Saturday, April 30, 2005

Tucson Spring


Friday, April 29, 2005

iPod Ode

Mr. Sun reminds us that this is National Poetry Month. And so, since I've been reading Milton and listening to my iPod, the following just sort of popped out. Apologies all around.

Of Man's (and Woman's) iPod and the Fruit
That glows from its illumin'd screen, whence comes
Abundant music flowing sweet, and all
Our bliss, sing, O Technic Muse, as when
Great Jobs in Siliconian Vale – or shall
I Sunny rather name, with glassy box
for office well-adorn'd, and swarming 'round
the polo-shirted drones? – conceived in his
Deep mind the Lisa, or the Macintosh,
Full-blazon'd with the half-ingested fruit.
To what might I compare thee, Toy
Incomparable, since thou alone hast crush'd
The walk- and disc-man both, to join their curs'd
Forebears – eight tracks, casettes, and tapey reels,
And cumbrous tables spinning in their rounds?
All vanquish'd utterly, and in their place
Ten thousand songs, or twenty, leap at beck
Of nimble finger flick'd about thy orb
Tactile, thy glist'ring cover compassing
A world of joy. To thee orisons sweet
I raise, who doth transport me 'cross long time
And space, and in an instant me relays
Into the Seventies, to hear great King
A hymn to Woman Natural sing forth,
And to myself I seem to be by beans
Embrac'd, their frequent concourse all envinyl'd
My feet upon a whelm of shag to float.
But Shuffle mode's great pow'r doth me remove
Instant to Canadian Gould's expert
Baroque concertos passionate, and all
His bee-like humming o'er the keys. Or next
To Castro's sunny Isle am I transpos'd
-- or should I say Battista's? -- and by muse
Cubanic doth the Social Club perform.
O Wondrous cubicle full pack'd with worlds
Symphonic! Toungue will not suffice to tell
Thy praise, for as Costello, sage of rock
Hath noted oft, men's speech of music fails
As doth the futile architectural dance

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Tour of Vick Commons

A few preservation enthusiasts got a preview tour of the newly-renovated Vick Commons on Fisher Avenue last week. Dawn Cheney, the owner, has done a remarkable job of renovation and restoration.

She took a great deal of trouble to restore original features like wall sconces, chandeliers, and the original mailboxes to a nearly pristine shine and glow. She also preserved the original wooden, double-hung windows, which are usually the first casualty in jobs like these. Window-replacement companies often say they can't be fixed, but Dawn's restored windows work beautifully and look great.

All the units have completely modern kitchens and appliances, brand-new tile baths and showers, and the original walls, floors, and trim work are all like new. Each unit has a little Florida room, and there's a slate public patio in front. She plans to sell the individual units as condominiums. If I didn't have 3 kids and 2 dogs (let's not even count the cats), I'd love to live here.

But some of the people in my tour group seemed pessimistic about whether Greensboro's development, business, and financial community "get" this sort of thing. I heard it expressed (not for the first time) that a lot of them would like to tear down every old building in downtown Greensboro and put up a few more Wachovia towers.

We'll see. Nothing succeeds like success, and if Vick Commons is as successful as I think it will be, maybe the smell of money will change a few minds. I hope Dawn will make a ton of cash on this project.

And if we could get all those preservation skeptics to watch that episode of the Antiques Road Show in which an 18th-century Japanned chest brings in $1.8 million simply because it is in decent, original condition, maybe we'd begin to make the point that historic authenticity has tremendous economic value.

And that's true not only for individual properties, but for cities, too. That's why it just makes me shake my head in embarrassment when our mayor says in a public hearing, "I have my doubts about the whole idea of historic districts."

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Best Hardware Store

Glenn Reynolds discusses the comparative merits of Lowe's and Home Depot.

In my view, neither one can hold a candle to McKnight's Hardware on East Bessemer Street in Greensboro, especially if you've got a tricky home repair project that requires hardware expertise.

