Asheville Design Center opened their doors to the community every Wednesday night to explore better options for the I-26 Connector. Here, a group of ADC volunteers look at a 3-D model of the project.

 

When communities come together, we can move a highway.

 

This fall, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) will release the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the I-26 Connector Project – a highway expansion project through Asheville – that will reflect some major victories and improvements for city residents.

When NCDOT first proposed the Connector Project in 1989, it sparked widespread concern among Asheville residents living within its path. Typical to NCDOT projects at the time, the project catered to thru-traffic drivers and not to the needs of the people and neighborhoods of Asheville itself. If left unchallenged, it would have been overbuilt and threatened communities already harmed by previous highway projects.

In 2000, the community started organizing in earnest to oppose to the plan. MountainTrue (then the Western North Carolina Alliance) co-chaired the Community Coordinating Committee (CCC), which issued a report recommending nine key design goals that the final project should achieve. These included separation of local and interstate traffic, matching the scale of project to the character of community, reunification and connectivity of community and minimization of neighborhood and local business impacts. These goals have continued to be the foundation for advocacy by residents and the City of Asheville ever since.

Then in 2006, the Asheville section of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) secured grant funding to form the Asheville Design Center. This allowed the Center to begin holding community meetings, workshops and design charrettes to create a community-authored design for I-26 that met the CCC’s goals. Eventually called Alternative 4B, this design was finished in 2007 and received broad community support, including funding from the City of Asheville and Buncombe County for an engineering study to prove that it was feasible.

The existing Patton Ave. corridor (left) and the community-designed alternative created by Asheville Design Center volunteers (right), which has been selected for the project.

In 2009, NCDOT committed to include a revised version of the community-designed Alternative 4B in the EIS – the first time anywhere in the country that a community-developed design became a viable alternative for a major highway project.

Also in 2009, a coalition of representatives from the Asheville neighborhoods that stood to be most impacted by the new highway – including West Asheville, Burton Street, WECAN, Emma and Montford – formed the I-26 ConnectUs Project. MountainTrue served as the convener and coordinator, using its expertise to amplify neighborhood concerns with NCDOT. The ConnectUs Project also adopted the CCC report’s goals as the basis for its advocacy.

In 2013, the I-26 Working Group came together and was made up of elected City and County officials, a representative of the business community, and MountainTrue as a representative of the ConnectUs Project. The Working Group secured consensus on several important issues, including that NCDOT should analyze the possibility of having fewer lanes through West Asheville and honor the City’s vision for the Jeff Bowen Bridge to become an urban boulevard. This effort also resulted in NCDOT commiting to build a multi-use path from Haywood Road in West Asheville to and across the Bowen Bridge – a significant victory for community connectivity.

When NCDOT issued a revised Draft EIS in 2015, Asheville City Council passed a resolution in support of the community’s vision and formed a working group with NCDOT to hammer out the remaining issues. In 2016, NCDOT selected Alt. 4B as the preferred alternative for the project and, in 2017, NCDOT agreed that the highway in West Asheville would be six rather than eight lanes. These decisions represent other major victories for citizen advocacy, and the working group collaboration has resulted in an improved project design on several other fronts.

Too often NCDOT has made its decisions without significant involvement from or engagement with local communities. In the years since, we’ve seen a growing shift in their approach in other areas of the state.

Good transportation planning considers a community’s unique context and engages residents from the beginning. It should protect our most vulnerable neighborhoods, ecologically sensitive areas, and mountain views, while minimizing the impacts on homes, businesses and special community assets. Good transportation planning can improve quality of life, increase transportation options, make our communities healthier and reduce pollution.  

MountainTrue and our Asheville Design Center are using this model of community advocacy  developed for the I-26 Connector project in other WNC communities, most notably in Sylva to develop community-designed alternatives for NC-107.

Does Your Community Need Assistance With A Design Project?


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Open Letter: We Stand with the City of Asheville in Opposing Cascading Section A of the I-26 Connector Project

Open Letter: We Stand with the City of Asheville in Opposing Cascading Section A of the I-26 Connector Project

Open Letter: We Stand with the City of Asheville in Opposing Cascading Section A of the I-26 Connector Project

This rendering by the Asheville Design Center shares our vision for the Patton Avenue/Bowen Bridge corridor to be a multi-modal, urban boulevard that serves as a gateway to downtown. 

June 18, 2018

French Broad River MPO

339 New Leicester Highway

Asheville, NC  28804

 

Dear MPO leaders:

 

On behalf of our members and supporters, Asheville on Bikes and MountainTrue write in opposition to cascading Section A of the I-26 Connector Project from the statewide to the regional tier of projects.  We firmly believe that negotiations between the City of Asheville and NCDOT on outstanding design questions related to the Connector Project should be completed and incorporated into the final Environmental Impact Statement before the project moves forward. We cannot support cascading Section A until this occurs.

