Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Asheville Through the Wormhole

"You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension— a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You're moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You've just crossed over into the Twilight Zone."


Imagine a small idyllic city gently nestled in a mountain paradise but spinning progressively out of control, spreading its grasping tentacles to county's edges, consolidating power along narrow ideological lines, forming cabals of technocrats and webworks of crony connections, siphoning money from public enterprises for general purposes and taxing wealthy producers and passers-by to the max. A city with a sympathetic partisan press offering soft-focus optics, softball engagement, amnesia for scandal and cover for misdeeds. And a city with a voting base in love with its generous leaders, its entrenched legislators and itself. A city with golden days ahead and treasures aplenty outstretched in front of it, lying unawares just for the taking.

Now, imagine another city. A city quite similar to the first one but one meeting with an entirely different fate. A city grappling with a force that suffocates revenue streams and binds its room for maneuver. The arc of its progress is flat and circumscribed.

Instead of the creeping and unchecked expansion of its boundaries in all directions, the ambitious city is mightily curtailed through legal prohibitions, vast areas of prior encroachment de-annexed, and its corporate limits redrawn and reduced to a space no larger than its tiny Central Business District.

Instead of consolidating political power, its monopoly is broken up through a program of election reforms. Odd-year elections are now realigned to even years so that county referendums that need city votes to pass cannot be quietly held and go unnoticed by county voters. City elections are now conducted by districts instead of at-large so that candidates will have to run as honest representatives rather than back-slapping power-brokers.

Instead of holding public enterprises as a deep-pocketed debit card, their accounts are now cut off (snip snip) and de-politicized by removing direct operational and administrative control from the city and placing it in the hands of regional authorities whose governing bodies are appointed and which admit of no sitting elected officials.

These two cities, one with a puffed up chest and proud feathers, the other with its tail tucked and a seemly grimace, might seem quite different -- but they are not.

[cue eerie music]

They are the same city. One, the former one, living in its profligate present. The other being the very same city but projected through the power of imagination into its own near future. The future just around the corner. The one just up ahead, through the wormhole.