I just returned from a three-day learning trip to Asheville hosted by the Footprint Foundation – called The Buzz Chattanooga. It was a flood of information and experiences, socially awkward at times, but ultimately forged new relationships and understandings between groups of people who otherwise would have never met. In that regard, it was a brilliant endeavor – and potentially a long-term catalyst for new partnerships and collaborations within our community.
Lisa Flint, Footprint’s Executive Director, posed the questions, “How will we grow, as a city, in the next five years? What connections can we create between good people working in all corners of our community?” Asheville was selected as the city to explore these questions because it has a great sense of place—built upon strong interactions between food, farms, tourism, beer, the outdoors, and arts & culture. We met with dozens of smart, innovative and passionate people who embraced our visit with such openness, generosity and enthusiasm that it felt like we had known each other for years.
While Austin, Texas celebrates it’s weirdness, Asheville embraces its love for local. Franzi Charen, a downtown entrepreneur and Director of the Asheville Grown Business Alliance, shared their vision of keeping Asheville small-business oriented – rightfully pointing out that tourists and locals alike want the authentic and unique experience provided by their nearly fifty small downtown businesses and not a sterile landscape dominated by national chains. We couldn’t help but reflect on the path that our tourism district has taken in recent years, and wonder if we are at risk of losing our our own identity.
Chattanooga has had a lingering crush on Asheville for some time, and it turns out that they are a bit fond of us, too. They openly admired the generosity of our foundations, our entrepreneurial history and the diversity of our economy. Their pending riverwalk project will be an impressive revitalization, and is influenced in part by the design of ours. It made us feel proud of our city to hear them speak of us warmly, in a town we ourselves admire so much.
We returned home in high spirits and with renewed enthusiasm towards our individual projects, and with a common desire to work together more often. Too often we find ourselves busy with our own concerns and fail to take time getting to know others around us. A special thanks to the Footprint Foundation, and the City of Asheville, for reminding us of the power of being good neighbors.