Sunday, July 24, 2005

Downtown Last Night

Laurette and I snuck out at about 10 for a late-night snack at Natty Greene's on South Elm last night, and I was just astounded by the street life there.

The sidewalks were shoulder-to-shoulder with people, and the streets were bumper-to-bumper with vehicles -- including a number of magnificently chopped Harleys that just about ruptured our eardrums as we sat on the terrace at Natty's. (But I didn't mind: I have to confess a new, secret admiration for custom-built motorcycles. Been watching too much Discovery Channel, I guess.)

As we walked back to our car, we followed a pair of tipsy young ladies, one of whom was wearing an alarmingly flirty skirt with her string underwear riding up visibly on her hips. She and her friend wandered into a bush as they were talking and laughing, and Laurette & I joked with them about the aggressive foliage.

"You people in Greensboro are sooooo nice!" she giggled. I hope they made it home OK. But it struck me that downtown Greensboro has gotten so popular that twentysomethings from other cities are now coming here to go clubbing.

When I think of the empty downtown streetscapes that I knew from just a few years ago -- well, it's just amazing.

What Ray's Thinking

After I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago, I got a very detailed and polite response from Ray Gibbs, the head of Downtown Greensoro, Inc. Ray's a true gentleman.

I would like to have posted most of what he wrote, because it's pretty interesting, but he told me he'd be making a more detailed, formal public proposal soon, and that he'd prefer me to put that up here when he does it, and I'll be happy to oblige.

But he made a couple general of points that I think he won't mind my mentioning.

(1) Fifty percent of the surface area of downtown Greensboro is currently devoted to parking, which supports my contention that there's too much parking there. BUT, Ray points out, if downtown is going to grow, the available parking area will be reduced, while the demand for parking will rise. The most efficient way to meet that demand is with vertical parking (decks).

(2) A bunch of commenters on my post didn't like decks because they feel unsafe, they're disorienting, and they're ugly. But Ray claims that crime statistics show that suburban surface lots are far less safe than decks because they have no security cameras and offer many more escape routes to criminals. Movies and TV shows might be to blame for our perceptions of deck safety. Ray agrees that better signage is needed to help people figure out which exits to use, and has been asking for it for quite a while.

As to the "ugly" charge, he sent me this photo:

This is a 5-story deck wrapped by a residential building in mid-town Atlanta. Since the residential part of the deck brings in taxes, the overall cost of building such decks is lower than for traditional decks. The building's tenant association also sees to the cleanliness and safety of the deck.

So, I'm rethinking . . . we may not need new parking right now. But we will.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Link Me?

Margaret Moffet-Banks, ace reporter and Aycock neighbor, has a wonderful story about the Willow Oaks housing development in this morning's News & Record.

The story has great photos, and Margaret not only got the facts right, she covered the human interest angle, interviewing several Willow Oaks residents.

But to me (and maybe to you) parts of the story were already a bit familiar. In fact, I know with reasonable certainty that the N&R got interested in this story because of my initial blog post on Willow Oaks (at least, that's the information I got from a high-ranking official in city government). And I followed up here.

Now, if I didn't want the N&R using my stuff, I wouldn't be putting it out here for free, would I? But in the blogging world, does some kind of linking etiquette apply? I try to link to my sources of information and inspiration on my blog. Now that the N&R is getting more and more blogilicious, maybe they could do the same.

But, hey, I'm not complaining. Just this morning, N&R editorial page editor Allen Johnson had nice things to say about me.

But I like traffic, too, just like every other blogger!

UPDATE: It occurred to me that one could construe this post as accusing Margaret or the N&R of plagiarism, and THAT'S NOT MY INTENT. I know Margaret did her own research. I'm just talking about story ideas here.

Here's an analogous anecdote. During my very brief career as a farm journalist for the Cedar Rapids, IA Gazette, a stringer, unbidden, sent in a story about a farmer who had a novel way of storing his silage.

