These population numbers are from the US decennial census and represent all available data for both the city and county. It seems difficult to imagine a spike in Asheville similar to the one we see at the county level, but I think we may - the 2014 estimate is 87,236. To avoid sprawl, compact growth and urban infill will be critical. See the post below.
I was walking to a local restaurant with my wife the other day when we stopped and talked to one of our neighbors. Jim (not his real name). He has a beautiful house, a 1920s bungalow, with a 1.7 acre tract of developable land at the back. He commented that he and his neighbors are planning on fighting future development by getting signatures from neighbors, putting in footpaths, and preserving the urban stream.
5 years ago, I would have helped Jim (I am a staunch environmentalist), but we discussed something in our sustainability seminar the other day that gave me pause, even challenging my assumptions about urban development. We were studying sprawl and the negative impacts of urban sprawl including air quality impacts, increased runoff and water quality degradation, increased energy demand, and habitat loss. Sprawl is worse than compact urban forms in all of these categories so efforts must be made towards more compact urban grown forms.
The reason: population growth. It is real. (See the post above). If we do not fill in existing urban parcels, that development will happen at the periphery of the city resulting in more driving and traffic. Sprawl. I love my neighbors, but the NIMBY-ism that is apparent in his position is not a tenable position for everyone in the city to take. I should know: I got new neighbors between 2010 and 2012 as low income housing came in: 23 new houses on a 9 acre vacant lot were built right across the street from me.
The most ironic thing: Jim used to live next to me but moved up the street to escape the new construction.
I have lived in Asheville, NC for nearly six years now and have come to appreciate aspects of great neighborhoods, urban design, and architecture. In taking urban geography classes I have learned much, but these thoughts are inspired by the book Suburban Nation by Dunay, Plater-Zyberk, and Speck.
1) A rough grid pattern of narrow streets with relatively small block sizes.
The grid pattern offers a variety of running and bicycling routes multiple ways to go from point A to point B by car. If a street is closed for construction or a fender bender, there are always other ways to go. This capability is lacking in many recently developed urban areas with a myriad of spurs off one main collector road. The spurs are generally residential and the main roads more commercial. The narrow streets slow drivers down and parked cars actually serve a purpose making the streets even narrower. Newly designed streets are so wide, higher speed limits are more practical. Plus, if there is nowhere to walk, there will be fewer pedestrians. Small block sizes coupled with smaller minimum developable lot sizes are more pedestrian friendly and allow a higher density of development. The minimum lot size in Asheville of 0.09 acres is actually smaller than many other cities.
2) To be pedestrian friendly, there must be somewhere worth walking.
I love citing this fact - I live near the intersection of Virginia Avenue and Haywood Road in West Asheville. The 1.9 mile strip of Haywood Road has in excess of 20 restaurants on it right now. That number fluctuates, but essentially we could eat out at a different restaurant every night for dinner for three weeks. There are also coffee shops (apparently the best in the state according to some, but with good coffee come a fierce attitude), auto shops, bike shops, banks, and all kinds of businesses. The restaurants just happen to be my favorite.
3) Architecture, aesthetics, and history matter.
Look at the individual buildings. Do you like them? I hope so, especially if you are looking where you live. Is there a particular style that you like? Why do like that style? Are there shapes that you gravitate towards? Like Alt-J, are triangles your favorite shape? I happen to favor Art Deco architecture and the bungalow. I actually liked these things before I bought my house and sought out a neighborhood with these aspects, a true luxury, certainly. (Of course, my father didn't exactly use the word luxurious when he saw the house that I bought in 2008.) There are buildings that are dilapidated and neglected, but try to imagine what they were like when they were new. That house clad in white steel siding with a hipped roof that isn't much to look at could be the original 1890s farmhouse, as it is in my neighborhood.