Sunday, December 20, 2009

After Copenhagen: Community Climate Discussion

After Copenhagen: Community Climate Discussion
Talking Together about How We Feel, and what we might do, alone & together
(NOT at West Asheville Library Community Room & relocated next door to)
Waking Life Espresso
976 Haywood Road, West Asheville, NC 28806
Saturday, Jan. 2nd, 2010 10 AM to noon
Free and open to people who think that human-caused climate change is real
and worth stopping. don't drive-- if you can walk comfortably, come on over)

If you are on Facebook, you can "rsvp" (optional, but nice) at

Questions? Email smithmillcreek at the domain of gmail dot com

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

More BAD action on climate later

My blog action day post on climate change will probably be a few days late--
I'm preparing a talk on the phases of movements for the student climate conference, Powershift '09, this Saturday in Chapel Hill, NC.

the workshop will be a repeat of the one I did in November 2008.

-- End--
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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tolstoy on Causation

The human mind cannot grasp the causes of phenomena in the aggregate. But the need to find these causes is inherent in man’s soul. And the human intellect, without investigating the multiplicity and complexity of the conditions of phenomena, any one of which taken separately may seem to be the cause, snatches at the first, the most intelligible approximation to a cause, and says: “This is the cause!"

-Leo Tolstoy
War and Peace

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Important August Essays on the Eco-Crisis

All the essays agree on one thing: big changes are ahead of us, and soon.
All of the essays below are by some of the top eco-thinkers alive.

Paul Kingsnorth and Paul Monbiot debate the future in the (UK) Guardian

Northwest US-based Tom Atlee on the Great Turning

NY Times eco-columnist Andy Revkin on a new stage in humanity

Sharon Astyk (upstate NY) and Rob Hopkins (Devonshire, UK) debate Permaculture and Transition Towns.

Click Here to Read More..

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Buses from Downtown Asheville to SEE Expo and back

ROUTE 6 AIRPORT/HENDERSONVILLE TO Southern Energy & Environment Expo

( I am posting this on my private blog to enhance skimmability. You can also find it somewhere on their website. Maybe. If you're lucky.)

Asheville Transit Route 6-Airport/Hendersonville Road will stop at the 9th annual Southern Energy & Environment Expo at the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center on Friday, August 21 and Saturday August 22 (but not Sunday). From downtown Asheville, the route will make seven trips to the agricultural center as part of its regular schedule (which means rides cost $1, exact change- four quarters or a dollar bill).

Asheville Transit will provide service to the bus stop near gate 1 at the agricultural center. The first trip will arrive Friday and Saturday at 9:15 a.m. and the last trip will leave at 6:15 p.m.

Bus service is not available on Sunday.

Route 6 will stop at the expo about 10 minutes before arriving at the Asheville Regional Airport, as part of its current schedule Friday and Saturday. Route times include: 9:15 a.m.; 10:45a.m.; 12:15 p.m.; 1:45 p.m.; 3:15 p.m.; 4:45 p.m., and; 6:15 p.m.

The Asheville Transit Route 6 schedule can be found at under “maps and schedules.” 

For more information, contact Asheville Transit at 253-5691, or by going to

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Help make video this Saturday noon

Mountaine and I are doing a video this Saturday noon. We need extras.
Can you join us?
Facebook signup:
-- Jim

Hiya friends.
I'm involved in the October 24th global day of activism/education on sustainability, organized by the great folks at It's about the need to reduce carbon in the atmosphere from the current 390 parts per million (dangerous and rising) to 350 (much safer). Check out the website - this is HUGE.

One of the events I'm working on is a simple bit of street theatre that can be replicated easily around the world. It's called the "350 move". There is strong interest from the people in our getting a short video made quickly, so they can publicize it to the groups in over 80 countries gearing up for the big event on October 24th.

This Saturday August 1st, promptly at noon, at the downtown Asheville Vance Monument, some of us will meet to do 2 things - review the plan for the street theatre and make some final tweaks, and then get it videotaped. I hope it takes only an hour - if more, not much. Can you be a part of this? We need warm enthusiastic creative bodies! We're gonna meet at the Vance Monument, and choose a place to go depending on the weather. If you're pretty sure you'll come, please send me an email at mountaine at gmail . Or just show up.

If you can, bring a cardboard sign that says "350" on it. Dress the way you'll want to look for the world audience - a variety of styles (some in business clothes) would be great.

And if you can serve as our videographer, let me know right away. We have the offer of a video camera to borrow, but best if we have someone with a camera who knows how to use it, and perhaps do a wee bit of editing after the fact if necessary.

Grateful for who you are,

End of post
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Sunday, July 5, 2009

To Obama and Constitutzia!

IN 1825, Russian officers staged a coup against the Tsar's absolute monarchy, and in favor of a constitution. Feeling their power after their army had defeated Napolean 13 years before, and back from occupying Europe where they got to read, talk and study with avant-garde thinkers, they saw their chance in 1825.

The old czar died, and the more popular, more liberal older son, Constantine, chose love over office, choosing to marry a non-royal Polish girl. He renounced the chance at a throne in favor of his younger brother Nicholas.

The liberal officers staged a revolt, getting their men to cry "Constantine and Constitution!". Unfortunately, many of the common soldiers thought that "Consitutzia" was Constantine's wife. The premature revolt failed.

This month, June 2009, hasn't seen so many people in the streets since 1989 (Romania, East Germany, China). As of Sunday morning, July 5th 2009, it's an open question as to whether the forces of free election and popular participation will win in Iran and Honduras, both countries in which the American taxpayer funded CIA has done much to help kill, torture and imprison earlier advocates of change in the fifties, sixties, seventies in both countries, and in the eighties in Honduras.

Unlike earlier US administrations, Obama is sending signals to those who would use teargas and clubs that they don't have a friend in the White House. It's about time.

Here's to Obama and Constitutzia!
And to the fact that we now know the difference between Michelle and Constitution.
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Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Type your summary here
MOre later if I get time

Type rest of the post here
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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Massacres Don't Work for Long

It seems rare enough that unarmed demonstrators are fired upon by police/national guard/soldiers. And it is frequent that there are agents provocateurs. It is also common for governments to bring in rural/poor/less educated militia members from distant provinces or different ethnic groups. The conscript Army in Egypt in Jan/Feb could not be reliably counted upon to fire upon demonstrators.

Clubbed, yes; fired upon, rare enough so that I could name a few prominent ones:
None of these are forgotten or swept under the rug. That I can name them years later proves that. As do the wikipedia articles & youtube films. You might have seen some of the fictional Hollywood portrayals above.
* The Greensboro demonstrators were shot by the Klan, but acquitted. The subsequent rift led to a Truth and Reconciliation process.

**Nothing more after this**
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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Mandela and ‘The Elders’ Aim to Save the World

Mandela and ‘The Elders’ Aim to Save the World
Written by Kate Snow
Saturday, 04 August 2007
JOHANNESBURG — The Elders, a new alliance made up of an elite group of senior statesmen dedicated to solving thorny global problems, unveiled itself today in Johannesburg. The rollout coincided with founding member Nelson Mandela’s 89th birthday.

After a grand entrance, Mandela, the former South African president, announced the rest of the Elders.

The members include Desmond Tutu, South African archbishop emeritus of Capetown; former U.S. President Jimmy Carter; former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan; Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and Mohammed Yunus, the Nobel laureate and founder of the Green Bank in Bangladesh. The group plans to get involved in some of the world’s most pressing problems — climate change, pandemics like AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, violent conflicts.

It was an extraordinary gathering;

a who’s who of famous international leaders, with enough emotion to move some of them to tears.