I needed an inverview subject for our weekly feature, "Out On The Acres," so I contacted the farmer, did an interview, and wrote it up. I didn't use any of the stringer's words; I just "borrowed" her contact and did my own story.

The stringer cried foul because I had taken her idea. My editor sent her a check and gave me a mild tongue-lashing.

Ranae Amicabiles et Delphinos Caeruleos et Crocodilos Vallis Viridis Superaverunt!

Obviously, I'm on a Latin kick.

The headline reads, "Friendly Frogs have defeated the Blue Dolphins and Green Valley Gators!"

We've been members of the Friendly Park Pool for several years, and all of our kids have swum for the Friendly Frogs at one time or another. This year our only swimmer was Sam. I love the summer swim season and will miss it when Sam ages out of the league. He did well on the first day of this year's City Championships, finishing fourth in the 50 yard breaststroke, and helping to take second in the 200 yard freestyle relay. Yeah, Sam!

When we first started swimming for the Frogs, Friendly was a perennial also-ran team, happy to finish fourth in the City Championships. Then one year they shocked themselves by taking third, then second the next year. In those days, the real competion was for second place because the Green Valley Gators had so dominated the league for so many years that no one could get within 200 points of them.

But two years ago, the Friendly coaches convinced themselves and their team that the Gators could be beaten -- and it happened. After a regular-season loss to Green Valley that turned on the very last relay race of the meet, Friendly took home the winners' trophy at the City Championship in 2003.

The Gators came roaring back in '04, but in the meantime the Greensboro Country Club Blue Dolphins became a threat. This summer, the three teams were about even going into the Championship. No one knew who would win. After the last swimmer was out of the pool last night, and the officials were adding up the scores, we were in suspense. But then . . .

Frogs win! Frogs win!

You can find complete race results at the CSA website (maintained by yours truly).

Ranae regunt!

Labor Me Vocat*

"Hard work calls me."

My online Latin Composition course has been occupying me for a good 12 hours a day. My students, too, it seems. They have been complaining of sleep deprivation.

A few years ago, especially during the dot-com boom, universities looked at distance learning as the wave of the future, and hustled to get at least some of their curricula on the web.

But the tech revolution has taken longer than expected in education, just as it did in the business world. It's happening, but a bit more slowly than we thought.

One of the reasons for the lag is that, for faculty, online courses typically involve about twice as much work as a traditional classes. And that doesn't include the hours put in by IT support personnel, nor the costs of maintaining computer and network equipment.

It turns out that getting a bunch of people in the same room together, talking with them, and writing with a stick of gypsum on a piece of black slate to show them stuff, is an incredibly efficient and effective way to educate them.

Who'd a thunk it?

*Labor me vocat is the first sentence of real Latin I ever read, as it was for thousands who learned from Wheelock's Latin textbook.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Writing Like a Roman

I've just started teaching an intensive on-line course in Latin Composition, and it's turning out to be very intensive.

Which means I think I won't be blogging much for a couple of weeks . . .

Unless you want me to post in Latin.

Monday, July 11, 2005

An Unsettling Pattern

In an earlier post, I mentioned that planners from the Project for Public Spaces had advised Action Greensboro that there's plenty of parking in downtown Greensboro.

What's needed, they said, is traffic calming to make downtown more welcoming to pedestrians. In their words, "We need to make Friendly Avenue more Friendly." They also suggested that park planners construct a painted skein to hang on one of the Center City Park's neighboring parking decks, specifically to hide the fact that the park is surrounded by parking decks.

But now Downtown Greensboro Inc., which has traditionally had close ties with Action Greensboro, has addded three new parking decks to its downtown development wish list.

This isn't the first time that downtown boosters have ignored the advice of nationally-known experts that they themselves have hired.

Action Greensboro brought "creative class" guru Richard Florida to Greensboro in October, 2003. Florida strongly promotes the revitalization of center cities as a way to rev up economic development.

