Saturday, June 25, 2005

Heading East

We're heading here for the week:

I might try some beach blogging from Hatteras, but we'll have to see how things go with the laptop and wireless connection at the beach house. Even if they go well, I might just be too lazy to write.

Trajan and Hero will be watching over things here at home, along with a friend who'll be looking after them.


"It Was Fun!"

So said Sam after this morning's Fun Fourth 10k. He also said, "Oh, man, I hurt."

Me, too. The last mile is mostly uphill -- up north Elm from Irving Park, then up the hill on Greene St. past the monumental First Presbyterian Church. I always feel like puking at that point, and today was no exception.

Here are "the lads" on our front porch before the race. From left, Pete Kellett, A Little Urbanity, Aboslutely American:

The start:

Yours truly at the start (Kellett is telling me I look nervous).

Absolutely American flies across the finish line:

Kellett creamed both of the Whartons, but in the intra-family rivalry, age and experience managed to hold off youth, vigor, and lots of red hair for just a little while longer. But not for much longer, I think.

Go, Sam, and congratulations on finishing your first 10k!

Friday, June 24, 2005

Race Jitters

Sam and I will be racing in tomorrow's Fun Fourth 10k tomorrow morning.

We've spent the evening psyching each other out. I honestly can't figure out who'll win: I have the experience of many races on my side, but he's got all that . . . youth. My joints keep telling me, youth is good. And, you don't have youth. Stuff like that. You get the idea.

Michael Parker will also be there. Prediction: Michael will win his age group. Maybe Kim will be there, too. Second prediction: she will win her age group if she comes. My friend Pete Kellet will be running with Sam and me.

Laurette will take photos of the exciting finish!

Cedar Street Is Hot

With the building of the new First Horizon Stadium in Greensboro, real estate in the Cedar Street neighborhood, which is a couple of blocks away, has suddenly gotten hot.

An historic, Art-Deco style apartment building was demolished recently; the owner is apparently land-banking the property, waiting for prices to rise.

One investor recently asked for, and got, permission to demolish a couple of historic houses in the neighborhood, to be replaced with office space.

Another developer just received permission to build upscale townhouses nearby.

And the city of Greensboro has started working on a neighborhood plan to guide development in the area.

Last night, a notorious, poorly-maintained apartment complex on Cedar Street burned. In the words of Paris Hilton: that's hot.

The News & Record has a story and photos. I stopped by this morning on my way to work (parking my red scooter next to the cop's Harley, much to the cop's amusement) and took some photos of the aftermath:

I'm reminded (classical reference alert!) of the great fire in Rome in the year 64 A.D., which destroyed acres of dilapidated housing in the center city. The emperor Nero took the opportunity (some said he caused the fire, but he blamed it on the Christians) to clear the area and build his Domus Aurea (Golden House).

Conspiracy theorists, draw historic parallels at will.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Two Scooter Conversations

Is it a trend?

Someone else has been parking a motor scooter in front of the McIver building every morning next to mine. I parked next to another one at the Central Library last week. And I seem to be seeing more of them around town -- but maybe that's just because I'm looking.

Anyway, as I parked mine in front of the office today, two university maintenance men started asking me questions: How many mpg? (80.) Do you need a license? (No.) Is it fun? (Yes.)

One of them said, "I oughta just move in closer and get me one of those."

Earlier in the day, I had a slightly different conversation about the scooter. I was at the Bessemer Curb Market picking up some milk for breakfast. A delivery man was out front.

"Nice bike," he said. I thanked him.

"That's not a 'drunk bike,' is it?" No, I still have my driver's license. I drive it because I like it, not because I have to.

"Well, I'm just pickin' at you. Don't mean anything by it. I'm Rochester, you know, and you're Jack Benny, if you know what I mean." I'm just barely old enough to know; the delivery man was 71, and guessed my age within a year.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Places I Walked And Things I Ate Today

I like to talk the pedestrian-friendly talk, but can I walk the pedestrian-friendly walk?

Yes -- when there's time. And there was time today.

This morning Laurette and I ambled over to the Greensboro Farmers' Curb Market to pick out some fresh tomatoes for dinner tonight (which was fettucini with cubed fresh mozarella, diced fresh tomatoes, and chopped fresh basil, all drizzled with a first-press olive oil that Laurette's parents bring us from Florence).