Under a large white futuristic dome, British billionaire Richard Branson and rock star Peter Gabriel, who conceived the idea for the Elders, gathered enough star power to change the world, or at least that’s the hope.

“The structures we have to deal with these problems are often tied down by political, economic and geographic constraints,” Mandela said. The Elders, he argued, will face no such constraints.

Seven years ago, Branson and Gabriel approached Mandela about the Elders idea, and he agreed to help them recruit others. “This group of elders will bring hope and wisdom back into the world,” Branson said. “They’ll play a role in bringing us together.

“Using their collective experience, their moral courage and their ability to rise above the parochial concerns of nations ? they can help make our planet a more peaceful, healthy and equitable place to live, ” Branson said. ” Let us call them ‘global elders,’ not because of their age but because of individual and collective wisdom.”

Calling it “the most extraordinary day” of his life, Gabriel said, “The dream was there might still be a body of people in whom the world could place their trust.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who moderated the event and will serve as its leader, was moved to tears after Gabriel sang an impromptu accapella version of his hit song “Biko,” written about a famous South African political prisoner.

Branson and Gabriel have raised enough money — some $18 million — to fund this group for three years.

Also onboard are names less well known in the United States, including Indian microfinance leader Ela Bhatt; former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland; former Chinese ambassador to the United States Li Zhaoxing.

The group left an empty seat onstage — symbolically — for an elder who was invited, but could not attend because she is under house arrest in Burma, Nobel laureate and human rights advocate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Mandela and Carter emphasized the group’s ability to talk to anyone without risk.

“We will be able to risk failure in worthy causes, and we will not need to claim credit for any successes that might be achieved,” said Carter.

Carter said the group does not want to step on or interfere with other positive work that nations or organizations are doing but wants to supplement that work.

Several members acknowledged that the actual activities and actions of the group remain to be determined. There are no titles, no ranking of the members. And it is not clear if they will travel as a group, deploy individual members to global hot spots, or simply sit in a room together to develop strategies or assist those who are suffering find help.

But they certainly have high hopes.

“I didn’t like the title “elders,” because I didn’t feel like an elder,” said Yunus to laughter, “but I like the idea.”

Yunus said the world is without direction and he hopes the Elders can provide some direction.

Speaking of the Elders, almost in the way one would describe a cartoon about superheroes, Mandela said, “The Elders can become a fiercely independent and positive force for good.”

Annan added that the group does not “intend to go and take on Darfur or Somalia and resolve it singlehandedly. We don’t have a magic wand,” he said. But he argued that the group could intervene and perhaps force parties to honor agreements.

“There are certain crimes that shame us all,” said Annan. “We all have a responsibility, and I hope the Elders will take the lead in asking the question: What can we do to move the situation forward?

“Sometimes by saying ‘this is enough we can’t take this anymore it must stop,’ we are making a difference,” Annan continued

Mandela and Branson both celebrated birthdays today. At 89, Mandela looked frail. He walked with a cane and Carter helped him to the podium. But once Mandela got there, he stood tall and easily delivered some 10 minutes of remarks.

“He, as you know, walks sedately,” Tutu joked.
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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

How to put the Copenhagen Countdown Clock on your website

Concerned about climate change?
One of the most important things we can do on this planet is to create a strong climate treaty at the UN Climate conference in Copenhagen in December 2009.

And the most important element in drafting a strong treaty is creating an overwhelming public demand in all the countries of the world for this, in the face of reluctant governments and corporate lobbying and greenwashing.

And the key to creating that overwhelming public demand is getting people's mindshare focused on the climate negotiations.

And a good way to do that is to create a small public reminder of the negotiations.

If you have a website, here's something you can do in under two minutes (that's how long it too me):
How to put the Copenhagen Countdown Clock on your website

To put the clock on your website do the following:

A: From the homepage follow the link that say's "How to
use the countdown clock on your
website" []
Copy the html code from any of the boxes depending on which version of the
clock you want to use into their webpage.

B: Follow the instructions in A.

(Nothing more in the "more" section below.

Type rest of the post here
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Saturday, June 6, 2009

Why crack down on the Liberty Dollar now?

I find this disturbing because, although I didn't like the Liberty Dollar (I think the income tax of 1912 was a good thing), there is a heavy quality of ex post facto here-- tolerating something for years and then coming down heavy just as the former chief economist of the IMF implicitly ponders whether US might go the way of Argentina and have a currency collapse.

June 5, 2009

Asheville man charged in alleged Liberty Dollar fraud scheme
By Clarke Morrison

authorities arrested an Asheville man in what they said was a scheme to
undermine the U.S. currency system and defraud consumers with so-called
Liberty Dollars.

Kevin Innes marketed the “barter” currency in Western North Carolina
and recruited merchants willing to accept it and give it as change for
products bought with real money, according to an indictment unsealed
this week.

53, faces up to 45 years in prison if convicted. He was indicted along
with Bernard von NotHaus, president of the National Organization for
the Repeal of the Federal Reserve and Internal Revenue Codes, and two
other defendants from Indiana associated with the corporation.

made an initial appearance before a federal magistrate judge in
Asheville Wednesday and was ordered detained pending a detention
hearing set for Monday before a judge in Charlotte, according to the
U.S. Department of Justice.

Liberty Dollars are coins made of silver or gold and are touted as inflation-proof and a way to encourage buying local goods.

groups seek to undermine the U.S. currency system, the government is
compelled to act,” said acting U.S. Attorney Edward Ryan of the Western
District of North Carolina.

coins are not government-produced coinage, yet purchasers were led to
believe by those who made and sold them that they should be spent like
U.S. Federal Reserve Notes,” Ryan said. “Such claims are in violation
of federal law.”

and von NotHaus are charged with uttering and passing coins resembling
genuine U.S. coins and intended for use as money, mail fraud and
selling and possessing Liberty Dollar coins with intent to defraud.

Past statements

Despite warnings from the
federal government to the contrary, Innes told the Citizen-Times in
2006 that Liberty Dollars were legal.

of the first things I did when I started this in Asheville was go to
the police and tell them what I was doing,” he said then.

NotHaus created his organization in Evansville, Ind., in 1998, and
developed the Liberty Dollar. He touted the silver medallions as an
inflation-proof alternative to official currency.

The indictment alleges the corporation's purpose was to limit reliance on and compete with U.S. currency.

held the title of North Carolina regional currency officer and was one
of three members of the group's executive committee, the indictment

A 2007 affidavit said more than 70 businesses in the Asheville area agreed to accept the Liberty Dollar.

understand that there is only one legal currency in the United States,”
said Owen Harris, special agent in charge of the Charlotte office of
the FBI. “When groups try to replace the U.S. dollar with coins and
bills that don't hold the same value, it affects the economy.

“Consumers were using their hard-earned money to buy goods and services, then getting fake change in return.”

arrests are the latest development in an investigation under way since
at least 2004. Federal agents raided the company's headquarters in 2007
and seized documents and precious metals. A private mint in Coeur
d'Alene, Idaho, that produced the coins was raided the same day.

NotHaus' organization said in 2006 that more than $20 million worth of
Liberty Dollar coins and notes were in circulation. Congress has
exclusive power to coin money in the U.S. and to regulate its value,
according to the Treasury Department.

--end --

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Friday, June 5, 2009

Climate Talk- Monday 7 PM, free, Diana Wortham Theatre

 The lineup for the free event on Monday, June 8 at 7 p.m. in the Diana Wortham Theatre includes presentations by:
  1. Greg Wilson, Director of Asheville Operations - Scientific Research Corporation
  2. Ben Teague, Sr. VP for Economic Development - Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce/Economic Development Coalition
  3. John Bates, Chief, Remote Sensing Applications Division - NOAA's NCDC
  4. Ron Birk, Director, Civil Space Mission Integration - Northrop Grumman Space Technology

The presentations will be followed by a panel discussion and Q&A from the audience. A “meet the presenters” reception will be held immediately afterwards in the Colburn.