Though McKnight's is an old, family-owned hardware store, the staff is very high-tech. Service people walk the floor with little headsets on, and will ask you immediately if they can help you find something. They know EXACTLY where everything is -- or if they don't, they radio someone who does. If you tell them you're just browsing, they'll leave you alone, and if you need advice, they're usually pretty knowledgeable. By now, most of the staff recognize me when I come in.

They also sell Carrhart clothing along with hunting equipment in a corner of the store that is decorated with animal head trophies. It's where I bought my wife's Christmas present this year (a 20-gague shotgun).

It's not a huge store, but they seem to have a lot of stuff -- just not things like lighting, rugs, and major appliances. The only real downside is that they're closed on Sundays, when I like to do most of my hardware-related puttering.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Cornel West at UNCG

More than 1,000 people squeezed into the Cone Ballroom on Friday night to give Dr. Cornel West some love, and he loved them back. I think West is perhaps the most magnetic and compelling personality I've ever experienced.

As you can see from the picture, the crowd was mostly African-American. I arrived 40 minutes early and sneaked into one of the few open seats near the front, surrounded by a group of students mostly from N.C.A.&T. University.

West was introduced by Ben Ramsey, an old friend of West's, and now a UNCG religion professor. Ben's introduction was by turns funny and moving as he recounted an anecdote from West's early teaching days, involving West spotting Diana Ross on the street and, star-struck, following her into Bloomingdale's. But the end of the introduction, which recalled West's and Ramsey's late mentor, moved West to tears as he approched the lectern.

It was at that point that the crowd underwent a very sudden transformation. They had sat quietly and appreciatively through Ben's introduction. But as West uttered his first words, the body language of everyone around me relaxed, and I began hearing the umm-hmmms and amens and oh yeas that would punctuate the rest of the evening's talk. They adored him, and he embraced them, not only rhetorically, but often by gesturing with his arms wide throughout the evening.

Socratic inquiry was West's leitmotif. He began by invoking Socrates's famous saying, "the unexamined life is not worth living," and followed it with Malcolm X's accurate addition, "the examined life is painful." He then introduced Socrates's less-popular notion that the aim of all philosophy is a preparation for death, and exhorted his listeners to contemplate their mortality and decide what would make their short lives worthwhile.

A summary of what he said would not do justice to his virtuosic delivery. He is a preacher, really, not a lecturer, though a preacher as fluent in philosophy and literature as in scripture. His talk did not constitute an argument, but rather was a series of compelling rhetorical riffs on materialsm, conformism, plutocracy, the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, terrorism, and African-American music, woven in with his ideas on "Socratic energy," democracy, and cultural and spiritual death and rebirth.

Here are some quotes:

"Define your own voice rather than imitating others. Cut against the forces of conformity. The forces of conformity are market-driven, driven by titillation and temptation, as opposed to decency and dignity."

"Everyone says, 'be successful, be successful, be successful.' But if success is just more toys and 'security,' how narrow is that? By that definition, you can be 'successful' and still be a gangster, still be a thug."

"St. Paul says we must die every day. The fundamentalists should think about that. That, and 'love your neighbor.' Learning how to die -- giving up an assumption you're clinging to for dear life -- can lead you through spiritual death, regeneration, rebirth."

"My vision of democracy is each person unleashing the Socratic energies in their hearts and minds."

"Slavery was constituitive of American democracy, but not part of it. It is not even mentioned in the Constitution. This was a conspiracy of the founding fathers and brothers. It was hypocricy and mendacity. The American founders were not Socratic -- they lost sight of humanity."

"The Confederacy was a violent insurrection trying to overthrow the democratic U. S. government. Jefferson Davis was at least open about the importance of slavery for the U.S. economy. Thank you, Jeff Davis!" (laughter and applause).

"Lynching was a species of American terrorism" (lots of umm-hmms).