The produce at the market looked so good we couldn't resist the peaches or the strawberries. And Alex was there, so of course we had to get a couple of fresh raspberry scones. They were delicious.

Sam and I later walked over to the Summit Barber Shop for a haircut. We agreed that we like this barber shop better than SuperCuts; maybe next time we'll try this barbershop. On the way back, we avoided the temptation of ice cream at the Mayberry Restaurant -- we're both training for the Fun Fourth 10k race on Saturday. (Sam thinks he can beat me; I think this is the last year that I'll be able to hold him off.)

Best thing about the walking: talking with my wife and my son.

Update: Missy also took a nice walk yesterday, though in a somehwat larger city. Be sure to check out the "goodbye Manhattan" photo. (Via Instapundit.)

More Willow Oaks

After my earlier post about Willow Oaks I got an e-mail invitation from Greensboro's HCD director Andy Scott and community planner Dyan Arkin for a guided tour, which I gladly took them up on. We also met up with James Cox, the contractor with Mid-City Urban, the lead developer on the project. (Unfortunately, they couldn't show me the interiors of any of the completed units because they are all rented.)

I wanted to know just how a project like this comes into being. I got some answers, though please don't ask me to explain the finances of this project. The complex web of federal and city subsidies is far beyond my ken.

But here are a few facts that I was able to understand. It started with a $23 million Hope VI federal housing grant. Andy described Hope VI as an attempt to bring "the discipline of the private sector" to government-subsidized housing, and if you read Hope VI link, you'll see that it emphasizes community involvement, employment, and crime reduction. That's a very different approach from 60s-era urban renewal, when the government's main idea seemed to be, "let's knock down this old stuff and build some high-rises for poor people." Boy, did that approach not work.

Other partners in the project were the Greensboro Housing Authority, the City of Greensboro, and Mid-City Urban, which is investing some $60 million.

Duany Plater-Zyberk is the firm that did the overall neighborhood design. They did a great job of incorporating the ideas of the residents of Morningside Homes (the failed urban renewal project that Willow Oaks is replacing). DPZ gave digital cameras to the residents and sent them around Greensboro with instructions to photograph things that they'd like to see in their new neighborhood. Their preferences guided the architecture and greenspace designs that DPZ came up with.

DPZ's Tom Lowe was the lead designer; Andy Scott called him the best urban designer of his generation.

The first phase of the development -- mostly low-income apartments called The Villas -- is finished, and Mid-City is now building single-family houses ranging in size from 1250-2000 square feet. James Cox reports that interest in these houses is strong (one potential buyer is a dentist), though only a couple are completely finished. Several others are under construction. Cox indicated that prices start at about $125,000.

Another phase of development will bring in neighborhood-oriented retail and business -- hopefully including jobs for some Willow Oaks residents. I can't wait for that part, and hope it gets going soon. One of my daughters will be attending Lincoln Academy just a few blocks away from this neighborhood, and it's always nice to have another shopping option in the travel loop.

This kind of holistic approach -- folding low-income housing in with middle-class housing and neighborhood-friendly business and schools -- is typical of other Hope VI projects I've read about. And Willow Oaks successfully avoided one of the pitfalls that earlier Hope VI projects fell into, by making sure that the residents of Morningside Homes were all taken care of and relocated successfully into the new project.

Will it be a success? We won't really know for a generation or so, but I think it's got a good shot.

Monday, June 20, 2005

"A Little Urbanity" Making National News!

Sort of . . .

Last week I posted a humorous complaint about a Wall Street Journal column in which Cynthia Crossen confused Roman coins (called asses in Latin) with donkeys. It was an easy mistake to make, and I probably shouldn't have been so sniffy about it.

But Ed Cone picked it up, and we both e-mailed Crossen, who replied to me, joining in the fun: "I made an ass of myself," she wrote.

Today, the Journal ran a correction:

IN ANCIENT ROME, asses were a kind of coin used as currency. Wednesday's Deja Vu column erroneously said that Roman sumptuary laws limited the number of animals, including donkeys, that could be spent at festivals and parties.
Now John Hillen at The Corner, which is the lively, in-house group blog of National Review Online, is curious:
Now, who or what could have prompted that correction? It must be a coded message to a sleeper cell of supply siders in Univ. of Chicago's economics department or something.
Nope; it's just some pedantic nit-picking by a small-town classics geek blogger.