These talks are being presented by the Colburn Earth Science Museum and the Asheville Chapter of the American Meteorological Society.
The Colburn Museum is having problems with their website today, so I'm posting this.
Click Here to Read More..

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Bonnaroo, Newport Folk Festival or neither?

In 2005, when my VW van was still running, I treated myself to Bonnaroo AND the Newport, RI Folk Festival. Here's my thoughts...
- What was great about Bonnaroo was- well, not much. The price seemed high ($270 minimum at this point), and while
• the lineup was stellar (Iron & Wine, Donna the Buffalo, Alison Krause, Herbie Hancock w/ a surprise appearance by John Mayer, John Prine & many bands who I'd kinda heard of but didn't quite know- Dave Matthews, Rilo Kiley. And many more), that turned out to be a weakness. Did you want to hear Prine OR Krause? With seven stages, one was forced to choose.
• They searched religiously to make sure folks didn't bring in outside liquids-- there was free bad-tasting water, or beverages in the hot sun for $4 or some such.
• The audience was rude and unappreciative. I didn't know there was such a thing as Drunken Southern Fratboys (and the women who mysteriously tolerate them) til I went there. Folks, having paid hundreds of dollars for the privilege of listening to Alison Kraus, sat around and talked with each other. They could have done this in their back yard for free!!
The admission DID cover parking, which WAS camping, toilets (but not showers), the ability to walkdown Shakedown Street (my first time, and an adventure) and the right to have cops tell you to walk in the mud and not on the grass.
I hated it.

In contrast, the Newport Folk Festival was well-behaved and there were only three stages-- two small, one big.
The price was cheaper, but didn't cover camping or parking ($12/day). There was a kids area, which I think there wasn't at Bonnaroo. The lineup was also stellar, but more focused on what I like (the kind of Americana that WNCW plays), and I had strong sense of the history that I was entering into-- many folks there were active singing AND speaking out in the early sixties, and there were at least THREE next generation acts-- Peter Seeger and his grandson Tao's band, Peter Yarrow and daughter Stephanie (I think), and Richard Thompson and son Teddie. I discovered a whole slew of artists, some of whom I only comprehended later as time went by.
(Oddly enough, on the way home from there, I discovered & stopped in at the Purple Fiddle in West Virginia, and heard this unknown group that the venue owner totally vouched for. Since then, the Avett Brothers are taking the world by storm.)
(I suppose I could hyperlink the heck out of this entry, but you can quickly get to respective  web pages quickly enough).

So.... Bonnaroo, Newport Folk Festival, or neither? This year--  probably neither.

I'll probably just get my live music at the Grey Eagle.
Click Here to Read More..

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Well Stated Piece on Urban Chickens

Yes To Urban Chickens

By Gordon Smith

chicken-logo_centeredEggs are my favorite food. Versatile, delicious, and elegant, the humble egg is sold on store shelves for anywhere from $1.30 to $4 a dozen depending on whether you like your hens cage free and hormone free. I do. If you’ve ever tasted a farm fresh egg, you know that it’s superior to store bought. There are a lot of Asheville’s citizens who love their eggs, too, so much that they want to keep chickens in their urban yards. My own living situtation doesn’t allow for much in the way of urban agriculture, but I love being able to support those who are making it happen.

Urban agriculture saves practitioners money. Whether it’s your bountiful garden, your beehive, or your chickens - choosing to raise one’s own food is a simple, effective way to live less expensively and more sustainably. It increases a municipality’s food security, and it teaches self-reliance to neighbors.

More at

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

new test page

this is the second try

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Local Currency thoughts

Someone asked what I had learned about local/alternative currency during the Asheville Currency Project in 2005.

Two answers:
A- As best my quickskim of Bill's link above seems to say that between 1863 and 1912, a bank could apply for a National Charter. If it got it, then it could print money. No idea what the qualifications, checks & balances were for this.
I wish had taken Econ 215 at UNCA [A study of commercial banking, the Federal Reserve System, the United States
Treasury, how money influences the economy, demand for money and monetary policy.
Prerequisite: ECON 101. Fall.] Maybe I should this fall.
B- When I was at the PLENTY annual meeting in Chapel Hill in Nov. 2005, it was held at the UNC-CH Currency Collection

I couldn't pull off getting the Curator, whose salary at that time included him the opportunity (and obligation?) to ....
lecture at various places in North Carolina about the collection, among other topics.
But we should bring him to Asheville.

And we should think about raising funds-- equal to, say, 0.5% of the CVB budget of 4.3 million-- this would be $20,000, to fund research into such an effort.
Click Here to Read More..

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

If everyone told you to give up, would you?

If everyone told you to give up, would you?

The fourteen-acre community garden at 41st and Alameda in South Central Los Angeles is the largest of its kind in the United States. Started as a form of healing after the devastating L.A. riots in 1992, the South Central Farmers have since created a miracle in one of the country’s most blighted neighborhoods. Growing their own food. Feeding their families. Creating a community.

But now, bulldozers are poised to level their 14-acre oasis.

If everyone told you nothing more could be done, would you give up?

A new documentary, The Garden, follows the plight of the farmers, from the tilled soil of this urban farm to the polished marble of City Hall. Mostly immigrants from Latin America, from countries where they feared for their lives if they were to speak out, we watch them organize, fight back, and demand answers:

Why was the land sold to a wealthy developer for millions less than fair-market value? Why was the transaction done in a closed-door session of the LA City Council? Why has it never been made public?

And the powers-that-be have the same response: “The garden is wonderful, but there is nothing more we can do.”

If everyone told you nothing more could be done, would you give up?
* * *

The Garden has the pulse of verité with the narrative pull of fiction, telling the story of the country’s largest urban farm, backroom deals, land developers, green politics, money, poverty, power, and racial discord. The film explores and exposes the fault lines in American society and raises crucial and challenging questions about liberty, equality, and justice for the poorest and most vulnerable among us.
Click Here to Read More..

Monday, March 30, 2009

Transition Town Resources

Transition Town Resources
(much more info after link below)

Jim Barton
Smith Mill Creek School
PO Box 6821
West Asheville, NC 28816

Useful Transition Town (or Movement) websites
THE BOOK The Transition Handbook, by Rob Hopkins (~$25)
(at the West Asheville Library, Malaprops, or Firestorm Books)
& Transition Timeline, by Shaun Chamberlin & Rob Hopkins ($23, 5/9/09)
Twelve Steps of Transition

#1. Set up a steering group and design its demise from the outset
#2. Awareness raising
#3. Lay the foundations
#4. Organise a Great Unleashing
#5. Form sub groups
#6. Use Open Space
#7 Develop visible practical manifestations of the project
#8. Facilitate the Great Reskilling
#9 Build a bridge to Local Government
#10 Honour the elders
#11 Let it go where it wants to go…
#12 Create an Energy Descent Action Plan (EDAP)

US Towns (140 worldwide)
* Boulder, CO, USA
* Sandpoint, ID, USA
* Cotati, CA, USA
* Ketchum, ID, USA
* Lyons, CO USA
* Santa Cruz, CA, USA
* Montpelier, VT, USA
* Portland, ME, USA
* Sebastopol, CA, USA
* Laguna Beach, CA, USA
* Pine Mountain, CA, USA
* Ashland, OR, USA
* Berea, KY, USA
* Pima, AZ, USA
* Los Angeles, CA, USA
* Denver, CO, USA
* Whatcom, WA, USA
* Mount Shasta, CA, USA
* NE Seattle, WA, USA
* Louisville, CO, USA
* Newburyport, MA, USA

Click Here to Read More..

