Government Accountability Project Asheville

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YELLOW:

Things of concern, more information needed

Proposed bike trail adjacent to Asheville Middle School and Charles Street

In our 6/3/24 GAP Report, we raised questions about a plan from local developers to build a bike trail behind Asheville Middle School and Charles Street in the Southside neighborhood. The residents who live closest to the proposed path are opposed because of safety and gentrification concerns. The matter was discussed at the Asheville City School Board Work Session on Monday, June 3rd, because they must grant an easement for the bike path to be built. The issue will come up for a vote at the formal meeting of the Board on Monday, June 10th.

Our Ask

We encouraged the School Board to listen to the concerns of this community, and suggested that a different bike route could be planned in the area that didn’t put their homes at risk.

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REPORT BACK STATUS

Unresolved

Report Back

Update 6/6/24: At the work session, local residents were heard from first, all of whom asked the Board to reject the easement request. Then the Board heard from Mike Sule, the Executive Director of Asheville on Bikes and leader of AVL Unpaved, which is the group pushing for these bike paths. In advocating on behalf of his plan, Mr. Sule’s tone was strident, and he often veered into ridicule in responding to the concerns of local residents. He emphasized the value of bike paths to young people, including Black youth, without addressing the proposal by locals to exclude the portion of the trail that would run along their backyards. Such a compromise would seem to support both the needs of children and local homeowners. Mr. Sule admitted that serving the needs of students was only part of the larger agenda of his group.

One of the members of the Asheville City School Board, Mr. James Carter, responded to GAP Supporters who reached out about this matter. He pointed out that gentrification of the South French Broad area had been underway for many years without the presence of a greenway, and he was unfamiliar with any evidence that there was a connection between greenways and gentrification. He took issue with the characterization of the Charles and Timothy Street area as “predominantly Black,” saying that there were only 2-3 Black people still living there. (You can read his full response below.)

Regarding the racial demographics of the neighborhood, we checked voter registrations data, which only includes some but not all residents, and found that there are 8 Black and 8 white people living on Charles and Timothy Streets. Mr. Carter’s estimate of “2-3” is therefore low; our characterization of the area as “predominantly Black” is also inaccurate, since it’s more likely about 50%.

Regarding the connection between gentrification and greenways: we included two articles in Monday’s GAP Report, both of which described the connection between greenways and gentrification. One of these (Why Greenway Parks Cause Greater Gentrification) cites a study from 2019 that specifically connected small greenway parks as triggers for greater gentrification. We found an additional article today – Blame it on the bike: does cycling contribute to a city’s gentrification? – that suggests that increased bike lanes are a consequence more than a cause of gentrification, which would align with Mr. Carter’s position.

We don’t know, and would suggest that no one involved in this process can know, answers to the following questions:

  • Will building a bike path behind Charles Street exacerbate the challenges that the neighborhood is already experiencing regarding crime in the area (as local residents fear)?
  • Will it improve these issues (as Mr. Sule suggests)?
  • Will building a greenway exacerbate the gentrification and displacement problems in the neighborhood, or is it merely a reflection of gentrification that’s already occurred?

Given that these questions are not immediately answerable, we would suggest that the most racially just path forward is for City officials to give greater weight to the preferences and concerns of those most proximate to a proposed development (residents of Charles and Timothy Street), instead of favoring those who also have an interest in the outcome, but will be less directly impacted by the project (AVL Unpaved). This is especially true because of the history of marginalization here: Black folks in Southside, like those in other parts of the City, have consistently had their needs deprioritized or ignored so that some project that promised a greater good – such as the urban renewal projects of the last century – could move forward. When does that trend begin to reverse?

If you haven’t written to members of the Asheville City School Board, we encourage you to do so. You can access our template at the bottom of the 6/3/24 GAP Report.