Ah, fame.

Hat tip to Laurette, who spotted the Corner post.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Frog Blogging

Friendly Frog coach Erin Harris directs warm-ups at last Tuesday night's match-up against the Lake Jeanette Lightning.

Swimmers and swim parents are a dedicated and polite group. This meet lasted nearly 5 hours, and was only one of 11 Community Swim Association meets that happen every Tuesday night in June. I worked this meet as a stroke and turn judge; in three years of doing this job, I have never been yelled at by a parent, coach, or athlete, though I've disqualified lots of swimmers.

CSA now has 2000+ swimmers participating every summer; this year, Olympic medalist Diana Munz will be visiting the CSA city championship.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Black Flight

Today I got a direct mail ad in the form of a big postcard from Kavanagh Homes, pitching their new development, Green Crest, in southeast Greensboro. It read thus:

Homes from the $125's

Nothing surprising there. Then I flipped the postcard over, and saw this:

I shouldn't have been surprised by the picture, either. I'm sure Kavanaugh did its market research, and was aiming at the main demographic of my part of town (northeast Greensboro).

Nor should I have been surpised at their pitch to young, successful African Americans, becasue it's part of a trend that's not at all new: lots of middle class blacks like the suburbs, just as white folks do, and move there when they can afford to.

An acquaintance of mine who lives in Greensboro's new Reedy Fork Ranch suburban development told me he liked its racial mix, and I have a black friend who's been warmly received in a very upscale development in exurban Summerfield. It's good to know that an influx of black homeowners won't always cause a mass exodus of whites any more.

I just hope some of them stay in the city and try to keep it a nice place to live, too.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Urbanity of Urbanities . . .

. . . all is urbanity. Well not quite, but we're getting there.

Here are two urban improvement projects that Greensboroans can participate in. First, via Cone, a press release from the City:

The City of Greensboro will hold two public meetings to get input from residents regarding development in the South Elm Street area on Wednesday, June 22 at Two Art Chicks, 609 South Elm Street...11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and again from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m....The meetings mark the beginning of a six-month planning process for South Elm Street. Anyone interested in the future land use and development of the area should plan to attend. For more information, please call 373-2751.
Next, from Action Greensboro and Downtown Greensboro, Inc.:

As a follow up to the initial greenway workshops which were held in January, the consultant for the Downtown Greenway Initiative, Cooper Carry Inc., will present detailed concept plans for the proposed four-mile greenway around downtown. We invite you and your neighbors to Neighborhood Meetings: Community Comment on Detailed Concept Plans for the Greensboro Downtown Greenway, Monday June 27th, 2005, 5pm - 7pm Hosted by Action Greensboro and Downtown Greensboro Inc.

These are drop-in meetings, so simply attend as your schedule permits.


Action Greensboro
317 South Elm Street
RSVP: 379-0821, Judy Morton

The ideas that you will see are exciting ones for downtown, for the neighborhoods in and around downtown, and for the entire community.

Sumptuary Asses and the WSJ

Cynthia Crossen writes about the history of sumptuary laws -- laws that tried to control excessive expenditures on friviolities like clothes and feasts -- in today's Wall Street Journal. She starts out with

The rich are very rich in America these days, and even the merely affluent can afford silk underwear and diamond dog collars. In earlier eras, the reaction to such conspicuous consumption might have been sumptuary laws.
So far so good. History is good! But in the next paragraph we get,
For a time in ancient Rome, people weren't allowed to spend more than 100 asses -- animals being the common currency then -- to celebrate certain festivals. On nonfestival days, Roman citizens could invest only 10 donkeys in a party and serve no fowl except one hen -- "and that not fattened for the purpose."
Whoa. Animals being the common currency then? 10 donkeys? Where did that idea come from? Hmmm. Maybe it was from this or this or this. After all, they all mention "asses" in the context of the Fannian law, a Roman sumptuary law of 161 B.C.

But of course you'd have to be almost totally ignorant of ancient history to think that the Romans were still using animals for currency in the second century B.C. And you'd have to not bother looking up the Latin word asses, or its singular form, as, in order to find out that it's the name of a Roman coin, not an animal.


Update (June 19): Ms. Crossen e-mailed me saying, "I made an ass of myself," and informing me that the WSJ will run a correction June 20. To err is human, to admit error is good journalism. Now I'm just feeling kind of petty and snarky . . .

