We don’t want walls, we want games! And What if Asheville was really On Bikes?

Can our desirable city live up to it's Top List status with growth that is not only sensitive to the people living and moving in it, but is also exemplary to other growing cities. Can we shift the widening paradigm default for a solution that improves and inspires.

Me on Bicing, Barcelona’s bike sharing infrastructure.


I live in a small growing US city that every few weeks makes it to the top list of places to visit and top places to live nationally and internationally. As I drive past construction sites daily, watching our city grow, I ask myself, what if we took our desirable status and did something exemplary at the level of the collective space within which we live and move about. What if we did something “top list” worthy urbanistically? Can we grow with intention?


The game we no Longer want to play

One of our prominent streets, Merrimon Avenue, the thoroughfare that connects my neighborhood to downtown as well as to the next small town, is currently a topic of discussion locally. That is because our state’s Department of Transportation is trying to implement the usual – blindly widening this street the same old way that it is done in city after city! An approach that makes it easier for cars to move through faster without any regard to anything else. A solution that further alienates and eliminates the already discouraged and slim existence of pedestrians and bikes.

This modus operandi, is not only dangerous and unhealthy, it also severs neighborhoods! Slicing them into pieces and distancing neighbors. How many times has this been done in our American cities?

When I imagine walking the two-minute walk from my home to the pizza movie theater that is across Merrimom, already a challenge to get to, I imagine the real life version of the 1981 video arcade game Frogger. In this game a frog hops through moving hazards at different speeds in it’s path as the small living being tries to get across. And yet in the game, the frog is able to pause from log to log to strategize the next life or death move. In our real-life size version of Frogger, there is no place of respite and any miscalculation is fatal. I am still impacted by a sight on my way home in my teen years – a coworker of my parents lying dead under a blanket. She had failed to make it to the other side of the street. No more chances!

The widening of this street would once more be a travesty, not to mention also an unfortunate waste of efforts and a throw away of our tax dollars. The widening of Merrimom, would create a deadly wall of cars! We don’t want walls! Games we do like but we want a different kind of game. We want a game of connectivity, inclusion, participation, community, access, leisure, accessibility… A game where we flow naturally, safely and fluidly so that other exciting experiences and even challenges can be taken up. A game that moves our bodies, a game that produces oxygen, a game for us to interact and connect in! A game that includes us all and that gives us options.


Widening of our streets like Frogger



It is up to us!! We are on it! Go Asheville!

This week was our deadline to get out our letters in opposition to this insensitive and dangerous proposal. Several groups and community efforts researched and studied options for our city that were ignored by the NCDOT. Our local bike advocacy group, Asheville On Bikes, active on efforts to make our city more bikeable and walkable and my inspiration for the title of this blog post, created a list of talking points, which highlighted several state safety guidelines and the work by our community that were also dismissed in the NCDOT proposal.

One proposal by the City of Asheville redraws the yellow and white lines on asphalt. A simple idea that transforms what is currently four lanes into two lanes in two directions with a middle lane designated for turning cars. This opens up space to be redistributed proportionately to the current missing bike flow and scarce pedestrian movement. That idea would be an improvement over the current situation and over the proposed NCDOT version.

We are on our way to stop this problematic attempt by the NCDOT to shove a generic and failed cookie cutter option down our thoroughfare. I am thankful for all of the efforts from within our community and the many letters that I imagine were written to stop something that is clearly not good for our community. And yet, I hope that we achieve much more! As a designer and visionary, I can’t help but want to swing things in the opposition direction! What is the vision for our city?

We are a community of caring creative artists, entrepreneurs, visionaries, health minded intentional people… What if we took our collective voice, sensitivity, knowledge and love of our city towards a redesign idea that finally breaks the current widening paradigm? Can we get back to basics and overcome the dominion of the car? Can our city grow with intention and sensibility and in the process be inspirational? Can we use our national and international top list status to set into motion something visionary, forward thinking, unique and exemplary so that street by street, city by city we achieve something bigger – a better balance all around (nationally as is much needed) in restoring the reciprocal ecological relationship between individuals and the environments that we occupy! 