And, as Fisher Park resident Ann Stringfield has documented thoroughly, Florida doesn't believe that baseball stadiums play any significant role in such efforts. She wrote:
Richard Florida, brought to visit Greensboro by Action Greensboro to promote his "Creative Class" concept, repeatedly and clearly articulates in print and in conversation that a new downtown stadium is not a good idea. Florida writes ... "Stadiums are NOT part of any package aimed at attracting the creative class. And none of our focus groups or interviews turned up stadiums as on the list of what creative class people want." (Florida's emphasis, not mine.)
So what did Action Greensboro do after bringing Florida in? They built First Horizon Park in the downtown business district. This has been their signature project. Hmmm.

And before Florida, Action Greensboro helped pay for a visit by Donovan Rypkema, an expert on historic preservation and the creative re-use of historic buildings, who has a decidedly pro-free-market orientation. Rypkema said when he was here that preservation and re-use make a lot of economic sense, and have been important components of nearly every successful center-city revitalization that he knows about.

What happened to Rypkema's advice?

The art moderne-style Burlington Industries building was torn down to build First Horizon Park. To date -- and as far as I know -- Action Greensboro hasn't preserved or renovated a single historic structure. Hmmm. Hmmm.

Now, in principle, there's nothing wrong with disagreeing with experts. Experts are often wrong -- sometimes they're spectacularly wrong. If Action Greensboro and DGI had ever said anything like, "We disagree with Rypkema, Florida, and the Project for Public Spaces. It was a mistake to bring them in. We have a different idea, and here it is . . ." that would have been great. Let's do have an open discussion about the best way to promote downtown development.

But that has never happened. Rather, a series of experts has been brought in, and their advice has been quietly ignored. More than ignored -- contradicted.

What gives? Action Greensboro folks (and I know that at least one reads this blog) -- please tell me why I shouldn't intepret this pattern as a very cynical way to build public support for an agenda that has little to do with expert advice.

Because I'd love to believe that things in this city don't work the way that the cynical me thinks they do.

So cynics (you know who you are), please refrain from commenting. I want to hear from the other side: un-convince me.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Summer Pleasure


More Parking Decks? What Are They Thinking?

Hoggard objects to Downtown Greensboro, Inc.'s proposal to ask the city to build three new parking decks downtown, as reported by Matt Williams of the News & Record. Councilwoman Sandy Carmany concurs in comments on his post. So let me belatedly add my "amen."

When Action Greensboro brought the Project for Public Spaces to Greensboro to consult about building the Center City Park, their designers did a study of Greensboro downtown parking. Their verdict: downtown Greensboro has too much parking. I'm inclined to agree. Here are three views from the new Center City Park:

Looking south:

Looking west:

Looking north:

Here's another deck a few blocks away, and just a couple of downtown's many surface lots:

I go downtown a lot, and even at busy times, I can't remember having to park more than two blocks from my destination -- and I almost never use the decks. I can almost always find a convenient space on the street.

When I have used the decks, they have never been close to full.

So what is DGI's Ray Gibbs thinking? I know that he's a very smart guy, and I think he knows very well that most urban planners would agree that downtown Greensboro has plenty of parking spaces.

But Ray has been in Greensboro long enough to know that a city planner's view of adequate parking probably doesn't line up with the perceptions of a typical Greensboro resident.

Strip development has been the norm here for half a century. And if you're used to strip development, which gives priority to parking, and which almost always allows you to park within a hundred feet of you destination, it can seem like a real pain to have to search for a parking space, only to walk a couple of blocks to the store you're visiting.

Ray also knows that it's going to be quite a while before Greensboro develops a really urbanized downtown population that is used to walking. The people who are coming downtown now are mostly suburbanites who can easily take their dollars elsewhere if they're frustrated by what they perceive as inadequate parking.

Not that there aren't some real paradoxes in peoples' parking perceptions: some who complain about having to walk two blocks downtown will happily walk across a sea of asphalt at Four Seasons Mall and spend hours ambulating its marbled mazes. Go figure.

New parking decks might promote development downtown, but at a very high cost. And since two of downtown's most successful developers (Milton Kern and Joey Medaloni) don't see a need, let's just not do it.