Monday, March 23, 2009

Review: The Greening of Southie

I wanted to alert folks to what might be the only entertaining film on LEED.

The film The Greening of Southie
is available for purchase for $3 from the itunes store (cheaper than most video rentals),
and for purchase at various prices at $25/$100. It covers the building of Boston's first LEED residential building from bare ground to opening day, and humanizes the story by focusing on a few characters & and building crises.

It also acts as training film on LEED as the filmmakers bring the LEED rating chart to life, point by point.

And it talks about class-- South Boston was notorious for being a outsider-unfriendly, conservative place (themes explored in Good Will Hunting and Mystic River) and the last place a green building would go. The film is honest about the fact that the well-paid union laborers can't afford the condos that start at $400,000 and wonders if the neighborhood Irish pub, The Quiet Man, would survive gentrification (it didn't).

The filmmakers also made the excellent King Corn (available at Orbit DVD), which is a better film, and more hilarious.

The filmmakers have a grant to show the film at union halls around the country next month, and details on that are available on their website.
Click Here to Read More..

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Interested in the Transition Town movement from a US perspective?

You can learn more from
THE BOOK The Transition Handbook, by Rob Hopkins (~$25)

--Nothing more below--

Click Here to Read More..

Sunday, March 8, 2009

New Green Building Documentary: The Greening of Southie

The Greening of Southie
is a new film from the makers of the excellent King Corn,
which deals with the building of a green building
The MacAllen Building ( ),
"Boston's first green residential building", slotted to be rated LEED Gold,
in South Boston. (Which makes it a cultural contrast with Garbage Warrior
( )

During the week of Earth Day (always April 22nd, every year), the filmmakers are encouraging the showing of this film at union halls.

The website has...
- a trailer &
- much background info
- flash construction, which makes it impossible to link to anything but the website itself (aargh!)
Click Here to Read More..

Saturday, March 7, 2009

new books on Thoreau and by Goleman

Two infoblurbs on new books on Thoreau and by Goleman.
I sent this info to Asheville indy bookseller Malaprops. I wonder if they'll have them the week they are published.
The Thoreau You Don't Know: What the Prophet of Environmentalism Really Meant, by Robert Sullivan
Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything, by Daniel Goleman


The Thoreau You Don't Know: What the Prophet of Environmentalism Really Meant (Hardcover)
by Robert Sullivan (Author)
By Wendi Sitara (North Jersey & Indiana) - See all my reviews
I am someone who knows even less about Thoreau than this book is written for. I didn't read "Walden" or "Civil Disobedience" in high school. I did, however, see "Dead Poets Society" so I know he was a so-called Romantic. I've heard that he was a virgin, and that he lived in nature at a pond for awhile. That's all I know.

So, this book was a complete introduction to Thoreau for me. And I say this is a great book, especially during our time, in 2009. Thoreau's time was one of great change. His relatives participated in the events of the Revolutionary war, and from that vantage point, he was living in a "mature" America was was changing. When he was a boy, he lived in a town where people would take long horse drawn journey and stop in taverns and inns in Concord. After college, the the railroad came. People were changing from an artesian culture to a mass produced factory one, where people's jobs and skills were being outsourced. Thoreau spent most of his young adult hood trying to scrape by during a major Depression caused by bank failure and get my point. Interesting how history repeats itself.

For people that maybe do know Thoreau, did you know that he ran a pencil factory? That he got by on being a land surveyor? And a teacher? And an aupair for his friend and neighbor Emerson? And what was he really saying? To be involved in your community, to see the details of nature as they are in relation to the people that shape them (New England is perhaps more "natural" ie wooded now than it was in his time, when most of the land was cleared for farming) and to live a nondistracted life.

Thoreau was a hard working guy. He built fences. He built his cabin out at Walden. He was a great gardner. He could shovel manure with the best of them and get something out of it. He wasn't just a Romantic who liked to run his mouth and write poetry and be an unsociable hermit.

Anyway, this is definetely a readable, interesting book that is both about Thoreau and about a slice of American history that I didn't know too much about. I am so glad I picked it up. By the way, my next book on my list, of course, is Walden.
Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything (Hardcover)
by Daniel Goleman (Author)

Editorial Reviews
"Ecological Intelligence is a fascinating whodunit revealing the intricate processes that create our material world. Written by the acknowledged master on how to be a truly intelligent human being, Goleman reveals the complex web of impacts everyday products have upon people and habitat and how a new form of intelligence can radically alter consumption patterns from destructive to constructive."
-- Paul Hawken, Author of the Ecology of Commerce and Blessed Unrest

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--Peter Senge, Director of the Center for Organizational Learning at the MIT Sloan School of Management and author of The Fifth Discipline, The Dance of Change, Presence, and The Necessary Revolution

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--Howard Gardner, author and Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education

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--Michio Kaku, Professor of Theoretical Physics, author of Physics of the Impossible and Parallel Worlds

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--John Perkins, bestselling author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

Product Description

The bestselling author of Emotional Intelligence and Primal Leadership now brings us Ecological Intelligence—revealing the hidden environmental consequences of what we make and buy, and how with that knowledge we can drive the essential changes we all must make to save our planet and ourselves.

We buy “herbal” shampoos that contain industrial chemicals that can threaten our health or contaminate the environment. We dive down to see coral reefs, not realizing that an ingredient in our sunscreen feeds a virus that kills the reef. We wear organic cotton t-shirts, but don’t know that its dyes may put factory workers at risk for leukemia. In Ecological Intelligence, Daniel Goleman reveals why so many of the products that are labeled green are a “mirage,” and illuminates our wild inconsistencies in response to the ecological crisis.

Drawing on cutting-edge research, Goleman explains why we as shoppers are in the dark over the hidden impacts of the goods and services we make and consume, victims of a blackout of information about the detrimental effects of producing, shipping, packaging, distributing, and discarding the goods we buy.

But the balance of power is about to shift from seller to buyer, as a new generation of technologies informs us of the ecological facts about products at the point of purchase. This “radical transparency” will enable consumers to make smarter purchasing decisions, and will drive companies to rethink and reform their businesses, ushering in, Goleman claims, a new age of competitive advantage.

See all Editorial Reviews
Product Details

* Hardcover: 288 pages
* Publisher: Broadway Business (April 21, 2009)
* Language: English
* ISBN-10: 0385527829
* ISBN-13: 978-0385527828
* Shipping Information: View shipping rates and policies
* Sales Rank: #117,735 in Books (See Bestsellers in Books)

Popular in this category: (What's this?)
#88 in Books > Science > Nature & Ecology > Natural Resources

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Friday, March 6, 2009

How deep is the Great Recession? Check this out

Nothing more to say, nothing after the link.

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Asheville has it all

I wonder if they rent in two hour increments?
(Nothing more after jump)

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Hard Rains, Weak Umbrellas

I have a queasy feeling after the NSOTU (not the state of the union speech, as folks on twitter call it).

Barack Obama is vastly more qualified than anyone I've seen on the political scene, and I know I'm not alone in saying that.

He's a strong liberal-- who opposed the Iraq War when it took courage to do so, who verifies conservative truths when appropriate. I shudder to think what we'd be going through if we had President Clinton or Pelosi, or god forbid, McCain or Huckabee.

But my sense is that we needed to have a recession in 2001 after the tech bubble-- the one that put me and so many other Silicon Valley workers out of a job.