We recognize that the City’s negotiations with NCDOT to date have produced several good outcomes including new bike/pedestrian facilities, good greenway connections, a Section A with six lanes instead of  eight, and a much-improved redesign of the Amboy Road interchange (though no one has yet seen revised maps that reflect these design improvements).  However, there has not yet been success in determining the number of lanes going across the river and in the design of the Patton Avenue/Bowen Bridge corridor.  The City of Asheville remains committed to making this corridor a multi-modal, urban boulevard that serves as a gateway to downtown, but NCDOT is not yet committed to these outcomes.

Until negotiations with NCDOT are complete and the drawings are updated so that the City can say with confidence that the project will increase livability for the residents of Asheville, advance active transportation, and meet the City’s vision for the redevelopment of Patton Ave, we stand with the City of Asheville in opposing cascading Section A.  We strongly encourage NCDOT to continue to work with the City of Asheville to reach agreement on these critical design issues.

 

Sincerely,

 

            Mike Sule, Executive Director                                                                Bob Wagner, Co-Director

            Asheville on Bikes                                                                                    MountainTrue


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

MountainTrue and Asheville Design Center to Merge

MountainTrue and Asheville Design Center to Merge

MountainTrue and Asheville Design Center to Merge

MountainTrue is excited to welcome Chris Joyell and the Asheville Design Center to the MountainTrue team. Asheville Design Center (ADC) and MountainTrue have announced their intent to merge in the Fall of 2017.

Chris Joyell, executive director of Asheville Design Center.

There is a long history of collaboration and a strong alignment between MountainTrue’s land use and transportation work & ADC’s community planning work. Merging will strengthen both organizations and help communities across all of Western North Carolina better address their needs through a combination of grassroots organizing, community-driven planning and strategic advocacy.

MountainTrue members will vote on whether to approve the merger at our 2017 Annual Gathering on October 25 at New Belgium Brewing in Asheville. If the merger is approved, Asheville Design Center will retain its name and operate as a program of MountainTrue.

“The merger creates one organization that is better able to pursue a holistic approach to our built and natural environments,” explains Chris Joyell, executive director of the Asheville Design Center.

Asheville Design Center is inviting its members and supporters to celebrate the merger with a toast at MountainTrue’s upcoming Annual Gathering at New Belgium on October 25 from 6-8 pm. The Annual Gathering is open to all members. Contributing supporters of ADC will receive a complimentary one-year membership to MountainTrue. Click here to RSVP.

“This is a merger that benefits both organizations,” explains Carrie Turner, ADC board chair. “ADC will benefit from MountainTrue’s larger infrastructure and will be able to expand and develop more impactful programs. “MountainTrue, for its part, will gain ADC’s know-how when it comes to helping residents plan for the health of their own communities.”

“MountainTrue has the experience and capacity to organize the public in support of the kind of community-driven design planning that ADC is expert at conducting,” explains Bob Wagner, co-director of MountainTrue. “By aligning our work, we’ll be able to better meet the needs of people throughout WNC.”

Collaboration between the Asheville Design Center and MountainTrue goes back to 2009 when the two organizations created Blue Ridge Blueprints — a grassroots planning program to help communities plan for and design their futures while preserving local character and protecting the natural environment. Through Blue Ridge Blueprints, ADC and MountainTrue partnered with residents to develop the Burton Street Community Plan when that neighborhood was threatened by the proposed I-26 Connector.

The Burton Street community had recently overcome issues of crime, poor infrastructure and shifting demographics, and, in 2010, a plan to expand I-26 threatened to impede this progress and displace many long-time residents. At the invitation of the community, ADC and MountainTrue worked with local residents to develop a vision, goals and strategies to achieve those goals. ADC design volunteers conducted numerous surveys and workshops to inform a community plan, while MountainTrue organized the community and helped participants prioritize goals for implementation.

The Burton Street Community Plan helped spur the adoption of the Smith Mill Creek Greenway into the City’s greenway master plan and prompted ADC’s DesignBuild Studio to construct an outdoor classroom for the Burton St. Community Peace Garden.

This work helped us establish our trajectory when MountainTrue and the ADC worked side-by-side on the I-26 Connector Project to push for a design that minimized the highway’s footprint and its impacts on Asheville’s neighborhoods, including Burton Street. ADC worked directly with affected communities through a participatory planning process and then offered detailed improvements to the North Carolina Department of Transportation that were supported by the people. MountainTrue subsequently worked with specifically impacted neighborhoods to generate and maintain support for the principles underpinning ADC’s proposed highway design.

“We had both strong, consistent public support and good design principles. That gave us credibility and power,” says Julie Mayfield, co-director of MountainTrue. “In 2016, we made history when NCDOT selected a variation of ADC’s design, Alternative 4B, as the first community-authored highway design ever to be adopted by a state DOT.”

These real-world examples of collaboration light the path forward: one organization better able to support more communities across the region in building a better, healthier and cleaner WNC for all.

Media Coverage:


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Thursday, July 13: Hendersonville Green Drinks: Bicycle and Pedestrian Issues

Thursday, July 13: Hendersonville Green Drinks: Bicycle and Pedestrian Issues

Thursday, July 13: Hendersonville Green Drinks: Bicycle and Pedestrian Issues

Hendersonville, N.C. — On Thursday, July 13, Hendersonville Green Drinks welcomes Tristan Winkler, Senior Transportation Planner for the French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). He will present on recent bicycle and pedestrian issues in the area, and ways that the public can get involved!