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Dancing and Architecture in Augusta

We did a quick trip down to Augusta, GA this weekend for the Southern Classic Feis (beware of Irish music if you follow the link!), in which my daughters were competing. Here's a quick snap of some of the hundreds of dancers there:

Of course I couldn't resist taking a short walking tour of Augusta between the reels, jigs, and hornpipes. Augusta seems a lot like Greensboro to me; a formerly industrial southern town trying to make a way for itself in a post-industrial US. Over the past 25 years, public and private entities have invested millions in improving the waterfront on the Savannah River. Here's one entrance to the river walk area:

And the walk itself looks like this:

Historical / educational plaques are all along the walkway:

And this science museum looks really impressive, though I didn't get a chance to go in:

But most of the new development I saw was going on across the river in North Augusta, SC. These houses front not only the river, but also a golf course.

Downtown Augusta is in mixed condition. I liked the juxtaposition of this fine old Victorian house, a defunct gas station from the 50's, with a 60's/70's modern high-rise behind them.

These two really nice buildings are under renovation, though just behind me as I took the photo were mostly boarded-up storefronts. I took great pains to get the lottery sign in the photo.

Greene Street downtown has very beautiful landscaped medians with a sidewalk in the middle, as well as really wide sidewalks on both sides of the streets.

Broad Street downtown also has wide sidewalks and parking even in the middle of the boulevard.

Broad St. sidewalk:

But even with plenty of parking and sidewalks, there is still a lot of underused real estate, and Augusta's downtown is struggling. The sign says, "Downtown Augusta: A Work in Progres." Good design will only take you so far, I guess.

But this department store, Ruben's, has been in business for over 100 years, and has been open at this location for 60 years:

Walking into Ruben's was like traveling back in time to my childhood. The clerks were extremely nice and were happy to let me take photos. When was the last time you saw a store that looks like this?

The gentlemens' deparment had an impressive variety of summer hats. If I didn't look completely ridiculous in them, I would have bought one.

I liked not only the architecture of this next building, but also its current use as an art-movie theater. I wish Greensboro had one.

A few older folks were enjoying this beautiful little park right in the middle of Broad St.'s median. They turned out to be Jehovah's witnesses and gave me some literature.

Considering that they were African-Americans, I found it paradoxical that they were resting comfortably next to Augusta's memorial to Confederate soldiers, which bears the following inscription:

But the south is full of such paradoxes.

A less tragic one is the Lamar Building below. Built in the 1920s, a freewheeling Augusta businessman put the glass pyramid on top of it in the 1970s, along with, at one point, a 34-foot cross (now removed). I. M. Pei, one of the foremost architects of the 20th century, was the designer of the glass addition, but somehow I doubt that he put this creation (dubbed "the toaster" by locals) in the front of his portfolio. My wife says it looks like something from Power Rangers that's about to transform into an evil robotic villain.


The Tarheel Tavern Is Up!

Waterfall of A Sort of Notebook is hosting this week's Tar Heel Tavern -- a round-up of North Carolina's interesting blog posts. This week's theme is "back to nature," though, as usual, the Tavern casts with a pretty wide net. Yours truly has a post there, too.

Check it out!

Friday, June 10, 2005

The Real Chief Wray?

Lorraine Ahearn's column in todays Greensboro N&R paints a potentially scary portrait of Police Chief David Wray as a man who's started a "secret police" squad within the police department and who unfairly disciplines African-American officers.

But that portrait doesn't agree at all with my own experiences of Chief Wray.

At last night's meeting of the Greensboro Neighborhood Congress, he came to discuss enforcement of a proposed new noise ordinance. But there's no way a police chief, in a room full of neighborhood activists, is going to get out without addressing a whole range of crime issues.

It was quite a sight. He stood in the middle of a circle of about 40 representatives of various neighborhoods, about half of them African-American, while they peppered him with questions about persistent problems with drug dealers, prostitutes, their fear of bullying thugs, and even a few questions about noise. He handled himself with perfect aplomb and treated every question with respect, even when a resident of Bluford Park said repeatedly, "Just give me a bazooka" because she was so frustrated with persistent crime. (I've felt that way myself.)