I didn't think that then. After I drove home from work each night to news of yet another decrease in the interest rate by the Federal Reserve, I cheered-- I was that much less likely to be laid off by a company that was clearly headed out of business. Better to be laid off later than sooner: something would come up.

But now I see, or rather believe-- because who among us can know what is going on with certainty in the economy-- that by putting off a stronger recession than we experienced, we guaranteed that when it did come, it would just be stronger.

The low interest rates stimulated housing price rises, which gave people the opportunity to borrow off the increased value of their homes. Which kept the economy going. But I can't help believe that we all knew somehow in our guts that we were living on borrowed time.

Bullshit was all around us. An essay I read recently, I think by Paul Rogat Loeb, speaks of the tragedy of the lies that we expect
and thus no longer enrage us- the phony surveys by large corporations that are really sales pitches, the recording that plays while we are on hold that tells us we are valued, valued , valued, valued customers.

My sense is that any stimulus borrowing that does not build natural capital, or reduce it's reduction, will just lead to an economic collapse later that is all the more severe.

How bad can it get? When record drought is all around, when the ice caps melt, when forests die because of beetle infestations, when record heat waves lead to blackouts and nuclear plant shutdowns, when petroleum is more expensive, well.......

it could get worse than it is.

And right now, it's worse than it's been in a long time; and we're only a third or halfway through. And as the stress hit the economy, more stores, clubs, institutions may collapse, thus stress-testing nearby institutions and populations, which may then themselves collapse.

It could be a hard rain that falls.
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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Remembering the East End

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Thursday, February 12, 2009


One of the cheesy advertisements that continually appears on the freebie internet services reflects this. It is a (useless) outfit that wants to glean and refer people for online degrees from various sources. It has a dozen icons for you to choose among and click. Want to move up in the world?

How do I become a: medical billing specialist, social worker, criminal investigator, health care manager, graphic designer, project manager, public relations specialist, counselor, author, accountant…? Glance over this list once again and recall the last time you had need of the services of any of them.

If we based such solicitations on what we consumed rather than how we hoped to idle away our lives, the list would read: How can I become involved in: supplying cloth, growing food, supplying fuel, making tools, making shoes, supplying dish washing detergent, milling lumber, etc.

(Exceprt from the website link in title)
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Friday, February 6, 2009


We are thrilled to announce that Asheville will be joining over 175 cities worldwide hosting Twestivals to raise awareness and money for charity: water!

charity: water is a non profit organization bringing clean, safe drinking water to people in developing nations by funding sustainable clean water solutions in areas of greatest need. Right now, 1.1 billion people on the planet don’t have access to clean drinking water. That’s one in six of us.

Twestivals are organized 100% by volunteers and 100% of the money raised will go directly to support charity: water projects.

Check back soon for updates. For more information please email us at avltwestivalgmailcom or follow us on Twitter.
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Sunday, February 1, 2009

Root Shock in Asheville: A Weekend of Events

Root Shock in Asheville: Urban Renewal Hits Home
A Weekend of Event, Exhibits and Conversations

The "Twilight of a Neighborhood" project documenting the history of Asheville's East End community, continutes with a weekend of events in February.

Friday, February 27 at 7:00 PM
The Humanities Lecture Hall, UNC Asheville
*Dr. Mindy Thompson Fullilove
Book sale/signing & Reception to follow.......

Saturday, February 28 from 2-4:00 PM
Holly Library, A-B Technical Community College
*EXHIBIT: Twilight of a Neighborhood: Asheville's East End, 1970
*Opening & Reception for Andrea Clark

Saturday, February 28 at 7:00 PM
Diana Wortham Theatre -- Pack Place
*Conversations with Community Elders/YMI Reception for Drs. Mindy T. & Robert E. Fullilove*
Diana Wortham Theatre -- Pack Place

Sunday, Mar. 1 from 2:30-4:00 PM
Ferguson Auditorium, A-B Technical College
*PUBLIC FORUM: ROOT SHOCK Today & What We Can Do About It
*Moderated discussion by a distinguished panel, including Dr. Mindy Fullilove

/Event sponsors: Buncombe County Public Libraries, UNC Asheville, The Center for Diversity Education, The Stephens-Lee Alumni Association, The YMI Cultural Center, The Urban News, Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, and the NC Humanities Council, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Arts/
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Monday, January 26, 2009

Hard Times Come Again No More

Many of us worried now

from a NY Times article at
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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Swearing in or swearing at

It was hard for me, listening to one of the most crucial interchanges of the last eight years of this century-- the swearing in of Barack Obama,
not to think that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was trying to mess up Barack Obama, by interrupting him, and then feeding him phrases that were difficult to repeat back under stress.

Actually, I heard on NPR today, that the US Constitution specifies the exact words that need to be said by the president. Barack had them memorized; the Chief Justice tried to recite them from memory and messed up.

Obama paused to give the justice an opportunity to correct his mistake.

Somehow it seemed a metaphor for the notion of a competent, fair Supreme Court-- one that was neither.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Steve Colbert interviews Niall Ferguson

A few weeks ago, I bought Niall Ferguson's Ascent of Money (a global history of money)
after hearing a good interview with him on NPR.

YOu can watch the program in full at
-- end of post--

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A Primer on Finance

Part One

Part Two

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Arne Næss, Deep Ecology philosopher, born 1912; died 2009

Arne Næss, who has died aged 96, was Norway's best-known philosopher, whose concept of deep ecology enriched and divided the environmental movement. A keen mountaineer, for a quarter of his life he lived in an isolated hut high in the Hallingskarvet mountains in southern Norway.

Arne Næss

Arne Næss, who has died aged 96, was Norway's best-known philosopher, whose concept of deep ecology enriched and divided the environmental movement. A keen mountaineer, for a quarter of his life he lived in an isolated hut high in the Hallingskarvet mountains in southern Norway.

Through his books and lectures in many countries, Næss taught that ecology should not be concerned with man's place in nature but with every part of nature on an equal basis, because the natural order has intrinsic value that transcends human values. Indeed, humans could only attain "realisation of the Self" as part of an entire ecosphere. He urged the green movement to "not only protect the planet for the sake of humans, but also, for the sake of the planet itself, to keep ecosystems healthy for their own sake".

Shallow ecology, he believed, meant thinking the big ecological problems could be resolved within an industrial, capitalist society. Deep meant asking deeper questions and understanding that society itself has caused the Earth-threatening ecological crisis. His concept, grounded in the teachings of Spinoza, Gandhi and Buddha, entered the mainstream green movement in the 1980s and was later elaborated by George Sessions in Deep Ecology for the Twenty-first Century (1995).

Deep ecology teaches that belief in an objective comprehension of nature is belief in a flat world seen from above, without depth, and that such cool, disembodied detachment is an illusion, and a primary cause of our destructive relation to the land.

Næss was also an activist, inspired by Rachel Carson's 1962 book Silent Spring. In 1970, together with a large number of demonstrators, he chained himself to rocks in front of Mardalsfossen, a waterfall in a Norwegian fjord, and refused to descend until plans to build a dam were dropped. The demonstrators were carried away by police but the action was a success. He was the first chairman of Greenpeace Norway when it was founded in 1988 and was also a Green party candidate.

As a mountaineer, Næss led the first expedition to conquer the 7,708m (25,289ft) Tirich Mir, in Pakistan, in 1950. He led a second Norwegian expedition up the mountain in 1964. Mountains were at the centre of his vision and he often asked audiences to practise the Taoist injuction to "listen with the third ear" and "think like a mountain".

In its first form his philosophy was known as ecosophy T - the T standing for the Tvergastein mountain hut where he lived and worked. It was as a teenager on a mountain that Næss met a Norwegian judge who advised him to read Spinoza, the 17th-century Jewish philosopher who taught that God is present throughout nature.

