For a number of reasons, consumers have begun to crave a sense of familiarity where they live, perhaps in response to an innate longing for community. Americans lost grasp of the goals of local, organic and sustainable living after the Great Depression, and the industrialization and post-World War II eras of efficient mass production and competitive consumerism distracted and drew us away from those concepts. With the rise of social media and virtual connections, this trend continued well into the 2000s.
Now a shift is afoot. According to Pew Research Center, the number of millennials --generally defined as those between the ages of 20 and 36--is quickly surpassing the nearly 75 million baby boomers--people age 51 to 69. Both of these populations prioritize the incorporation of convenience, livability and work-life balance in their communities, and many choose to move to cities and towns that have embraced those trends.
In Asheville, more than 10 million people visit every year, with approximately 35% of them there to see friends and family in what has become a "top-five" travel destination. A significant number of those visitors decide to relocate to Asheville after only a short visit, because they've spent most of their trip asking themselves, "Why does it feel like I already know this place?" Asheville and western North Carolina's geography are partially responsible for that feeling, but the instant sense of familiarity that Asheville emits has not been generated by luck or accident--it has been purposefully cultivated by residents through a consistent emphasis on art, craft, sustainability and mindful living.
A great deal of the buzz about Asheville these days centers on its craft beer scene. The fact is that this emphasis on craft is not new. It is no surprise that breweries, farm-to-table restaurants and tourism are flourishing in Asheville because Ashevillians have always focused on making livability, artisanship and craft the centerpieces of what they create. For more than 150 years, this focus has made Asheville a place for people to visit for recreation, health and quality of life. In the early 1900s, while George Vanderbilt was preparing his Biltmore Estate for visits by friends and colleagues, his wife, Edith, familiarized herself with local people and the crafts they produced, holding craft classes so residents could learn a skill to make a living. She later helped start a craft school at the Biltmore Estates Industries. In...