What: Hendersonville Green Drinks: Bicycle and Pedestrian Issues
Who: Tristan Winkler, Senior Transportation Planner with the French Broad River MPO
Where: Black Bear Coffee Co. 318 N. Main St. Hendersonville, NC
When: Thursday, July 13, networking at 5:30 p.m., presentation at 6:00 p.m.

Tristan Winkler is a Senior Transportation Planner with the French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and has worked on various transportation projects in Western North Carolina since 2013 as a private consultant and, later, at the MPO. Tristan is a board member of the Association of Bicycle and Pedestrian Professionals of North Carolina, and director-at-large for the Western North Carolina Chapter of Women in Transportation.

About Hendersonville Green Drinks
Hendersonville Green Drinks is presented by MountainTrue and the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy. Come to Green Drinks to learn more about current environmental issues, have relevant discussions, and meet with like-minded people. This is a monthly event and everyone is welcome. You don’t have to drink at Green Drinks, just come and listen. Black Bear Coffee offers beer, wine, coffee drinks and sodas. A limited food menu will be available.


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Join us for the MountainTrue Fall Gathering at New Belgium!

Join us for the MountainTrue Fall Gathering at New Belgium!

Wednesday, October 26, join us at New Belgium Brewery in Asheville for our annual Fall Gathering. Expect great beer, delicious food and some sweet, sweet jams from Asheville’s very own The Midnight Plowboys.

THIS EVENT IS FREE AND OPEN TO ALL CURRENT MEMBERS.

MountainTrue 2016 Fall Gathering
Wednesday October 26 from 6 PM to 8 PM
New Belgium Brewery’s Brewhouse
21 Craven Street, Asheville

With our proud mountain heritage, beautiful mountain vistas, lush forests and rushing streams, Western North Carolina is an amazing and special place to call home. The support of our members has helped us fight for our communities and protect one of the richest environments in the world.

Support WNC by renewing your membership and making a donation to MountainTrue today. CLICK HERE.

If you would prefer to send us a check, please make your donation payable to MountainTrue and mail it to us at 29 N. Market St., Suite 610, Asheville, NC 28801.

Thanks to our members and supporters, MountainTrue was voted WNC’s #1 Environmental Group by the readers of Mountain Xpress. Our programs represent you, your values and the issues that you care about. Here are some of the things we’ve accomplished together so far in 2016:

Protecting Our Waters

  • We launched the first monthly water-quality monitoring program in the Watauga River basin with 13 sites monitored by MountainTrue volunteers and staff.

  • We continue fighting Duke Energy in court over its coal-ash pollution at the Cliffside plant in Rutherford County and organized over a hundred people to attend hearings and demand the full clean-up of coal ash pollution.

  • We planted 6,000 live stakes that will grow, stabilize banks, and stop erosion along 12 miles of river frontage in the French Broad River basin.

Preserving Our Public Lands  

  • As a leader in Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest planning process, we helped develop a groundbreaking agreement between wilderness, conservation and recreation advocates in support of more trails and public access and more backcountry and wild places.

  • We prevented over 100 acres of clear cutting on Nantahala National Forest, helped eradicate invasive species on the Grandfather Ranger District, and raised awareness of the natural wonders of Bluff Mountain with a BioBlitz that documented over 400 plant species.

Building Vibrant Communities

  • We mobilized over 1,000 comments on the I-26 Connector project in Asheville. In response, NCDOT selected the community-developed and supported Alternative 4B for the bridge section of the project. We celebrate this victory while continuing to work to reduce overall size, improve design, and include more bike/pedestrian infrastructure.

Working for Clean Energy

  • We intervened in Duke Energy’s application for approval of a new natural-gas plant in Asheville and a new peaker plant to be built in 2023. We asserted that Duke had not made its case for additional fossil fuel capacity, and the Public Utilities Commission agreed, declining to approve the extra peaker plant. Now, we are hard at work providing leadership for the new City of Asheville-Buncombe County-Duke Energy partnership to develop and implement a plan to increase energy efficiency and grow our renewable energy infrastructure.

Engaging Citizens

  • After three years of advocacy in support of surrounding neighbors, we achieved victory at the CTS site in Buncombe County when EPA required an interim cleanup of a large pool of subsurface contamination. Next, we will make sure that the long-term cleanup plan is as protective as possible.

  • MountainTrue members and staff took lobbying trips during the 2016 legislative session to be your voice in Raleigh. We are also hosting “meet and greets” between our members and candidates vying to replace our retiring WNC legislators.

  • We brought nationally renowned evangelical Christian and climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe to  Asheville. She met with 80 faith leaders at a prayer breakfast and addressed more than 300 people in the First Baptist Church sanctuary.

BECOME A MOUNTAINTRUE MEMBER AND BE PART OF THE MOVEMENT FOR A BETTER WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA. CLICK HERE.

Thank you for your generous support of our work!


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.