The burgeoning music and performance art on Asheville’s streets make up part of the city’s vibrant downtown scene, entertaining tourists and locals alike. But Asheville’s many performers, sometimes spaced closely together, also can create challenges when it comes to being able to navigate our sidewalks and public spaces.
Crowds sometimes spill into our streets, obviously a danger. Downtown business owners can find access to their shops partially blocked. To address these concerns the City of Asheville last year embarked on a conversation with local businesses and street performers to come up with a downtown public space management plan.
The next step in that process happens June 22 with a Downtown Public Space Management Forum at 3 p.m. at the U.S. Cellular Center Banquet Hall. The Public Safety Committee will host this forum to consider updated City staff proposals on downtown public space management. The proposals follow work with and input from local businesses, street performers and downtown residents.
Following the forum, the Public Safety Committee will meet to consider taking action or providing staff direction. It is anticipated that there will be opportunity for public comment at the Public Safety Committee meeting.
Some points to keep in mind about the June 22 Asheville Public Space Management Forum:
- This is a pilot program. The intention has been to take all of the feedback and find a way to best fit everyone’s needs with safety as the top priority. The idea is to test this approach, designed after more than a year of public comment, and assess if it works for Asheville. Typically with a pilot program the City revisits the pilot to assess its effectiveness within a predetermined period of time.
- The City and all stakeholders have consistently recognized and applauded the presence of street performances and the value they add to Asheville’s unique character.
- There also appears to be some confusion about the 100-foot requirement. That is only being proposed around the 3 high impact areas where there are consistent pedestrian/vehicle concerns. Outside of the 100-foot radiating from the three high impact areas, busking can occur anywhere.
A key component of the City’s downtown public space management is the concept of “place-making.” Place-making is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces that is intended to capitalize on a community’s assets, inspiration and potential with the goal of creating public spaces that promote health, happiness and well-being. A successful “place” is a reflection of a community’s effort to create an appropriate balance of these important components — striving to ensure components do not tip the balance in a manner that adversely impacts the sense of place.
Over the past decade, Downtown Asheville’s popularity has ascended to a national destination. In 2014 alone, the Tourism Development Authority estimated that the Asheville/Buncombe County area attracted over 9 million visitors. While Asheville’s popularity as a tourist destination is positive for the community, it also places significant pressures on our public spaces. This underscores the importance of balancing various components essential to creating and maintaining a thriving “place” in our downtown.