Friday, February 11, 2005

A civics lesson and a hug

Good city policy often comes out of conflict, and I observed a wonderful example of that last night at a meeting of the Greensboro Neighborhood Congress. The Congress was discussing a draft noise ordinance for the city.

Terry Wood, Greensboro's city attorney, has been hammering out the ordinance with the help of an ad-hoc committee of downtown business leaders, along with representatives from several downtown neighborhoods. It's almost finished, and Wood wants to get the ordinance on the March 1, 2005 City Council agenda for adoption.

The ad-hoc committee itself arose because last year the City Council hastily adopted an ordinance to allow late-night activities in the downtown business district. They did so at the behest of Downtown Greensboro, Inc. and other downtown leaders. But downtown neighborhoods objected because they hadn't been consulted. So Wood got the two groups together to work out a more coherent, comprehensive ordinance.

Westerwood residents Marsh Prause and Todd Rotruck, and Fisher Park resident Ann Stringfield have worked on the ad-hoc committee. All three are charter members of the Congress, and they summarized the draft ordinance for us last night.

Marsh very strongly recommended that the Congress endorse it right away, fearing that other groups might oppose it, and that the city would then be left with the status quo. (As those of you who've experienced noise problems in Greensboro know, the status quo is a noise ordinance that is so vague that it is literally unenforceable.)

But some of east Greensboro's battle-scarred activists in the congress invoked their right of veto. Nettie Coad and Dorothy Brown of the Ole Asheboro Neighborhood weren't about to endorse anything that they and their neighbors hadn't read.

After a very frank exchange of views, the GNC voted to ask the City Council not to put the noise ordinance on the March 1st agenda, in order to allow more time for the Congress to consult with neighbors on the details of the plan. We don't know whether city officials will comply with our wishes.

When the meeting was over, Nettie Coad grabbed Marsh Prause (they were the two most, um, enthusiastic view-exchangers) and said, "hug me like you mean it, Marsh." And he did.

What a lesson in citizenship. Nettie, Dorothy, and a lot of other people in the room pushed the Congress to push the city towards a better legislative process. I can't think of a reason in the world why we should hustle a far-reaching noise ordinance through the Council without a full vetting by the citizens who will be affected by it.

Nor can I think of a more hopeful image of Greensboro civic life than Nettie, an African-American woman who has lived through segregation, white flight, urban renewal, and urban decline, the veteran of countless urban policy skirmishes, with her arm around the neck of Marsh Prause, a young, prosperous, civic-minded, white lawyer.

1 comment:

D. Hoggard said...

What a great image you painted for me.
Knowing both Nettie and Marsh as I do - neither the squabble nor the hug are surprising events