"Through slavery and Jim Crow, whites taught blacks to hate themselves, so that they were in bondage even if they were walking free on the street" (applause).

"9-11 was the first time all America felt hated the way blacks felt hated. America's violent reaction -- that's what happens when a whole nation is 'niggerized'" (wild applause). [It was clear that West and his audience viewed white America's reaction to 9-11 with a kind of bitterly amused schadenfreude.]

"Hip-hop came from the killing fields of chocolate cities. Hip-hop artists constituted tremendous power, before they were ripped off by the record industry, and it all became about money. We went from MLK's 'let freedom ring' to the bling-bling."

"Now what we got is 50 Cent. Is that all he thinks he's worth? 50 Cent is the white man's construction of the black male."

"The negro spiritual is the first great American art form. Jim Crow gave us the Blues. Hip-hop is in that tradition -- the tradition of bearing witness."

"Jazz is the highest form of symbolic democratic action."

"The world listens to jazz, to Luther, to Aretha, to Stevie, to get a taste of what freedom should be like."

"People who put whiteness on a pedestal are pathological. People who put it in the gutter are still using it as a point of reference. People who put it in the human continuum can understand it."

"This generation has not been loved enough. In my neighborhood growing up, I couldn't get away from neighbors looking after me. Now we've taken the 'neighbor' out, and we just have the 'hood'. In a 'hood' it's survival of the slickest. It's a Hobbesian war of all against all. More guns, more drugs. FAMILIES are weaker, fathers are weaker, mothers are poor. Market forces are eating at the family through 100, 200, 350 channels to some orgasm machine. Nothing wrong with orgasms, but you need to have a conversation sometimes" (applause and laughter).

"You can't sustain democracy in this market-driven way of life. Don't follow the old leaders -- there's too much materialism and success there. A pheasant struts because it can't fly."

"Constantinian Christians are suffocating the prophetic Christians. How do you shake them out of their sleepwalk? Lovingly, democratically, Socratically."

"Young folk need to find new ways to lead. Older folk need to get out of the way. When brother Cosby corrects the young, he should make sure they feel some love and compassion."

This doesn't do justice to his presentation. But despite his tremendous personal warmth and riveting manner, there wasn't much that was actually Socratic about what he said; in fact, his speech and delivery reminded me much more of one of Socrates's sophistic opponents, Gorgias of Leontini. What little classical scholarship he quoted he got wrong (he derived the word "human" from Lat. humando -- he could have just looked it up). And much as I deplore the role of money in politics, he didn't offer much in the way of economics that I could get behind.

I couldn't help but notice some mild irony in West's deploring materialism and 'success', and the students' vocal assent to this, when most of them -- perhaps the most successful generation of African-Americans in history -- had been busy taking digital photos, text-messaging friends, and sending cell-phone photos a few minutes before. The black A&T student I chatted with before the talk told me he planned to be a C.I.A. analyst when he graduated.

No mind. Cornel West is a great preacher and a great lover, and I'm glad that I went to listen to him.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Dr. Mike Adams at UNCG

UNC Wilmington criminology professor Mike Adams, a free-speech gadfly to university administrators across the nation, talked at UNCG this evening.

Most of his talk was devoted to stories about the suppression of speech through the use of speech codes on various campuses, and about attempts by administrators to defund or de-recognize Christian groups by enforcing open membership rules on them. The usual tack in these cases, according to Adams, is to draft rules that require such groups to admit non-believers, then to defund them if they balk at this. This did not make much sense to Adams (nor does it to me); Adams likened the tactic to forcing campus Jewish groups to admit Nazis.

Adams is a passionate devotee of free speech. He sees it as his function to increase the "marketplace of ideas" on campuses, and encouraged the College Republicans never to try to suppress anyone's speech on campus: "Add to the campus conversation."

"State Universities are places where people are not supposed to be comfortable -- there is supposed to be debate," he said. "If someone on your campus is engaging in censorship, fight them, even if you are on the same side. Free speech is more important than the status of your group."