Born in Oslo, Næss earned his doctorate at the city's university and, at the age of 27, became its youngest professor. He continued to teach until 1970. Over the years he published more than 30 books as well as numerous essays and articles.

He faced controversy when deep ecology was attacked as "eco-la-la" by Murray Bookchin, who had founded the social ecology movement in Vermont, US. Bookchin claimed the philosophy came mainly from white, male academics and their students, and that its concerns were akin to New Age occultism, with undertones of paganism, and redolent of quasi-fascist Aryan movements.

Næss did not feel the need to confront the social ecologists, but his movement faced embarrassment at the other extreme when activists of Earth First used its concepts to justify violent action, green Luddism, and a campaign to enforce sterilisation and end food aid to developing nations.

Næss countered that his movement for widening compassion towards non-humans did not imply diminishing compassion towards humans. "We don't say that every living being has the same value as a human, but that it has an intrinsic value which is not quantifiable. It is not equal or unequal. It has a right to live and blossom. I may kill a mosquito if it is on the face of my baby but I will never say I have a higher right to life than a mosquito."

His closest friend in Britain, Stephan Harding, the head of holistic science at Schumacher college, in Dartington, Devon, where Næss conducted courses, said Næss was horrified by suggestions of enforced sterilisation and that droughts and famines were good. Harding argued that Næss accepted that "since we are humans, we have to put humans first. He was against violence."

Næss never managed to translate his awareness of overpopulation into a scheme of practical action. He maintained that a world population of 100 million - roughly a 60th of the present figure - would be compatible with quality of life, but 11 or 12 billion - the level predicted for the end of the next century - would not. He said: "I am, to the astonishment of certain journalists, an optimist. But then, I add, I am an optimist about the 22nd century. And they say, 'Oh, you mean the 21st ...' 'No, the 22nd century.' I think that in the 21st century, we have to go through very bad times and it will hurt even rich countries ... So, I am a short-range pessimist, long-range optimist."

Næss was appreciated, even in old age, for his exuberant, frolicsome manner, which reminded people of Gandhi or the Dalai Lama. He believed awareness of deep ecology was present in us all, especially in childhood, when a butterfly could be regarded as a brother or sister. Like Wordsworth, he lamented the attenuation of such awareness in later life through loss of contact with animals, plants and significant places.

He was knighted by King Harald in 2005 and made a commander with star of the Royal Norwegian order of St Olav First Class.

His nephew was the mountaineer and businessman Arne Næss Jr, the husband of Diana Ross, who was killed in a climbing accident in South Africa in 2004.

Næss was married twice, first to Else, with whom he had two children. She predeceased him. He later married Kit Fai, a Chinese student four decades his junior, whom he met when he was 61. She survives him, along with his children.

• Arne Dekke Eide Næss, philosopher, born 27 January 1912; died 12 January 2009

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

One Citizen's Look at the Proposed Downtown Plan

The following is written by a former Mountain Xpress reporter.
-- Jim


By Steve Rasmussen
Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009

It happened just as the cynics predicted. Asheville's Downtown Master Plan started out with great ideas for preserving a livable downtown as we grow, shaped over the summer by enthusiastic and thoughtful public input. Then it disappeared underground over the winter -- and into the non-public meetings of a dozen or so members of an advisory committee dominated by developers and their advocates.

Sure enough, the draft plan that has re-emerged -- just in time to be presented this Thursday evening to the public and City Council, who'll be urged by committee members to adopt it whole, "without any tinkering" -- is effectively gutted. Yes, it does contain some wonderful and visionary ideas for our future. But most of the teeth needed to enforce them have been pulled.

Participants in last summer's meetings were told over and over by the Goody Clancy consultants that strong design requirements were the key to maintaining our downtown's livable, human-scale quality of life; that if we had enforceable guidelines, we wouldn't need the "political" City Council hearings that generate so much heat and rancor; and above all, that we don't need to pander to developers, because our city is so desirable that we the citizenry can set a high bar for developers to meet.

It now appears that was mostly just high-gloss talk. Over and over again, the draft plan and the consultants' responses to developer objections show "requirements" being diluted into "recommendations"; enforceability being sacrificed together with Council review; and a hasty retreat being beat from almost every proposed requirement developers considered too "restrictive."

Here's a summary of problems I've discovered in the DMP draft, followed by a more detailed discussion of each. I'm disseminating this report to a wide variety of people -- preservationists, activists, officials, media, et al. (please forward at will!) -- and we're only being allowed one more shot at this, so I recommend you zero in on the particular problem or issue that matters most to you (whether one of the following, or one you've found on your own), attend the Thursday meeting (7 to 9 pm at the Civic Center), and vocally raise your pointed question or objection during the brief period the public will be given for comment. After the meeting, we'll have three weeks to submit written comments to Goody Clancy, the consultants whom we're paying $170,000 to create this plan. You may wish to CC your comments to City Council, who will be voting on the final plan March 10.

Please note: I'm intentionally focusing on the negatives here. There are a great many positive points in the draft plan, too -- but you'll hear all about those on Thursday. You probably won't hear about the following problems unless we bring them up. And the questionable changes the plan recommends in the development-review process are likely to be adopted very quickly if we don't speak out.

You can download a copy of the draft plan at It's in two parts, the Draft and the Appendix.

What you can't download -- because it wasn't meant to be released to the public -- is another document I'll be citing: "Asheville Downtown Master Plan planning team response to Advisory Committee comments on Downtown Master Plan Preliminary Draft 2 dated 1 October 2008 In Draft Downtown Master Plan dated 2 January 2009." Let's call that "Planning Team Response" for short.



*1* HEIGHT RESTRICTIONS would be placed on new buildings in Asheville's downtown core -- except for certain favored developments, including Tony Fraga's.

*2* Our cumbersome, controversial DEVELOPMENT-REVIEW PROCESS would be streamlined -- but, at developers' insistence, the power to approve large buildings would be mostly taken out of the hands of our elected City Council members and transferred to the non-elected Planning and Zoning board. Council's role would be further reduced by eliminating the current Conditional Use Permit process.

*3* The "MANDATORY REVIEW, VOLUNTARY COMPLIANCE" design-review flaw -- which has allowed developers of buildings such as Staples to get approval for one plan and then build a different one, and which was the impetus in the first place for the Downtown Commission to seek a new Downtown Master Plan -- remains unchanged. Review would still be mandatory ... and compliance would still be voluntary.

*4* The one mechanism that state law provides cities such as Asheville to enforce mandatory compliance -- LOCAL HISTORIC DISTRICTS -- is cursorily dismissed without any examination or analysis, apparently because developers feel it's too restrictive. Instead, preservation of our historic downtown buildings would be, not enforced, but merely encouraged -- largely by selling off the buildings' "air rights" to new developments next door.

*5* Remember how eloquent the Goody Clancy planners waxed last summer about requiring tall buildings to be slender instead of massive so they wouldn't CAST SHADOWS on nearby neighbors and streets? Remember their inspiring proposals and maps about mandating preservation of the VIEW CORRIDORS to the mountains that help make downtown Asheville such a pleasant place to live? All that is now tossed out the window as "unnecessary restriction."

*6* In the long term, development decisions for city-owned land would be delegated to a non-elected entity, the ADD (ASHEVILLE DOWNTOWN DISTRICT), that would start innocuously small by handling matters like graffiti cleanup and marketing downtown. But it's intended to morph eventually into a mammoth centralized bureaucracy for buying and selling city land, development rights, etc.




