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The next facelift of Pack Square Plaza is focusing on Black history and currency

Pack Square Visioning image.png
Matt Peiken | BPR News
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Planners, designers and longtime Asheville residents put ideas to overhead maps last Friday in the latest step of the Pack Square Plaza Visioning Project.

Pack Square Plaza had a winding, checkered history long before it was renamed in 1903 for lumber tycoon and Asheville benefactor George W. Pack. Today, city planners leading the latest facelift of Pack Square Plaza want to do something that hasn’t happened in more than a century of changes there—center the stories and concerns of Black residents.

“We’re focusing a lot on the Black Community,” said Stephanie Monson Dahl, a planning manager with the city. “As our community continues to come together and work on issues of equity and inclusion, working on Pack Square is going to be a great way to kickstart that or act as a catalyst for other public spaces downtown.”

This past Friday, seated in small groups inside a city meeting space, longtime and not-so-longtime Black residents shared personal experiences of the plaza and the adjoining neighborhood known now as The Block. As they voiced their ideas in small groups for how a redesigned plaza should look and feel, designers and planners used felt markers to illustrate those thoughts onto large maps.

“I would like to see it all green—no blocks, no cement, no fountains, all green—so that it’s open and available to everyone,” said Bernard Oliphant, who said he has lived in Asheville all of his 75 years. “Right now, it’s a hidden area and it’s not inclusive. It’s an area you really want to avoid.”

Pack Square - Mitchell Silver image.png
Matt Peiken | BPR News
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Mitchell Silver of Raleigh design firm McAdams is the project lead for the Pack Square Plaza Visioning Project.

City planners have commissioned the Raleigh design firm McAdams as the project lead. Mitchell Silver of McAdams was the New York City parks commissioner under Mayor Bill DiBlasio. He said his firm’s challenge now is boiling down themes that emerged from 10 community gatherings to talk about Pack Square into detailed proposals for the city to consider.

“The top line is that people want Pack Square to be a social gathering place,” Silver said. “But the city was very clear. The Block played a very integral role in the evolution of downtown Asheville, and (the city) wanted to make sure we establish a connection, which is just one block away.”

Silver said he expects drafts of proposed designs ready for the city and public to begin reviewing and debating as soon as March.

Matt Peiken, BPR’s first full-time arts journalist, has spent his entire career covering arts and culture.
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