Monday, January 17, 2005


From today's News and Record:

Mayor Keith Holliday made the comment that 'It scares people to death' when talk arises of condos being built nearby. There are valid reasons why people are scared. Is there anyone in Greensboro who can't wait to have condos or townhomes in their back yard?
So wrote Greensboro resident Robin Parker (Lettters to the Editor). The worst consequence of density that she could think of, though, was having Guilford College students partying nearby. (I'm trying really, really hard not to smile. But I'm just imagining a suburban family being terrorized by roving bands of wealthy, Quaker, Birkenstock-shod peaceniks.)

Ms. Parker is right that density changes the nature of neighborhoods. I live in a single-family home, but the housing around me is varied: next door is a 6-unit apartment house, on the other side, a single family house. Across the street are two single-family houses, along side of Breedlove's Radiator Shop. Behind me are two single-family houses, one of which was a day-care center until recently, and another 6-unit apartment house.

The most annoying thing we've experienced here, paradoxically, came from a single-family home that was temporarily occupied by UNCG students. They occasionally partied late into the night. Less annoying but more frightening, we found out last year that one of the tenants in the apartment building next door was engaging in crime. Instead of heading for the 'burbs, though, we pressured the landlord, who evicted the tenant and later sold the building to someone a bit more responsible. The other 6-unit apartment building near us has had nothing but great tenants, usually up-and-coming young professionals like GoTriad editor Jerry Rowe, who lived there for several years.

On the whole, I overwhelming like the mixed density here: We meet a lot more 20-something people than we would if we lived in the suburbs, and we meet a lot of people who are different from us. Many of them are artists, writers, or musicians, though others are regular working people. All bring a wide range of experiences to neighborhood life. At nearby St. Leo's Place, a low-income retirement community, we have a group of very quiet, friendly tenants, who let us use their beautiful community room for neighbhorhood meetings. A denser neighborhood also means that more services and people are nearby, so we often walk to the store or to friends' houses rather than driving.

The apartment dwellers also seem to get a lot out of living in a mixed-density neighborhood. Quite a number of them have liked it here so much that they have bought houses in the neighborhood, and others who have left usually tell me how happy they were living here. I think this kind of housing situation helps to socialize young people into the habits of adult life better than if they were "ghettoized" in some faceless apartment complex.

But the disadvantages are real, too; they include several landlords who do a lousy job of maintaining their properties (see David Hoggard's post on Bill Agapion, who owns a couple of houses here), some bad tenants, and, as I mentioned, somewhat more crime than you'll find in Lake Jeanette or New Irving Park.

But I find it personally unattractive, in the face of such problems, to decamp to the suburbs, though we could easily afford to do so. That kind of balkanization of cities, wherein the talented and wealthy pick up their social capital and take it with them to greener pastures, seems morally ugly. Something in me wants to stay and try to "brighten the corner where I am," to paraphrase Fred Chappel.

So anyway, am I scared of townhomes and condos? Hah. Bring 'em on.


Anonymous said...

" roving bands of wealthy, Quaker, Birkenstock-shod peaceniks"

Uh, that would be the professors, not the students.


Anonymous said...

What the people in Greensboro need to understand is that there's another decamping going on. And it's not those who don't care enough about their street as a public realm who then run for the economic segregation of contemporary subdivision living.

It's people like my wife and I- young, well-educated people with high earning potential who went to school in the Triad. We like living in moderately dense environments (3500-6000 people per sq mile) because we love to walk and spend our money locally rather than in big corporate boxes. We're decamping for cities and regions that have walkable, mixed-use communities.

Living in Carrboro, we walk to the grocery store, to dinner, and the movies on a regular basis, in all 4 seasons. We see people out and about on the streets, and stop to say hello. Combined, we drive less than 10,000 miles a year. There's an elementary school in our neighborhood that has sidewalks and bikepaths connecting it easily to our home, and we think it will be an excellent place to raise children.

When we came here 2 years ago, the plan was to move back to the Triad at the first opportunity. Now that we're here, and know what we'd be missing, it's doubtful we'd return. Strangely enough, it's not the schools, or housing prices, or the job market- it mostly has to do with enjoying the traditional town urban form here that affords us our current lifestyle.

Keith Holliday should repeat these words to himself everytime the City Council turns down a permit for denser infill development: "We're young. We're educated. We want to live in a real neighborhood. We're gone." Quietly, one young person at a time- that's what happens as Greensboro continues to sprawl.