The maximum height allowable would be "265 feet (27 stories)... (similar to the Ellington and Battery Park proposals)" (DMP Draft, p.56). Mostly this height would be allowed only in the lower-elevation areas that citizens generally agreed were appropriate for tall buildings, along with some "gateway" areas such as the Patton Ave. entrance to downtown. The downtown core would be limited to 145 feet (15 stories), "the intermediate height threshold defined by the community’s favorite 1920s structures: the Jackson, Battery Park Hotel, County building and City Hall." (ibid.)

So far, that looks very much like what the community told the planners it wanted last summer -- keep the big skyscrapers out of our downtown center, and put them on the South Slope and other less sensitive areas.

But wait -- what's this in the Appendix?

"Building height and density:
"[A] Substantial height and density are a traditional
hallmark of downtown streets and should
continue to be encouraged to support property
value, intensity of activity and urban design
"[B] The intermediate 145’ height threshold applies
to much of the district to reinforce the
prevailing scale of tall traditional buildings like
the Jackson Building, and to reduce shadow
impacts on narrow streets.
"[C] The taller 265’ height threshold applies to
Battery Hill and previously redeveloped area
between Woodfin, and College, and Spruce,
to bring additional value and activity to these
areas and augment the skyline at high points
in downtown."
(DMP Appendix, pg. S3-4)

"Substantial height and density" may be hallmarks in Atlanta or Boston -- but the whole point of the big-building issue is that this is Asheville. This statement in the Appendix completely contradicts the Draft.

Why the exceptions for "Battery Hill" and the area between "Woodfin and College and Spruce"? A reference in the Draft, pg. 21, makes it clear that "Battery Hill" refers to Haywood Park -- Tony Fraga's giant skyscraper that City Council has rejected as way out of scale with the area. How did Fraga get special treatment from Goody-Clancy? Is this the "bad old way" of making special deals with powerful insiders?

This deference to a well-connected developer sets the tone for all the other problematic areas in the DMP.

As for Woodfin and College and Spruce, I'm not sure who's planning what enormous building there -- but it's uncomfortably close to the County Courthouse and City Hall. Despite the ad-agency language about "additional value" and "augment[ing] the skyline," allowing a Haywood Park-size building there would dwarf these signature downtown buildings and contradict the Draft's claimed intent of preserving Asheville's character.


The UDO divides development proposals according to their size into Levels I, II and III. Levels I and II are currently subject to final approval by the Technical Review Committee, which is composed of city staff representatives. Level III -- building projects of 100,000 square feet or larger -- are subject to final approval by City Council.

No one likes this arrangement. The public doesn't like the way TRC seems to rubber-stamp large, controversial buildings such as Parkside or Haywood Park, with TRC staffers claiming that their hands are tied by their narrow mandate to look only at their particular technical piece of the elephant -- fire safety, traffic, etc. When the developer of Parkside, for example, saw that he was not going to win approval from City Council, he dropped just enough square footage from his design to shift it from Level III to Level II, and the TRC approved it.

Developers, on the other hand, don't like having their proposals routinely OK'd all the way through the process till they get to City Council, where they can be scotched by a loud enough public outcry.

The subject reportedly raised a great deal of ire at the Advisory Committee meetings. One member, a co-founder of the local pro-business lobby CIBO, reportedly stomped around the room, proclaiming that he would only support City Council's having final approval "if you can promise me no hippies, no artists, no activists, no mamas with babies on their hips will get up at City Council and stop developments" that are already approved at lower levels.

So Goody-Clancy's plan considerably reduces the amount of say City Council will have. Although the DMP would have Council retain final approval for Level III proposals, the threshold for Level III would be raised considerably, from 100,000 to 175,000 square feet.

That means elected officials accountable to the public would have final say over far fewer proposals.

The much-expanded Level II would, under the plan, be subject to final approval by the Planning and Zoning board instead of TRC. Currently, P&Z is allowed to examine larger, non-technical issues such as building scale and appropriateness (indeed, it was the first body in the review process to fail to approve Parkside), but its rulings are only advisory to City Council. Under the DMP proposal, however, its authority would be enormously expanded.

But P&Z members are appointed, not elected -- and therefore insulated from public accountability. Appointments to the 7-member P&Z board have always been the subject of intense lobbying of City Council by the development community. How much more intense will the lobbying become when P&Z is given final say over most large developments?

The DMP says nothing about the makeup of this much-more-powerful P&Z -- the word is that won't be discussed till just before the plan goes to City Council. I'm sure it's safe to predict that the rationale for stocking the board with members of the development industry rather than representatives of the larger public will be the same it's always been -- developers have the "expertise" to judge projects by their fellow developers. Government watchdogs have another name for this classic rationale -- the "revolving door," or, "you scratch my back now, I'll scratch yours when I'm on the board."

In response to developer demands for eliminating City Council approval, the Goody Clancy consultants also noted in the PTR (ref. no. 9): "Limited use of the Conditional Use Permit process will also reduce city council role and permit more structured review process." The new plan would make Level III approval subject to conditional-use permits only when conditional land uses actually apply -- which at first seems sensible, but here is what this means: Currently, whenever a Level III proposal goes to City Council for final review, Council is required by the UDO to handle it as a "conditional use," even if there are no actual special conditions involved. This compels Council to hold the review hearing as a "quasi-judicial hearing" -- as if they were judges in a court case. Like judges, they are banned from receiving information about the proposal before the hearing. Council members complain that this process prevents them from learning any more about a proposal than they are told at the hearing.

But as bizarre as it may seem to hold conditional-use hearings when there are no conditional uses, this does have the political advantage of shielding City Council from lobbying by either side before the review hearing. Before we junk this peculiar way of doing things, shouldn't we find out if there was a good reason for instituting it?

It may be that this process was instituted because it is the only legal way to deny approval of a project based on design standards -- the Seven Conditional Use Standards outlined in the UDO, Sec. 7-16-2 part (c). Wouldn't it have been wise for the consultants to investigate whether this or soemthing similar is the case before recommending its dismantling?


At the Advisory Committee meeting I crashed last Monday morning, Downtown Commission chair Pat Whalen acknowledged that the draft plan still does not mandate compliance with design standards, which the Downtown Commission and the general public had insisted last summer should be a key element of any new plan. Instead, the plan would introduce what he called a "carrot and stick": All Level II and Level III projects would be subject to design review by the Downtown Commission, as well as Planning and Zoining. If the DTC or P&Z denies approval, the developer could appeal to City Council.

I guess the "stick" here is the fear of those mamas with babies on their hips mobbing a City Council hearing. But that's not exactly guaranteed to make someone like Staples, Inc. shake in their wingtips.

The plan would give developers the right to appeal a denial at any level in the process to the next level up (DMP Draft, pg. 71). It seems that it would be much more of a stick -- and much more fair -- if the appeals went both ways. A group of affected citizens should, conversely, be able to appeal an approval to the next level up.

The Draft makes a big deal about instituting public input at each step of the design-review process -- without mentioning that the public already has the opportunity to comment at each step. The one innovation it does introduce is that developers of large projects would be required to meet and discuss their plans with the public before beginning the review process -- which the UDO currently encourages but does not require.

The reason there is no mandatory compliance in the plan is because downtown developers object to *4*.


At the last public meeting Goody Clancy held last summer, one of its consultants told me the draft would include a table showing a number of possible restructurings of the design-review process and their consequences. Included among these options would be the only one that would, under North Carolina law, allow for mandatory compliance: designating downtown as a Local Historic District, which would put final approval for design review in the hands of the Historic Resources Commission.

There is no such grid of options in this draft -- only the flat recommendation of expanding P&Z's authority, etc. as discussed in *2* above. Maybe $170,000 wasn't enough to buy us an options grid.