I have seldom seen a white man so comfortable and adept at dealing with a multi-racial crowd. At one point he even did a little snake-hips dance for Dorothy Brown, after she asked him if she could call him "David." "You called me 'David' last night," he joked as he wiggled. Dorothy, who is 75 years old and black, laughed and told him she was too old for that kind of thing. She added that "David is one of my boys," and clearly has a warm relationship with him.

I'm a fan of the Chief, and I think he has done a good job of improving law enforcement with the limited tools the City Council has given him.

He mentioned the word "retirement" last night, indicating he has 27 more months before he's eligible. I hope he stays around longer than that.

Update: Hoggard has another view.

Thursday, June 9, 2005

Willow Oaks

I wrote a while back that there isn't much in the way of neo-traditional or new urbanist development in Greensboro, and as regards big, for-profit residential developments, that's true.

But out of sheer ignorance I overlooked a new development that's really remarkable: Willow Oaks. This is the low-income project that is replacing the failed Morningside Homes project in southeast Greensboro. I'm short on the nuts-and-bolts details of this place, such as how much federal money is going into it (though I know it's in the tens of millions), the planners, developers, and staff involved, etc. All of which I'll get to later.

Right now, just have a look at the pictures.

Here is a typical streetscape:

These houses are all attached, though they have separate facades and porches. The architectural inspiration is obviously the Craftsman bungalow, which I love, though some might find their effect "faux-historic." To my mind, the surrounding neighborhood -- and Greensboro itself -- has enough Craftsman houses to justify this design decision. And to me, the scale and presence of this style of architecture is inviting and comfortable.

The multifamily building pictured below obviously draws on Victorian / Queen Anne elements of style and massing, though, again, no one is likely to mistake this for an actual historic structure. What should really jump out at you, though, is the mature willow oak that the developer successfully preserved. You'll notice mature trees throughout this development, not just at its edges. I'll be curious to ask the developer how he managed this, and how much it cost, since most for-profit developers just don't do this.

I wanted to get a side shot of this row of townhouses to show how careful the planners were to maintain standards of architectural detailing (note the keystones over the windows) on all the building elevations. Notice, too, the trees planted in the greenways between the sidewalk and street. These are everywhere throughout Willow Oaks.

Here's a closer look at the front elevation of the townhouses.

More of the bungalow-style units. Note the decorative street lighting. It adds a nice touch, but doesn't look like it was particularly expensive.

Below you can see what it looks like behind the buildings. Parking areas are served by alleys, and trash / utility areas are screened and landscaped. This rear parking area looks nicer than some front townhome facades I've seen.

I guess I'd call these units Colonial Revival -- another common architectural style in Greensboro.

Even the traffic islands seem well-designed. This one will give pedestrians a safe and pretty "landing spot" as they're crossing the streets.

I included the photo below to show just how many mature trees there are here. Most of them are willow oaks -- hence the name of the development I guess.

And more construction is still going on.

Overall, this neighborhood just knocked me out. Not only did it seem inviting and very walkable, it also seemed quiet and safe -- and it's in a part of town that lots of Greensboro people think of as not safe. But it seemed like a place where I'd like to live.

In terms of neighborhood design, I think Willow Oaks is a lot better than what most Greensboro developers are currently offering. Maybe part of the reason for that is the millions of federal dollars that this project has received. But maybe, too, our local for-profit development community is a little behind the times.

Clarification: My dad writes to point out that the developer of Willow Oaks is no doubt "for-profit" as well. Right as usual, Dad. The distinction I should have made is between subsidized and non-subsidized housing.

Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Wal-Mart, Seagulls, and M. de Villepin

I think I'm going to love the new French Prime Minister, Dominique Marie François René Galouzeau de Villepin. According to this article in the Daily Telegraph, he loves poetry and philosophy, and is a "hobby marathon runner." Me too!

Too bad he despises America so much. But something in the Telegraph's article makes me think he may be coming around. It quotes de Villepin comparing Europe to the seagull. He said,

The seagull is intoxicated by the sky. She turns, carried by the winds, with undulating wing, uttering from time to time her agonising peal of laughter. She watches, soars, comes closer, climbs, descends, turns suddenly. The straight line is rarely her course. She listens to the world.
M. de Villepin, the seagull has listened, and what has she heard?

"Always low prices. Always."

