ASHEVILLE, NC – The long-standing, informal partnership between UNC Asheville and City of Asheville took a step forward with the signing of a joint agreement that sets the stage for future collaborations.
UNC Asheville Chancellor Anne Ponder and Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy, who signed the agreement, were joined by UNC President Erskine Bowles and city, university and elected officials at the ceremony, held at the Grove Arcade in downtown Asheville. The memo of understanding provides a framework for further collaborations in a number of areas important to the city and the region: environmental sustainability, health and wellness, culture and recreation, economic development and technology, and public safety.
“I am really excited about this collaboration because it is with one of the best universities in the country,” said Mayor Bellamy. “Today goes beyond liberal arts studies, today we are talking about economic development, keeping people healthy, promoting education and working together.”
“What we’re doing at this very moment is more than signing a piece of paper,” said Chancellor Ponder. “The University of North Carolina Asheville and City of Asheville do work together, are working together and will work together. Whether it is climate and technology, sustainability, health and wellness, public safety, this is exactly what Asheville needs.”
Chancellor Ponder noted that the partnership agreement fits perfectly with the university’s strategic plan, the city’s goals, and UNC Tomorrow, the UNC system’s plan for responding to the needs of North Carolina.
President Bowles agreed. “I think the real benefit of the signing of the memorandum of understanding is that it will enable us to leverage the fabulous resources and people we bring together as a group. More will come forward from it and benefit the people of this region,” he said.
The signing was followed by the official opening of the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) at UNC Asheville Engagement Site at its new location at the Grove Arcade. RENCI is a multi-institution virtual organization headquartered in the Research Triangle that provides high performance computing technologies and a diverse research faculty to address important problems in North Carolina. The engagement site is one of several in the state established through university-RENCI partnerships.
In its new location, the RENCI at UNC Asheville Engagement Site will provide leading edge technology for area decision makers and other collaborators in the areas of disaster research, mitigation and preparedness, taking advantage of Western North Carolina’s expertise in weather and climate modeling, visualization and public outreach.
Locating the engagement site in downtown Asheville, in close proximity to its many users, is a primary example of the benefits of cooperation and collaboration between the UNC Asheville and the city.
Jim Fox, director of the RENCI at UNC Asheville Engagement site, noted that over 20 partners – including the city, National Climatic Data Center, U.S. Forest Service, Land of Sky Regional Council and Buncombe County — are involved in the work at RENCI.
“What we’re doing is addressing key societal issues: climate change, land use change, economic development, water resources. These are all challenges that cannot be handled individually. We need to provide the tools for local decision makers – the city, the county, the state – to be able to access those trusted sorts of information and make the critical decisions as we move ahead. The key is the people, all working together,” Fox said.
The city and UNC Asheville’s National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center (NEMAC) began working together after the widespread flooding that occurred in the wake of a series of hurricanes in 2004. With technological assistance from RENCI at UNC Asheville, which is part of NEMAC, the group developed a 3D watershed tool that shows the location of flood-prone areas, impervious surfaces and the effect of future building in the watershed. This set of tools is being used to create a new plan to mitigate the effects of the floods and to avoid flooding in the future.
“I am really excited to have these tools available, accessible and affordable for the City of Asheville and the County of Buncombe,” Mayor Bellamy said.
“Even in times like these, when we have to discern very carefully what we can invest in because we can’t do everything, we are choosing to do this with the City of Asheville because it is so important,” said Chancellor Ponder.