But he doesn't think that university administrators, on the whole, are very enthusiastic about it.

"In the 60's, kids were fighting for the right to be treated like adults. In the 70's, they became professors. In the 80's and 90's they became university administrators, and set about instituting speech codes and stifling free speech," he said. "They never really believed in free speech in the first place."

Adams seems to function as a kind of hired gun for Republican students on campuses who have run afoul of speech or membership codes; they call him, and he offers students advice on legal or public relations strategies. He also calls university administrators and asks lots of questions about the constitutionality of their codes. Apparently he's had a lot of success in getting universities to back off.

I was interested to learn that Adams is a former left-wing atheist who voted for Dukakis in '88, worrying only that Dukakis wasn't sufficiently liberal.

About 60 people were present to hear him. Thought the crowd was mostly white, some of Adams' biggest fans in the audience were minorities, and one young lady had rainbow-dyed hair and an impressive spiked dog collar on her neck. I think I was the only member of the faculty or administration there; at least, I didn't see any that I recognized.

Tomorrow night's guest speaker: Cornel West!

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Elementary School Book Censorship

Eric Muller is upset about some books in his child's public elementary school library that have a decidedly pro-evangelical Christian slant at the expense of Buddhism and Islam, and has asked that they be removed from the school's bookshelves because of their "overtly sectarian and proselytizing theme."

I understand his discomfort. When she was in the fourth grade, my older daughter brought home The Golden Compass, the first part of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. Pullman has said that he writes with an explicit goal: "to undermine the basis of Christian belief." He is apparently a particular hater of C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia series of children's books.

I didn't make my daughter stop reading the book or ask that it be removed from her Catholic school library. But we had a long talk about the book and the author's point of view and intentions, of which she had been quite unaware.

I wonder: would Eric also want to pull Lewis's Narnia series from the shelves? That series is at least as proselytizing as the ones Eric objected to, though covertly so. (Maybe that's worse?) Or what about His Dark Materials? It has an explicitly pantheist point of view. Are Neo-Pagan books to be pulled, too?

Bad idea. When you start pulling books from the school library shelves, you end up with shelves full of very dull books.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

A Little Rurality

Talk about your different career paths.

Laurette and I drove down to the Red Bud Festival in Saxapahaw, NC yesterday at the invitation of an old friend of mine from Davenport, Iowa.

I first met Bob Faris in my 7th grade homeroom at Sudlow Junior High. I was small for my age, and he was big. He used to pick me up under my armpits and pin me against the wall, in an entirely good-natured way. He had a part time job digging graves at the cemetery off Eastern Avenue and had incredible upper-body strength.

Bob used to tell me that he wanted to hop a freight train with his guitar over his shoulder and become a musician, and that's pretty much what he did, except that he didn't do it in the 7th grade.

Through high school, I spent many Friday nights at Bob's house learning how to play bluegrass. Bob played guitar and was learning to play fiddle; I had taken up the 5-string banjo. We played in a number of bands in high school and in one year of college. I reached my musical metier as a banjo artist that year, in a band called the Corn Palace Conquistadors, which consisted of Bob, Bruce Millard, Chris Carringon, and me. The others went on to greater musical pursuits; I became a classics professor.

Bob married a little country girl named Michelle and headed for the big time, touring as Reba McIntyre's fiddler and working in Branson, Missouri until the road life got to be too much. He and Michelle had four boys, and he taught them all how to play.

I got to see them all performing as the Faris Family on Saturday at the Red Bud Festival. Bob, Michelle, and I are no longer young. Their four boys are all young men. And can they all play and sing. Better than Bob and I did at that age, and soon they'll be better than their dad ever was, if they're not already.

After the show, Bob introduced me to his oldest son, James Robert. "Oh, I've heard about you," he said. "Let me shake your hand." He did so and said, "Now I can say that I've shaken the hand of an educated banjo player!"

