Ashton Smith — District D

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Ashton Smith

Ashton Smith

1. Why are you running for city council?

I’m running because I grew up in the area. I have traveled all over the world and I’ve lived here most of my life and I’ve been able to be involved in a lot of the different areas of opportunity in Raleigh; transit, affordable housing, planning on some levels, thinking about the urban form in that capacity, and I really think that we are in a really important and critical place on how we continue to grow this city. We’ve got these great neighborhoods and vibrant business and we need to be able to have them side by side. I work at Citrix downtown, it’s a software company, and one of the things that I see missing from our council is a little bit of the technology perspective and some of the concepts from the world of innovation and the startup culture. Insofar as that I mean using data to drive our decision making. I think that Raleigh has gotten to be too large to continue to make decisions that are more reactive and emotional in nature, so I want to see us start really applying these ideas and using the resources we have available to us.

My first career was in residential real estate, and then I spent two years living abroad as an English teacher in Italy. Which really solidified my idea of how a global city needs to function, how a great city needs to function. I didn’t have a car, I didn’t speak the language, I didn’t have a support network and it really just changed the way I feel about the kind of city that Raleigh should be. A city that includes a space for everyone and is accessible to everyone and really is a world class city.

Why I really want to be involved is that I come from a service oriented family, always served. I chair the board at the City of Raleigh Museum downtown, I sit on the board for DHIC which is an affordable housing nonprofit, I was a WakeUP Wake board member, I volunteer with a number of different organizations in the area and in my role here at Citrix I do a lot of our community relationships and employee engagement. So I get a lot of face time sort of all over the place. City council would allow me to continue to serve in a greater and more focused way. It seems like a good next step to take all of these perspectives that I have, from all the different angles that I’m able to see, and focus them into making Raleigh this incredible world class city.

2. What is the biggest challenge currently facing the city, and what would you propose to do about it?

I think the overarching problem, and a lot of the problems we have, the smaller problems, really relate to our rapid growth. We’ve doubled in size in the last 20 years and we’ll double again in the next 25-30 and we’ve got to find smart, sustainable ways to grow. So I think how we can affect that outcome is utilizing smart growth strategies and the data and the resources that we have available to us to make sure that we’re growing in density in the right places along our growth corridors while we protect our neighborhoods and green space and obviously watersheds as well. Some other things that I think we’re going to have to focus on when we’re talking about dealing with our growth is going to be implementing reliable and useful transit and making sure that we’re providing quality housing for all ranges of the income spectrum. And a lot of that, as it relates to affordable housing anyway, will need to be done in conjunction with our transit plan. I want to see us move toward being a collaborative, user friendly government, the kind of place that encourages our innovation and fosters entrepreneurship. We tout ourselves as this innovative place and this place for the creative class, and sometimes our policies don’t match that very well.

3. A text change ordinance was recently passed restricting sidewalk dining, was this the right move? Why or why not? What kind of balance should be struck between revelers & residents?

I definitely think balance is the key word in that. I don’t think that this was the right strategy to get to a solution, nor the right solution, and I think the public response has been pretty indicative of that. I think that this is a symptom of a much larger problem. We’re going to have to be dealing with all of these things that relate to our growth and continue to find balanced solutions and the way that you do that is by bringing the stakeholders, all of them, together, and finding a collaborative solution to our problems, whether this one or the next one. I just don’t think we’re going to be able to do that without bringing all of the relevant stakeholders together.
Regarding whether or not it was the right move, I think when we are willing to test and pilot things we need to establish baseline measurements and metrics for success or failure and we didn’t seem to do that with this new policy.

4. Raleigh has ended up on a lot of Top Ten lists in recent years. Why do you think that is?

We have a really high quality of life and we’ve made some really good decisions in the past. I certainly don’t want to take away from any of those by any means. As part of having a high quality of life we have a good arts culture, we have a robust economy, we have a low crime rate. And part of that stems from having a fantastic police force and great first responders. We’re a relatively affordable place and we’ve, particularly through the 2008 recession, made some good decisions to make sure that we’re a fiscally responsible place to be. I think that we have seen the rise in companies like Citrix and Red Hat but also a rise in this kind of maker movement and the creative culture and I think that’s attracting a lot of people to our area because they see an opportunity to develop themselves and their ideas and their products and maybe build a business and a family. Plus the weather is really nice!

5. Council is currently considering a rezoning case that would remap a significant portion of the city. Should this be approved as is, with changes, or not at all (back to the drawing board). Why or why not?

I am generally supportive of the UDO, it matches the comprehensive plan that we laid out in 2009. It identifies and shifts the zoning to match the identified growth corridors. I do think in the greater plan there are probably some instances that need to be changed, and need to be listened to. But I think overall it’s a good plan. I don’t love the way that we rolled it out. We could have done things a little bit better, thinking about for example the challenge of understanding zoning. When you’re talking about, in the grand scheme, zoning, it’s not simple to understand. When we look at it in colors and letters on a flat map it’s incredibly hard to visualize and contextualize what that is. I want to see us taking advantage of the private sector of the universities who’ve got great virtual development and design programs, through NC State and Wake Tech. We’ve got Epic Games practically in our backyard. There’s so many resources that we have available to us. I really would like to see projects like the UDO, things of that scale, utilizing those technologies to help people understand their greater impact.

6. What is the best and what is the worst decision made by city council over the past two years, and why?

BEST: What sticks out to me, the way that we responded to what is sometimes called “biscuitgate”. I think the issue itself was a problem. I think council responded well. I think that the focus on the problem of homelessness and how we as a city and working together with the county should be improving that, I think that that was a really positive response to a very negative incident. The initial incident was a problem, but I thought that we handled the response part well. It was given quick attention and serious attention and we approached it from a perspective of how do we solve this issue instead of how do we create more rules. We didn’t come at it from that perspective, we really looked for a solution first, which coming from a culture of innovation and a technology company, we were kind of taught to focus on finding solutions, first and foremost. So I thought that was a good thing.

WORST: I’ll go back to the UDO a little bit, the rollout of that. I think there’s been a lot of reactionary decisions around smaller things. So sometimes when there are new ideas that don’t necessarily fit our more traditional model of business or of city planning in general, we tend to get a little bit stuck around them. A good example would be Airbnb or the food trucks, where they’re allowed to be, not allowed to be. The sidewalk issue. So I think generally just being reactionary in our responses instead of envisioning the kind of the city that we’re going to be and the kind of ideas and innovation that we’re attracting and planning for.

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