Asheville's East of the Riverway, an 1,100-acre area connecting the riverfront to downtown, is serving as the target for collaborative and concerted revitalization efforts that will provide a model for the rest of Asheville's riverfront redevelopment, and for sustainable development efforts in the region.
The East of the Riverway area includes the neighborhoods of Hillcrest, WECAN, South French Broad, Southside, Lee-Walker Heights, and the River Arts District. New models of affordable housing development, economic models, and awareness of the connection between the environmental quality of the river and its attractiveness have emerged as the leading themes of this area. Emerging as well has been grassroots community leadership. There is a growing awareness that the links between jobs, housing, energy, transportation, and the environment are guiding public policy and changing the city's and the region's social and economic conditions.
Sustainable Communities Initiative
The East of the Riverway project supported the Sustainable Communities Initiative in the City of Asheville. The initiative follows the six Livability Principles established by the federal Sustainable Communities Partnership. These are:
- Provide more transportation choices
- Promote equitable, affordable housing
- Enhance economic competitiveness
- Support existing communities
- Coordinate policies and leverage investment
- Value communities and neighborhoods
There are sensitivities and challenges to redevelopment in this area: protection of water quality for a river serving one million people as a drinking water source, and serving many more as their center for recreation and wellness; addressing issues stemming from the urban renewal programs of the 1970s, when dislocation of the city's low income (and predominately African American) population caused many to lose economic ground amid changing social structures; and reparation of disconnected transportation routes that occurred due to poor integration of transportation planning with routes to schools, major employment centers, and common areas of recreation. Construction, tourism, and service jobs replaced well-paying manufacturing jobs. High-end housing, with a growing base of second home development, led to spiraling land values where topography and, in the case of the riverfront, flood plain areas already limited development. The East of the Riverway area of Asheville was a microcosm of these changes.
While the urban renewal movement had at its essence a program to replace unsafe and dilapidated housing, its effect was also disruption of neighborhoods and social and cultural supports. Industries that had once supported a middle class fled to cheaper locales. Asheville's riverfront was largely abandoned. The neighborhood near the river remained very low income, bypassed for new development and new job opportunities. Changing understanding of flood hazards made previously developed areas off-limits, while past industrial practices left brownfield legacies.
The City of Asheville seeks to take the next steps in achieving sustainability and livability, and proposed to achieve these outcomes:
1. To create a regulatory environment with the flexibility and vision to guide growth toward sustainability.
2. To support the demonstration of livability principles in the East of the Riverway area, where:
- Existing neighborhoods will have sustainable connectivity to jobs, schools, training, and services. The City of Asheville will accomplish this by completing the pre-development planning for an integrated system of greenways, safe streets, and improved transit service to the area.
- New energy efficient and healthy mixed-income housing will be built close to centers of existing job growth, especially for persons of low income.
- Affordable housing and economic opportunities will be created through infill and recycled parcel development, especially along greenways and in the riverfront area, where the City's program of brownfield identification, remediation, and proposed reuse will be enhanced and supported.
- A baseline will be established, goals set, and financial resources found to improve the energy efficiency and affordability of all residences and businesses in the area.
- Land for affordable housing will be "banked" for future development
3. The integration of clean environment, cultural enhancement, and healthy economy will be the foundation of Asheville's future.
This livability program is being developed and implemented by a wide-ranging partnership of neighborhood residents, property owners, and businesses, including private and not-for-profit interests with resources strategically targeted for concrete results. Asheville's program will occur also in the context of the regional sustainability planning program, GroWNC, in which the City of Asheville was a fully engaged participant.
NEMAC worked with the City of Asheville to plan and facilitate three series of scenario planning workshops with stakeholders from the historically African American neighborhoods in the East of the Riverway area, providing both best action outcomes for planning purposes and building leadership capacity among the stakeholders, who represent a large portion of the area's minority population.
The City of Asheville received an award of $850,000 for the East of the Riverway Sustainable Neighborhood Program from the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Sustainable Community Challenge Grant/Department of Transportation (DOT) TIGER II Planning Grant program.