My claim to fame.

I can hardly imagine a life of touring bluegrass festivals across the country, and I'm sure Bob can hardly imagine a life of teaching Latin poetry. But it was awfully good to see him, Michelle, and the boys.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Family Shredder

Every business day, some credit card company or other sends me a sheet of "checks" that are attached to a document covered with a lot of very fine print.

The company is trying to get me to fill out the checks, which I'm pretty sure are nothing more than a credit-card cash advance at very high interest and penalties. I've never used the checks or bothered to read the fine print, because I know a scam when I see one, even when it's being offered by a big-name bank.

Instead, the checks go through our family shredder, along with the other credit card applications that arrive daily. (You should have a shredder too, to prevent identity theft.) But not everyone is so wary, and some people in tough situations probably do use those checks, which are the crack cocaine of credit.

Today the banks who lure the unwary, the unwise, or the desperate into the credit habit got a big break from the U. S. Congress, which just passed a bankruptcy "reform" bill. The bill makes it much harder for people to start out again with a clean slate if they get into credit trouble because of a catastrophic illness or a lost job. My friend David Hoggard has some insight into this kind of situation.

I agree with Glenn Reynolds that companies which grant credit indiscriminately, with sneakily usurious interest rates and penalty schedules, should bear the consequences of their own high-risk lending decisions. This bill protects them from that risk and shifts the cost of the risk to consumers.

Why not a credit reform bill that limits fees, penalties, and APRs, outlaws payday loan sharks, and encourages saving and investment?

Don't answer. I know the answer, and I don't like it.

Anyhow, just FYI: in Dante's Inferno, unscrupulous lenders are forced to spend all eternity lying naked on burning sands, their eyes fixed open and staring at their bags of money (each bag marked with the insignia of the appropriate bank), while an unending shower of burning, sulfurous flakes rains down upon their bodies. Just FYI.

People Don't Want Free Money

I just printed out a letter to the NC Department of Revenue, asking them to send me $4,200, and you know what? They're going to do it. In fact, they've done it every year for the past 3 years, and they'll do it next year, too.

We did a major renovation of our house in 2002, and since our house is in a historic district, it was eligible for the NC State historic preservation tax credit. The credit allows us to get 30% of our total renovation costs back from our state taxes over a 5-year period. In all, we'll get $21,000 back from the state.

But here's the really weird thing. You would think that an incentive like this would have people in Greensboro's historic districts rushing to apply for the credit, wouldn't you? Especially since property values in the districts have been rising so fast.

But it's not happening. The State Preservation Office requires that your application be fully approved before you begin work, or you can't get the tax credit, and the approval takes about 90 days. Most people don't want to go to the trouble of filling out the application, or don't want to wait that long. I know 3 people who turned down the opportunity for these credits in the past few months.

I probably spent about 10 hours total filling out and documenting my application, and we made our contractor wait until we got approval. $21,000 for 10 hours of work? That's the best consulting fee I'll ever get. I just don't get why more people don't do this.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Oklahoma City

Today's Wall Street Journal has a big story about Oklahoma City's Revival. Subheadline: Ten Years after Bombing, Downtown Sees a Renaissance; No More 'Inferiority Complex.'

Greensboro residents will remember that Action Greensboro took members of our City Council on a tour of Oklahoma City a few years ago, looking for ideas to help us out of our economic malaise. Here's the Journal's assessment of how the Okies have fared:

. . . Oklahoma City's downtown is thriving. The Bricktown district is buzzing with night life, people are moving downtown, . . . and property prices are booming. Add to that two successful stadiums, a $52 million performing arts center, a $22 million central library, a "Riverwalk" type canal, a trolley, clubs and restaurants, and the downtown of the once-sleepy city of 500,000 is bustling. . . . Property values in some parts of downtown have grown by about 500% over the past 15 years.
Whew. All together, they spent $350 million. How did they do it?