And instead of an objective investigation of how an LHD might or might not be advantageous, it is treated like an afterthought and then summarily dismissed: "In addition, explore the pros and cons of designating a local historic district. (Note that local historic district designation could excessively restrict the ongoing investment that downtown needs to thrive by establishing stringent restoration standards without adequate financial support to help meet them.) (DMP Draft, page 30-31)

The last statement is the viewpoint that was presented to the Advisory Committee by a single historic-preservation consultant who is employed by a downtown-development company. It is not the view of most local or state preservationists, and it is certainly not supported by the well-known study conducted by Dr. Pamela Nickless of UNCA in 1997 on "Economic Development and Historic Preservation" (summarized at Nickless -- whose study Goody Clancy was informed about, but apparently ignored -- demonstrated the enormous jump in investment in the Montford district after it was designated a local historic district.

The DMP draft simply recycles many developers' prejudices against local historic districts -- which restrict them from demolishing historic buildings at will, and compel them to make historically appropriate alterations to their buildings instead of whatever suits their whims or costs the least -- and marginalizes preservation by continuing to overlook the central role our historic buildings play in the character and desirability of downtown.

Worse, it encourages the development of massive buildings right next to historic properties by advocating the sale of the historic property's "air rights" (DMP Draft, page 31). Developers could dodge the DMP's proposed 20-foot side step-backs from adjacent buildings by buying the rights to the step-backs from the adjacent building's owners -- which would seem to defeat the DMP's own stated purpose of requiring side step-backs, which is to minimize shadows and the depressing "slab" effect of overcrowded buildings.

Finally, it seems imbalanced, at least, for the plan to dismiss Local Historic Districts on the one hand, and on the other hand to advocate: "Diversify the Asheville-Buncombe Historic Resources
Commission to include Asheville Downtown Commission members, design professionals (including urban designers), sympathetic developers, construction professionals, and members with similar backgrounds." (DMP Draft, page 32) What would be the point of this if the HRC is given no power to enforce downtown historic-design requirements?


This may be the clearest example of how readily Goody Clancy backed off from its "livable" and "human-scale" design-requirement proposals when these met resistance from developers.

The problem of massive new buildings overshadowing smaller existing ones was in the forefront of public concern twice last year: The Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods opposed the Horizons proposal's large condo tower at the old Deal property on Merrimon Ave. because it would have cast the residential neighborhoods next to it in continual shadow, interfering (among other concerns) with residents' solar-cell panels. And the Parkside condos would have cast a daily shadow over City Hall, as well as over City-County Plaza.

Preserving downtown residents' and visitors' views of the surrounding mountains from encroachment by massive buildings was also a frequently expressed concern. Again, Parkside highlighted this issue -- one of the Pack Square Conservancy's objections to the proposal was that it would block a traditionally admired view of the mountains from City-County Plaza.

The consultants told us we could prevent these problems by requiring tall buildings to be tapered, decreasing their mass as they rise (like the Jackson Building); by imposing restrictions on shadows; and by designating view corridors in which tall buildings would not be allowed.

Here's what happened to those ideas in the back room. (It may be mere coincidence that the owner of the Horizons/Deal property, Chris Peterson, is also the most outspoken developer on the Advisory Committee.)

In the Planning Team Response document, the consultants answer an objection -- perhaps from a non-developer on the committee -- that "More height regulation [is] needed" (ref. no. 26):

"We did not feel additional height controls were necessary compared to previous drafts, and have in fact removed some regulations that we feel imposed unnecessary restriction:

"[A] Removed requirement that building floor length gradually decrease (by 2' per floor) about 75'. This unnecessarily restricts upper floors; the 150' maximum will still ensure reasonable building size; we did not want to force tapered building forms that would be out of place with traditional sheer vertical buildings in downtown.
[Which 'sheer vertical buildings' are those -- the BB&T? The Wachovia?? -- S.R.]

"[B] Removed restrictions on new buildings casting shadows on private development parcels (restrictions on casting shadows on public parks remain). Further model study revealed that restricting shadows on private parcels dramatically crimps development envelope and forces tapered building forms out of character with downtown (precedent shadow ordinances we had invoked turned out to be geared to more suburban conditions). While removing these restrictions will impact private parcel access to direct sunlight, we feel this is a reasonable trade-off to maintain other important urban qualities and parcel value. Other sites out of downtown are better suited for solar power generation. The floorplate area and length restrictions and front step-backs that remain for taller buildings will help ensure that a reasonable amount of daylight and views remain among taller buildings.
[This strikes me as utterly arrogant, and contemptuous of the nearby residents whose access to sunlight would be "traded off" for "parcel value." -- S.R.]

"[C] New development is no longer restricted from designated public view corridors, but rather must provide photomontages illustrating how it would be compatible with important views. Curtailing development in view corridors would be overly restrictive, and lead to some very disproportionate impacts on certain parcels. Public review of clear before/after illustrations of the proposal will enable thoughtful accommodation of views and development through good architectural design and site planning."
[If you allow a tall building to jut up into a view corridor, it's hard to see how it will "thoughtfully accommodate" views for anyone except the residents of its penthouse. -- S.R.]


A good description of this is in David Forbes' Jan. 6 article in the Mountain Xpress, "Asheville Downtown Master Plan draft lays out potential future," at

Gordon Smith of Scrutiny Hooligans has aptly described this entity -- in the form the plan envisions it eventually taking as an all-powerful, independent controller of downtown -- as a "Petri dish for corruption." Huge amounts of money and power would be controlled by appointed -- not elected -- officials who would be subject to no effective oversight.

Asheville has experienced this sort of Soviet-style central planning before -- in the 1960s and 70s, when autocratic City Manager Weldon Weir and his successors demolished large parts of the city's downtown (including its African-American section at what's now South Charlotte Street) in the name of urban renewal. We don't need to delegate away what little power would remain with elected officials after the DMP strips City Council of its design-review function (see *2*, above).



In sum, the Downtown Master Plan, which began with such a breath-of-fresh-air flourish of public input and citizen control over Asheville's destiny, seems now to be degenerating into an undemocratic delegation of power into the hands of appointed, insulated boards that well-connected developers have plenty of experience in controlling. Although it is packed with excellent, far-sighted recommendations, these are made hollow by the plan's weak requirements.

The public needs to resist the inevitable rush to implement the plan's developer-friendly rule changes, and to avoid being swayed by arguments that "everyone has to compromise" and "we can't delay any longer." The fact is, Goody Clancy was right the first time -- we DON'T have to compromise our quality-of-life standards to suit the demands of a few developers who want to continue putting up ugly, oversized cubes.

Historic preservation and renovation -- not new development -- has been the driving force behind downtown Asheville's economic revival. This will prove even more true as the present recession deepens, since historic restoration is cheaper and greener and creates more local jobs than new development.

The organizers of the DMP process made one fundamental mistake in closing off the process to the public and moving it to a developer-dominated back room. They made another in repeatedly failing to provide a due proportion of seats at the table for the historic-preservation community.

It's not too late to reverse these mistakes. The DMP is still only a draft. The planners could:

* Make a concerted effort with preservationists to research and discuss Local Historic Districts, the one tool that can give us "mandatory review, mandatory compliance."

* Retain City Council review for all Level III projects over the old threshold, 100,000 feet.

* Investigate the consequences of dropping the Conditional Use Permit process.

* Consider how to diversify the membership of the Planning and Zoning board beyond the developer community, and how to insulate its appointments from special-interest lobbying.

* Restore the design requirements it has weakened.

* Fully include the public in all of its discussions and findings.

In its present form, however, this Downtown Master Plan should NOT be adopted by City Council.

-- Steve Rasmussen

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