Below is my letter in opposition of the current NCDOT proposal. I also share a couple of my student’s city visions for further inspiration as well as a teaser of my research on the ecologies of cities and their relationship to our movement within them with links to more information. And since you are in my website, I also invite you and link you to some other of my projects on the topic of city visions and ideas for creatively improving our built environment. Links at the bottom of this post include the talking points by Asheville On Bikes.


Reciprocal relationship between the human body and the city body – BiCi_N 2007


My letter in opposition to the NCDOT Proposal:

Dear Kim Bereis,

I am a professional with a background in architecture and urban design. I am also a resident of Asheville. I live off of Merrimom Avenue.

I am in opposition to NCDOT’s proposed widening of Merrimon Avenue (project U-5781 & U-5782), as currently proposed. It doesn’t take into consideration pedestrians, bikes, and the fabric of neighborhoods linked to each other. Your proposal also ignores the recommendations of hard work by the people of this community who have proposed visions that do take into consideration all of the modes of movement that make a city inhabitable and safe.

I drive on Merrimon and I also attempt to walk to businesses near me. I do not ride my bike as I find it unfeasible and deadly at the moment. Walking to nearby businesses is a scary and difficult task but I attempt it. We need a renovation that addresses that problem not make it worse. Widening the street, making car traffic faster while not providing proper spaces for other moving participants is a travesty, extremely dangerous and damaging to community life. I have a personal friend who lost her son, who was walking, to a driving car. Today my daughter wanted to walk to a park. I was afraid for her and discouraged her.

The safety issue also extends to our health. Car controlled cities dampen the natural physical movement of residents. Our city is fairly small. So many of us could get to work and places by bike and walking and in that process exercise. This is not only healthy to our bodies, it also reduces the amount of cars on our streets, reducing emission gases which in turn also makes our cities safer. Unfortunately walking and riding a bike on Merrimon at the moment is not inviting or safe. In the NCDOT proposal it becomes impossible. Let’s instead imagine the safety and health improvement all around if our city was truly accessible to all forms of flow. We can easily change that.

I am thankful that there are community efforts with better proposals and with a thoughtful regard for people living here. Local planning experts and Asheville on Bikes have researched and explored this fully. I ask that their recommendations be incorporated into a redesign for our city that makes improvements not make our city less accessible, less desirable and more dangerous. I oppose the AS IS proposal by the NCDOT and would prefer nothing be done. I ask that this community and our work be engaged on this and let’s do something really great. Let’s do a project that will not only be safe for us residents but also be inspirational to other of our cities.


Martha Skinner



Urban CiTy SCAN:

This is my research which looks at the body of the city in its intimate relationship to the human body in movement. Can we analyze the data of the human body and city body as interrelated and intimately connected? This is our reciprocal ecology. Watch What is BiCi_N video below and visit Urban CiTy SCAN for more information.




A city vision by my students Jason Butz, Francis D’Andrea and Carla Landa in my Self-Sufficient City Studio

Reciprocity can either serve as the foundation for a new city, or as an intervention in current cities. It envisions as a self-sustaining community.  It takes the waste that inhabitants produce and use it in alternative ways before it is turned into a recyclable state. A symbiotic relationship is created and a flexible network begins to bridge the gaps in the cycles we help to break.


Go The {Park} Way

A vision by my students Adam Wilson, Elissa Bostain, Matthew Brown in my Self-Sufficient City Studio

A system that transforms car emissions into fertilizer through photosynthesis, thereby reducing greenhouse gases and the process of global warming while increasing the green spaces in the urban fabric of the sustainable city of the 21st century.




> Where is This Going? Reasons We Oppose The Merrimom Widening Project – By Asheville On Bikes <

> More Visions from me: at City Visions, also visit Small is Big and a bonus treat of inspiration… our superABSORBER project! <

> Get in TOUCH! <