Photo: Eulalie Frye

Thinking Outside the (Big) Box

I admire Dr. Don Linder's protracted efforts to resurrect Greensboro's dead Carolina Circle Mall. But his plan to turn it into a huge sports complex a few years ago has mostly failed, and now his request to the city for $300,000 to help lure Wal-Mart to the site has been turned down, perhaps because of the light shined on the deal by local bloggers (including blogging council members).

Not that I'm a Wal-Mart hater (though I don't enjoy shopping there), but I have to wonder: how much does Greensboro really need just another big-box retail outlet? We already have a Wal-Mart two Wal-Marts, a Super K-Mart, a Sam's Club, a Costco, two Lowe's, and two Home Depots. The Toys-R-Us and Montgomery Ward stores that were located at Carolina Circle eventually failed. Maybe it's time to think outside the big box (or is it the big Circle?).

A lot of interesting possibilities converge at this site. It is designated in the city's Comprehensive Plan as a "redevelopment area." The state has recently-passed Amendment One, which allows tax-increment financing in places like this. Two infill, mixed-use developments (Willow Oaks and Southside) have been very successful in Greensboro. The site is conveniently positioned near US 29, which gives it easy access not only to central Greensboro, but also to the proposed urban loop.

Maybe Dr. Linder would like to sit down with city planners and discuss the possibility of a mixed housing / work / retail development like Stapleton in Denver, which was also funded by tax-increment financing. Stapleton, which stands on the site of Denver's old Stapleton Airport, is an attempt to weave a large, disused property back into the fabric of the city. Sound interesting?

It's worth at least a good, hard look.

CLARIFICATION: If you read my earlier post about Stapleton, you'll remember that a part of making that project work was the inclusion of . . . a Wal-Mart. So my point isn't that there shouldn't be any retail development at Carolina Circle. It's that retail / housing / work might be even better.

Tuesday, June 7, 2005

Full Summer II: Rained Out

Rats. Sam and I spent three hours sitting in a slow drizzle, punctuated by occasional rumbles of thunder, between which Friendly Frog and GCC swimmers eked out 23 (of 84) events. Everyone finally gave up and went home; swim meet to be completed at a later date.

My sole official contribution to the evening was as a spoiler: the referee asked me to judge relay take-offs for the boys' 8-and-under 100-yard medley relay, and it was my unfortunate duty to disqualify both teams. It's hard to keep those 8-year-old boys from diving in before the previous swimmer touches the wall, especially at the first meet of the season.

Cruel, you say? Yes, like Monty Python's Dimsdale Piranha, I'm cruel . . . but fair. Actually, I'm not even cruel. I'm sure those boys won't DQ again this season, or at the City Championship, when it really counts.

But even in the rain, it was nice to get back in touch with the summertime network. For a few months in summer, we have an entirely different group of friend whom we seldom see outside of the summer swimming culture. Yes, it's a KOSC, but it's a darn good one.

Monday, June 6, 2005

Full Summer

Our cable and internet connection went down last Friday, and didn't get back up and running til Sunday. Hence the lacuna in my posts. I had meant to put up something on Sunday night, but found that I had been knocked out by the sudden transition we just experienced here in G'boro -- from a cool, dry spring, to full summer, and all that entails in the piedmont of North Carolina.

First clue of transition: my regular Sunday morning run with Pete Kellet in Country Park was not the invigorating, doesn't-it-make-you-glad-to-be-alive experience that it has been since March. Rather, it started out as a my-isn't-it-humid-this-morning thing, then ended up as a sweaty, foot-plodding, this-is-the-longest-6-damn-miles-I've-ever-run-and-why-the-hell-isn't-Pete-fading-as-fast-as-I-am bit of torture.

Then back home for some reel mowing in my own yard. And since Mr. Absolutely American had assumed the summer position (that's an X-Box controller in his hand),

I decided it would be a good idea for him to perform a little useful public service, so together we touched up a few shaggy spots in the neighborhood with the power mower. (By the way, there's absolutely no reason to infer that I put him to these tasks because I, his father, ranked only 6th 7th on his list of top 10 bloggers. No reason whatever.) (Update: Mr. Absolutely American has not taken kindly to this post. He should be aware, however, that many household tasks await his efforts, should he contemplate placing A Little Urbanity any lower on his list.)

