Wednesday, October 14, 2015



By Doc Lawrence

It’s a boomtown, a place near the top of popular tourism destinations in the Deep South. Nothing in the ascension of Asheville, the western North Carolina vacation spa, came about through accident and the very informative book by visionary business leader Marilyn Ball takes readers along an amazing journey beginning when the evolution of the city was taking root.

Marilyn Ball’s The Rise of Asheville: An Exceptional History of Community Building, (History Press 2015), chronicles the evolution of an exceptional community. The story starts with newcomers over the last fifty years flocking to Asheville, joining forces with locals to breathe new energy into the city. As the author explains, these folks didn’t necessarily intend to be entrepreneurs, community organizers and business leaders, but when they saw a challenge, they rose to it. Meeting poverty and hunger head-on became a  priority no less important than laying the foundation for Asheville’s natural food culture and boosting the potential of the core-and growing-arts presence.

Marilyn Ball traces these citizen movements, a bonding of community that came together to produce the crown jewel that is Asheville.

A retired advertising executive and writer deeply rooted in Western North Carolina’s hospitality, economic development and tourism, Marilyn Ball moved to Asheville in 1977 and has been tirelessly working to foster a spirit of community there ever since.

Several ranking tourism executives have told me that Asheville is the standard of excellence for attracting visitors. My own experience began during baby days when I vacationed with family living in nearby Hendersonville. I’ve followed Asheville’s emergence both as a culinary center and a place where the arts have a happy home.

Marilyn Ball also hosts "Speaking of Travel," an Asheville-based radio show and podcast, a platform to share unique travel experiences. “I’ve come to realize,” she says, “that travel is like love. When you travel you have this heightened state of awareness. The best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.”

Ms. Ball’s book is a primer in leadership; a revelation of what happens when collaboration is blended into civic and business ambitions. There is power in one, to be sure. However, embracing the talents and energy of like-minded neighbors leads to the miracle of revitalization. Lessons can be learned from this book: Other cities in the South and beyond seemingly consigned to stagnation, could actually have a brighter future.

Today’s Asheville is the work-product of good people with different experiences building on common purpose. According to the Marilyn Ball, her city is a an example of what can happen when “we venture beyond the boundaries of everyday life and slip out of our cultural restraints. We find ourselves opening to new possibilities, imagining a life of greater meaning and seeing ourselves in a new light.”

For those who wonder how to start a renaissance in their own city, the answers are found on the pages of this commendable book.

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