In Asheville, a land-use YouTuber makes waves advocating for more housing, safer roads

ASHEVILLE - Outside of the vacant Arby's on Patton Avenue, wedged between a Starbucks and Master's Lube N' Tube, Rob Robinson watches the evening rush on Patton Avenue. The traffic light at the intersection flicks between red and green as the line of cars grows as rush hour nears.

Last October, armed with a microphone, camera, and the guts to stand on a median as cars whizzed by him, Robinson turned to YouTube to vent his frustrations about the busy road.

The video, titled "The Worst Places in American Cities Were Intentional," begins with Robinson declaring that "everyone hates this," a claim he makes near the Louisiana Avenue Patton Avenue intersection, which is generally considered one of the worst for pedestrians in Asheville.

Not long after he posted the video on YouTube, it took off — accumulating nearly 100,000 views by the end of May 2024. His channel on the platform has now surpassed 10,000 subscribers.

Rob Robinson on Patton Ave in Asheville, June 5, 2024.
Rob Robinson on Patton Ave in Asheville, June 5, 2024.

"I was very surprised that people cared at all," the 24-year-old YouTuber said.

Yet, amid the highest fair market rent in North Carolina, a lack of housing supply and as the I-26 Connector project bears down on the region, Robinson's videos advocating for the reimagination of Asheville's urban landscape have struck a chord with local residents and lawmakers alike.

Robinson's videos have covered topics ranging from the infamous "stroad"-like traffic patterns on Patton Avenue and Asheville's downtown parking standards to why an Arby's hasn't been redeveloped despite being vacant for 10 years.

Until a few months ago, Robinson would've considered himself primarily an electronic musician, piecing together graphic design and video production gig work. There was no inkling of a budding career talking about Asheville's urban development or videos on Patton Avenue, and certainly no video on an Arby's that's been empty for nearly 10 years.

"I honestly didn't come into it with the belief that I could have any impact on things," Robinson said. "It was really just let me just shake people by the shoulders and be like: 'This is this is the world you live in.'"

The energy to create the videos came from a life-long interest in "comparing how things used to look versus how they look today" and a passion for watching long-form YouTube videos from video creators like CGP Grey or former-MythBuster Adam Savage.

Rob Robinson at an abandoned Arby’s on Patton Ave in Asheville, June 5, 2024.
Rob Robinson at an abandoned Arby’s on Patton Ave in Asheville, June 5, 2024.

Robinson, who moved to the area from Pittsboro in 2021 to attend school, has learned about city codes and creating renderings of new developments on his own.

"That's a lot of hard work, but it was work that I had to do in order to really be able to claim any level of expertise on this issue," Robinson said.

The rapid growth of his videos has allowed Robinson to take a wild turn into what can only be described as "land use influencing," a side-gig on top of his regular work that he hopes might blossom into a new career, recently launching a Patreon, a platform that allows viewers to offer their financial support.

A ball cap, a microphone and a camera

The growth of Robinson's channel and platform has not gone unnoticed to those involved in Asheville's development policies.

After he positively spoke in support of a housing development during public comment to City Council, Mayor Esther Manheimer thanked Robinson for his "educational YouTube work." Council Member Sage Turner shared the sentiment.

Turner recently shared a short back and forth with Robinson on social media, disagreeing with his perspective on allowing more one-story buildings downtown, but also encouraging him to get involved on a city board. Since then, Turner has tuned into his work.

Rob Robinson
Rob Robinson

"It's amazing. He delivers his videos with well researched images and history, pairs them with pointed new urbanism messaging and accomplishes all this while sporting a ball cap and t-shirt and standing alone in a parking lot," Turner told the Citizen Times.

Even urban planners have chimed in to support Robinson's work. Private urban planner Joe Minicozzi compared Robinson's work to a "punk" like ethos of being able to convey uncomfortable ideas on your own.

"There's an honor in having that curiosity and applying yourself and stepping into the uncomfortable space of saying: This is awkward. This is difficult. This is silly. Why do we keep on doing the silly stuff?" Minicozzi said of Robinson's work.

"I'm tickled by his work, I think it's awesome," he continued.

Visions for the future

Robinson said he was "shocked" by the response from community members reaching out, and the engagement from city council. The engagement has come with more pressure "to be getting things right and not be getting things wrong," he said.

Not all engagement has been positive, however, with some decrying on social media that he can't comment about Asheville because he's not a native, and others poking fun at the Patton Avenue redevelopment prospects, stating "Patton is for cruising," not redevelopment, in reference to Patton Avenue cruising culture.

Rob Robinson at an abandoned Arby’s on Patton Ave in Asheville, June 5, 2024.
Rob Robinson at an abandoned Arby’s on Patton Ave in Asheville, June 5, 2024.

The original Patton Avenue video received a number of responses pointing to the fact that he didn't propose a solution for the road.

But Robinson does have a vision for Patton — make it more "street like," which became the subject of subsequent follow-up videos.

"The difference between a street and a road is that: a road is for getting between places and a street is a platform for building wealth," Robinson says. In his opinion, Patton does neither particularly well right now, giving it the title of "stroad," a mix-mash of road and street.

"The answer is a mix of uses, increased density because it's a transit corridor, slow vehicle speeds and maybe the most important answer is it needs to have people who care about it enough to take care of it," Robinson said. A graphic in one of his Instagram videos imagines new side roads and new housing complexes that replace parking lots and the Arby's. One commenter noted it might be possible after the completion of the I-26 expansion project.

After explaining his vision for Patton Avenue while sitting in a Chipotle, a man sitting next to him lit up with a smile, asking: "Is your name Rob?"

The man turned his phone toward Robinson, and on the screen was one of Robinson's videos.

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Will Hofmann is the Growth and Development Reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA Today Network. Got a tip? Email him at WHofmann@citizentimes.com. Please help support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.

This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Asheville YouTuber highlights Patton Avenue dangers in popular videos

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