TIGER Grant Sends Asheville's Planning Initiatives Roaring Ahead

In October of 2010, the City of Asheville, North Carolina, received a TIGER II Planning Grant to support the sustainability of neighborhoods in Asheville that lay between its downtown and the French Broad River.

As a direct result of the city's successful community engagement and planning efforts, Asheville was awarded a second grant in September 2014 — this time with a focus on implementation. Receiving the $14.6 million TIGER VI Implementation Grant to implement the plans developed during the TIGER II process was an affirmation of the significant value of the planning process and its success in marshaling community support for sustainability.

Community Engagement for TIGER II

The foundation of all TIGER II activities was the direct engagement of community members, especially those residents of the neighborhoods that compose the East of the Riverway area. Those neighborhoods are located in Census Tract 9, the city's poorest, and historically the home of much of the city's African American population. The residents of this area felt disengaged and powerless. The city promised that the process would focus on planning with, and not for, the community, and did so by:

  • Hiring and supporting a community outreach worker — with an office in the target area — throughout the planning process;
  • Bringing community partner organizations directly to the planning table;
  • Making meetings and specific deliverable planning open to all community members, with regular reporting and opportunities for feedback and project realignment;
  • Informing the community about processes and plans through direct marketing of events by hiring local youth to deliver marketing materials.

Community-based planning was supported through inventory activities throughout the planning process. These included a community survey, designed by master's in geography students from Appalachian State University, who mentored community members in the design, delivery, and analysis of the survey.

Community members also directly participated in a scenario planning process designed and facilitated by staff from the NEMAC Center at UNC-Asheville. Community members were trained in facilitation and leadership skills, and have since become involved in leadership roles in other important community-based planning and collaborative action. This collaboration with UNC-Asheville and the NEMAC Center extends into many of the city's planning efforts.

Alternatives to Gentrification: A Study

A final element of the inventory component of the project was an Alternatives to Gentrification study. This study assessed the level of gentrification occurring in the East of the Riverway area, both in residential and commercial sectors, and provided examples of best practices in gentrification prevention and mitigation. It led to an EPA Building Blocks TA grant focused on equitable development, and contributed to the plan to create an office of equity in the City of Asheville.

Specific project planning included design and construction drawings for two greenways; the development of a small area plan on the riverfront; plans for the rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of a donated historic structure as a riverfront gateway information and event center; and the transformation of a former school and recreation center into an education and jobs training facility. The strong community participation has created community support for these improvements, which either have already been constructed or will be constructed in the TIGER VI project.

The TIGER II planning work has paid many dividends: a closer relationship with neighborhood leaders and residents, which will help us tackle other thorny issues together; a stronger network of allied local and regional community development leaders, including federal and state officials; and an internal understanding of interdepartmental team — building, which is now directly employed in the complex TIGER VI process. Our capacity has been significantly increased as a result of this process.

Top image: Asheville, North Carolina, skyline. Photo by Flickr user Melinda.... (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

About the Author
Jeff Staudinger is assistant director of the Asheville, North Carolina, Community and Economic Development Department.

June 7, 2016

By Jeff Staudinger