Ahem. With taxes.

Oklahoma City voted itself a sales tax increase and then spent the money on a pile of local public works. That is, they spent it on themselves. According to the Journal, its investment led to $1.5 billion (yes, billion) being invested downtown, and more is on the way.

Sounds kind of like a libertarian nightmare, doesn't it? But if the libertarian dream is simply the private enjoyment of one's own property, it sounds pretty dull to me. I really enjoy public places like parks, libraries, greenways, and theaters, and don't mind at all paying for them.

I don't think that's anti-conservative; it's small government (a city) carrying out the will of the people on a local level.

Just something to think about.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Stadium Explosions

David Hoggard is reporting that the latest draft of a proposed new noise ordinance for Greensboro prohibits explosions:
The creation of sound through an explosion or replication of the sound of an explosion so as to unreasonably annoy the public or disturb the rest or quiet of residential property owners while on their residential property [is prohibited].
Last night I heard fireworks explosions from the Greensboro Grasshoppers' home opener at the new First Horizon Park, though I couldn't actually see the fireworks as I used to when they were at War Memorial Stadium. Sigh. Nothing but downside in the new arrangement for me.

Maybe that's making the Greensboro News & Record's sportswriters happy. In the last couple of weeks they've wasted no opportunity to insult the old stadium, and, by association, those who thought renovating it was a better idea than building a new one. Bill Haas in today's paper (sorry, no link available) reported a standing ovation at last night's game, adding (gratuitously, and wrongly, according to my recollection) that people seldom did that at Memorial Stadium. And last week, N&R sports columnist Ed Hardin also went out of his way to recall only tawdry memories of War Memorial: "It wasn't a happy place."

Hey, guys. You won. You got a beautiful new stadium. Enjoy it, and stop rubbing our noses in it.

Personally, I want people to have a great time at the new stadium, and to celebrate with fireworks. But if stadium boosters keep being "sore winners," I would imagine that some new stadium neighbors wouldn't mind raining on that parade a little by trying to make the "no explosions" provision apply to fireworks.

Update: Hoggard has more to say on the subject.

Update II (4.11.05): Ed Cone went to last night's Grasshoppers game, and reports that an owner "sincerely wants to quell any bad feelings." Sounds like a good idea to me. Ed Hardin's number is 373-7069. Bill Haas: 373-7047. Give them a call to get them on board, too.

Saturday, April 9, 2005

Reel Mowing

This is the third year I've been using this reel mower:

Here's why I like it better than a power mower:

1. EFFICIENCY. Through the wonder of Newton's third law, the reel mower always draws exactly the right amount of energy -- no more and no less -- from its power source (that's you) to do the cutting required. The reel mower is Saladin's scimitar, as compared to the power mower, which is King Richard's broadsword.

2. EASY TO START AND TURN OFF. Walk! Stop walking!

3. ELEGANCE. The reel mower neatly snips the blades of grass with its penta-helical whirling scissors (that's what its cutting blades are, you know). The power mower just whacks the top of the grass off (because you don't sharpen them twice a year like you're supposed to, do you? That's why the tips of your grass are brown).

4. FESTIVITY. Whereas the power mower leaves nasty clumps of crushed, damp grass to rot in your yard, the reel mower throws up a little cloud of green confetti that settles gently at your feet. Whee!

5. AURAL DELIGHT. Not only can I use my reel mower at 7 a.m. and not bother my neighbors (not that I would ever actually want to mow at 7 a.m., but somebody might. Maybe you have a neighbor who you'd like to have one of these), but the gentle susurrus* of its blades actually evokes memories of a simpler era for people of a certain age -- kind of like Proust's cup of tea, but with a lawn mower.

*Do you know how long I've been waiting to use this word?