By evening all I was good for was sipping a tonic on the front porch, which is the coolest place in the domicile, since we haven't yet turned on the AC. The porch faces east, and gets some very nice breezes. The computer was inside, in the kitchen, and the kitchen was hot.

Every year I think, we don't really need the air conditioning. And I'm pretty sure we could do without it, except for one thing. Actually, two things. Two shedding, panting, Belgian Malinois dogs.

They don't exactly pant all night; if they did, I'm sure the panting would fade into background noise, and I'd sleep through it. But they just pant most of the time. At irregular intervals they start smacking their chops, then they breathe heavily through their nostrils for 30 seconds or so, then they start panting again. But wait-- a flea! Vigorous chattering and snapping of teeth as they go after it! Grunts and weird snarfling noises. Licking. Pant pant pant. Flea again! Scratching and floor thumping! Back to panting.

And then there's the hair. How is it that a dog can carry 10 bushels of hair on its body all winter and still look like a regular, short-haired dog, and not a sheep? Then, on the first hot day, it starts coming off in tufts, in clouds, falling like snow. And have you ever noticed that when you're lying on top of the sheets, kind of sweaty, listening to your dogs pant (etc.), that it's impossible not to imagine that tufts and skeins of dog hair are landing on your body, your face, and in your mouth? Wait, you didn't imagine it -- there really is a dog hair in your mouth.

So maybe that window unit will go in pretty soon. The dogs need it.

Still, summer has great pleasures, as evidenced by these people, this afternoon, at Friendly Park Pool.

Tomorrow: the first dual meets of the season in the Greensboro Community Swim Association!

I love summer.

Thursday, June 2, 2005

"It's the Fear"

A lot of people have talked to me about the piece I wrote about neighborhoods for the News & Record a while back; most of them have said things like "I'd like to live in a neighborhood like that," or "I wish my neighborhood had sidewalks." (Those that don't like my ideas, I think, say things like, "I saw you in the paper," or say nothing at all. I appreciate their tact.)

But one old friend broached the subject, and put her finger on one reason why neighborhoods have changed so much in the past 50 years. "It's the fear," she said.

She lives in Sunset Hills, which is one of Greensboro's most beautiful and well-maintained old neighborhoods. Built in the 1920s, it has sidewalks, trees, services nearby, and houses with front porches and walkways, some modest, some magnificent. It is prime Greensboro real estate. But she says many parents there won't let their kids play outside or walk to school, mostly out of fear of abduction or sexual molestation.

And as beautiful as Sunset Hills is, a few shady characters do sometimes drift through it; in fact, a rather suspicious door-to-door solicitor approached me and my friend there once when we were conversing on the sidewalk, and he was a little threatening when I refused to contribute. I've had similar encounters in my own neighborhood, too, and I know it happens in other urban neighborhoods.

Many parents react to this by moving to far-flung suburbs where there is a perception (and maybe a reality) of greater safety, and it's hard to blame them. Some of these folks don't want sidewalks precisely because they want to make it hard for perceived low-lifes to wander around.
But "congregat[ing] in exclusive communities walled in by the invisible fence of real estate prices" has its own social costs, as David Brooks points out, chief among them an increasing inequity between "educated elite and the undereducated masses." Kids who grow up in exclusive communities often end up in exclusive colleges "where they are given the social and other skills to extend class hegemony." Kids who don't, don't.

If I didn't believe that fear of crime in Greensboro's urban neighborhoods was mostly overblown, I wouldn't have stayed in one for 11 years and raised my kids there. On the whole, I'm happy I did it. But in the age of John Walsh and Amber Alerts, it can be hard to persuade other people to do the same.

Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Paradoxes of New Urbanism in Colorado

NY Times: Denver is building a large residential development where its old Stapleton airport used to be, in a style that has been called "a model of new urbanism." It's been partly built using tax-increment financing (which is what NC voters recently approved under the name "Amendment One").

But residential taxes alone weren't enough to underwrite the whole thing. The big tax money for the project comes from

the very emblem of suburban sprawl, a conventional 750,000-square-foot big-box shopping center called Quebec Square with huge parking lots that can accommodate 5,000 cars, a Wal-Mart Supercenter, a Sam's Club warehouse store and a Home Depot.
To a committed new urbanist, that's kind of like funding a drug treatment program by selling drugs. But I think it's emblematic of how urban development is probably going to proceed over the next generation or so. Everyone's going to need to compromise.