Like Fine Wines, Town Centers Develop Over Time - TribPapers

Like Fine Wines, Town Centers Develop Over Time

Photo submitted.

WeavervilleEditor’s Note: This week’s commentary refers to front page story entitled “Town Looking for Input on a “Town Center” on page 6.

We live in an era of instant gratification. If you’re a golf fan, there’s no need to wait for Saturday and Sunday to watch golf. You can have it all the time on the golf channel or some other sports channel. Hungry? Fast food restaurants are everywhere. It might not be healthy, but it is tasty. The point is, whatever it is, when we want it, we want it now! However, not everything we want can be satisfied instantly.

At an upcoming meeting in June, Woodfin is looking for input from its citizens about creating a “town center.” It is something Woodfin doesn’t have at present, but is that something they really need?

Woodfin just celebrated its 50th year as a town. Created back in 1971 by an act of the state legislature, the town came into being because residents of the community, at least a narrow majority of them, didn’t want the town to be annexed by the City of Asheville. Thus, the town came into existence in its unique location in the area.

Woodfin, named for Nicholas Washington Woodfin, a mid-1800s lawyer and landowner, is the only town in America so named. It doesn’t have its own water system or fire department, which has helped the town to keep its taxes low for the working-class community that it has been home to over the years. It also does not have its own post office and therefore has had to live behind a mask that has helped keep the town in anonymity. 

Now more wealthy residents have found Woodfin. Developers have found Woodfin, and a new greenway/blueway is underway and will change the town’s identity. And now commissioners are looking for a “town center.”
Kennedy Lawson Smith, in his article, “What Makes A Town Center A Town Center,” writes, “One of the forces that create value is scarcity or uniqueness.” He goes on to say, “town centers with unique characteristics — historic buildings, mom-and-pop businesses, unusual traditions — tend to be more valued by residents (and visitors) than more predictable town centers. That’s what you have with Woodfin. It’s not like Weaverville or Asheville, which border its north and south sides. When it comes to downtowns, serendipity and individuality can translate into a strong sense of community.”

So let’s be honest, Woodfin doesn’t have the age that Weaverville and Asheville do working for it. What buildings it does have are just now getting some age to them. According to Smith’s article, a new “town center” would put Woodfin back to square one. With Woodfin undergoing tremendous changes in the way of development, would a new “town center” bring more of a sense of community? According to Smith, no. “A town center should not simply be a gussied-up shopping mall. 

Instead, it should be part of the community’s DNA, shaped over time by the people who live there as much as by the developer (or developers) who initially designed and built it,” writes Smith. “A town center will best succeed if it’s an active and animated place, with its own distinct personality.”

“…Shaped over time by the people who live there…” Not a designer who comes in and tells you what they think. This $140,000 that Woodfin has set aside to do a study might be for nothing. What Woodfin is doing, a meeting to gather input from the community, the residents who live there, is the way to go, according to Smith. 

Woodfin should make sure that most of its residents are in favor of the town center and that this is not just some whim of the few or a new board of commissioners. Because, like a fine wine, “town centers” are developed with time, not designers.