6. MAINTENANCE. According to the manual, its blades need to be sharpened every five years. No oil changes, no air filter changes, no spark plug changes, no gas to buy. I spray mine with a little WD40 about every third time I use it. I suppose if you wanted to get really retro, you could use one of those oil cans they used on the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz.

7. PRICE. Mine cost $85 a couple of years ago.

8. AEROBICISE! It's gives me a little more exercise than my push power mower (but not a lot), and when the grass is thick in midsummer, it works the pecs and triceps a little. I figure I work off about 250 calories on my yard. It also makes you smell manly.

9. NO EMISSIONS. Except from you.

10. WEIGHT. It's the Oreck XL of the mower world. You can pick it up with one hand and hang it on a hook.

11. MORAL SUPERIORITY is what you feel when you use it! (Not that you are morally superior.) (Well, maybe just a little.)

I think it does a pretty good job of cutting:

But caveat sector ("let the mower beware"). If you want a butch-waxed, super-thick, heavily-fertilized lawn, you probably won't like a reel mower. You have to cut twice (in two directions) for a really smooth look, and even then it's a bit more relaxed than what you get with a good power cut and a sharp blade. I cut twice in front for the neighbors, and once in back for the dogs. But if you let the grass get really long, you're in a world of pain, because the rotor just kind of rolls over really high grass.

For me, the pro's outweight the con's.

Friday, April 8, 2005

Thursday, April 7, 2005

Ours is Better

Have a look at this new downtown stadium in Charleston, West Virginia.

Even if you were for renovating War Memorial Stadium, as I was (and I still believe that it could have been very successful), you have to admit that Greensboro's First Horizon Park (photos by TheShu), designed by local architect Kenneth Mayer, is way better than that one in West Virginia.

Update 4.9.05: JA from West Virginia emailed me: "As a native West Virginian, I was disappointed to see your 'ours is better than theirs' posting on your blog regarding ball parks. Please leave the "naah, naah, naah, naah, naah, naah" postings to other, less erudite bloggers. Stick to your reflective, educational, positive, upbeat format!"

That's the nicest scolding I've ever received, and I'll try to avoid invidious comparisions from now on.

Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Land Development Ordinance Rewrite

Greensboro is beginning the process of reviewing and rewriting its Land Development Ordinance (LDO), otherwise known as the zoning ordinance. The city has hired a consulting firm for at least part of this work, and they began this week by interviewing "stakeholders" -- that means anybody who has a stake in the rewrite, and I guess that includes anybody who owns property.

I was one of dozens interviewed, but couldn't stay for my whole session. Many of the people in my group were already known to me as activists working in older neighborhoods that face problems like disinvestment, poor propery stewardship, poor development planning, and inappropriate zoning. As a result, it was easy for us to come to a few quick agreements on what we'd like to see in a new zoning ordinance.

I think we probably had the strongest agreement that individual residential property owners and neighborhoods need a stronger voice when facing well-connected developers. The idea of a "meet and consult" provision to the ordinance was very popular. It would require developers to meet with neighborhoods well in advance (90 days?) of going to the zoning board to get approval for rezonings on major developments.

I'd like to hear what kind of consensus was reached in the other stakeholder groups, though. What do the people in Adams Farm think? Sunset Hills? New Irving Park? And what does the developers' stakeholder group think is important in a new LDO?

I'm a member of the citizens' advisory committee that will be giving input throughout the 18-month process, so I guess I'll find out.

And if YOU have any great ideas about what should be in the new LDO, please let me know.

Best Delegation

Do you mind if I brag about my son for a minute?

He's a freshman in high school, and has had a great year so far. One of the things he has really enjoyed is Model U.N.

His school's team just got back this evening from a regional conference at Appalachian State, where he and his partner, representing the United States, were voted "best delegation." I'm so proud of him!

(I guess I shouldn't be surprised that others would recognize his excellent argumentation and negotiation skills. He certainly has been honing his talents at home.)

Way to go, Sam!

Monday, April 4, 2005


We met some new friends in Chapel Hill, via some old friends, and in the course of conversation they told us a little about the new neighborhood they live in (I swear I didn't bring up the subject. Really!). From what they said, it sounded a lot like a neo-traditional development, so I dragged Laurette and my youngest daughter along to see it. My daughter was enticed in to coming only by a promised stopoff at Southpoint Mall.

Her attitude changed when we found our new friends' neighborhood, which is called Meadowmont. The drizzly, cool day was a bit dreary, but she ooh'd and ahh'd over what she saw.

Meadowmont has almost everything you might expect from a traditional neighborhood district. There are sidewalks on both sides of the street, planted with trees. The houses have wide and deep front porches, and separate walks lead from the sidewalk to the porch. The point is to encourage a lot of street activity, and apparently it works. Nikko, a resident I talked to, said that neighbors do a lot of socializing on their porches.

There's a variety of housing types. Lots of small cottages, like this one,

and also much bigger, elaborate houses:

The architecture is eclectic, obviously borrowing lots of elements and ideas from traditional American houses, but they don't exactly look old-fashioned, either.

I was mostly impressed with the ways they solve the "garage door problem" -- how do you downplay the entrance to something that is nothing more than a huge storage area? On all the houses, the garage is either recessed, or decorated with elements like windows or faux hardware, or painted a darker color. Some of them are made to look like old-fashioned carriage house doors, and some houses have detached garages with alley access. I also like the way they planted grass strips in most of the wider driveways to break up the stark appearance of the concrete and reduce the amount of impermeable surface.

These rowhouses are really very opulent, and some are priced at $1.2 million (yes, you read that right). The ground slopes away to the rear, so they're actually four stories tall, with rear alley, underground garage access and rear balconies with beautiful views of the rest of the neighborhood. What's remarkable to me is that they're just a stone's throw from middle-class town houses and -- gasp -- apartments. Apparently some of the very rich enjoy hobnobbing with the middle class. I like that.

All of this is within a short walk of the neighborhood center, which features a Harris Teeter (you can see the low-end townhouses near it)

and a small commercial district that has shops, offices, and restaurants, with condominiums on the 2nd and 3rd floors.

Also at the neighborhood center are an elementary school, a wellness center, a retirement community, and a swim club. With all that stuff, it's pretty obvious that the neighborhood houses people from all stages of life.

Everyone I talked to there seemed ridiculously happy with the neighborhood, and even on that drizzly, cool Saturday, quite a few people were walking around or hanging out in the coffee shop.

The only person who wasn't happy to be there was my daughter. She said, "Dad, why did you bring me here? Now I'm just mad that I can't live here."

One reason we can't live there is price. Chapel Hill has the highest real estate costs in the state, and a Meadowmont resident told me that the neighborhood is so popular that it's now commanding the highest per-square-foot prices in Chapel Hill. It's also true that building a neighborhood this way just plain costs more than building a bunch of houses out in a field.

But if I lived in Chapel Hill, I'd be willing to pay, I think. It's really a pretty remarkable place.

You can read Meadowmont's sales pitch here.

Sunday, April 3, 2005

Rabbi Guttman and Father Frank

I was suprised and pleased to see Rabbi Fred Guttman from Greensboro's Temple Emmanuel Emanuel standing at the lectern as we arrived (late!) for mass at Our Lady of Grace this morning. He was there to honor the late Pope John Paul II.

As we walked in, Rabbi Guttman had just begun talking about the Pope's contributions to better relations between Catholics and Jews, and he spoke so movingly about John Paul's visit to Jerusalem and the Wailing Wall, and of the Pope's expressions of sorrow and contrition for the sins of Catholics against Jews throughout Christian history, that he actually made my spine tingle.

When he was finished, our pastor Fr. Frank O'Rourke hugged him, and the congregation broke out into spontaneous applause.

That was a truly magnanimous and beautiful thing that Rabbi Guttman did.