Ambulemus! (Let's walk!)

My Girls

"Dad, that's a flat-head. You need a phillips," said my 11-year-old daughter Claudia yesterday as I was fixing a door latch, filling me with fatherly joy.

I didn't ever teach her the difference (though I would have been glad to). She and her older sister Madeline (14) figured it out for themselves over the weekend.

Maddie had been asking for a bedside table for quite a while, so on Friday I acquiesced and took her to Target (Source of All Good Things) and let her pick one out. Like most furniture from Target, it came in a box and required assembly. That's when she surprised me.

"Can I put it together?"

Okaaay. I lent her and Claudia my tools (which they had never shown any interest in before) and awaited requests for fatherly intervention. They didn't come.

The girls worked together (mirabile dictu!), ran into a few glitches (the table has a complicated drawer and cabinet assembly), solved them, finished the project, and carried it up to Maddie's room.

Hmmm. Maddie's desk was also way too small. Back to Target. The girls got back to work. Two hours later: a perfectly-assembled desk-hutch combination appeared.

Next: Claudia's old bedside table and Maddie's bookshelf needed painting. I gave them a couple of tips about priming and brushstrokes, and at the end of the day they were bringing their freshly-painted (and well-painted) furniture up to their rooms.

Well done, girls.

And, by the way: the shed needs painting. Interested in a summer job?

Friday, July 8, 2005

Go, Michelle Wie!

NYT: 15-year-old golf phenom Michelle Wei is trying to become the first woman to make the cut of a PGA event in 60 years. I'm hoping she does it, not only because she's incredibly cute, but also because it will help put the John Deere Classic in the headlines.

I spent much of my childhood in Davenport, Iowa -- one of the Quad Cities, where the JDC (formerly the Quad Cities Open) was born. One year it was played at my Dad's golf club, and I remember watching power-hitter Jim Dent drive a ball to the green on par-4 no. 10 -- from the back tees. Ouch!

John Deere has always been a big part of my life, too. My dad had a long career with Deere (a great company) and taught my brother and me to cheer for the green-and-yellow tractors as we drove across the midwestern landscape. We did so lustily, and boo'd International Harvester, Oliver, and Massey Ferguson -- all of whom are now out of the farm implement business.

(By the way -- is Deere now a fashionable brand? I noticed John Deere hats and T-shirts on sale next to the pirate-themed stuff in the souvenir stores on Hatteras Island. Weird.)

Anyhow -- Go Michelle Wie, Go Quad-Cities, Go Green and Yellow!

Update: Michelle fell two strokes short of making the cut, and I was wrong about Massey Ferguson: they still make tractors.

Thursday, July 7, 2005

Ellen's Ethicists

Sometimes an argument that I hear or read gets lodged in my consciousness the way a splinter can get stuck in my finger, and it stays there, inflaming and irritating me until I excise it.

Consider this post such an excision.

Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman wrote this column about the status of frozen human embryos a few weeks back, and, for me, here's the offending splintery bit:

When people claim to believe that a frozen embryo is the moral equal of a child, ethicists like to pose this question: If a clinic is on fire and you could save either a 2-year-old or a vial full of embryos, which would you pick?
Ah, okay. I'll pass over the fact that the ethicists I know don't really like to engage in this kind of parlor game, but let's play anyway. I'll go first.

I pick the two-year old.

Now, let's shuffle the variables. First, we'll stipulate that the embryos in the vial have every chance of being implanted in wombs and eventually seeing the light of day as babies.

Next, we'll pretend that you're a Nazi, and that the vial is full of embryos bred of the purest Aryan stock. And instead of a cute two-year-old in the burning clinic, there's a rather ugly and unscrupulous Jewish banker.

Which would you pick?

Or how about this one. You're a Chinese peasant. In the vial is the embryo of your only male offspring -- in fact, the only offspring you're allowed by law. You need that boy to help you work the farm. In the burning clinic is your elderly and ailing mother-in-law, whom you hate and who hates you.

Which would you pick?

Or you're an 18th-century South Carolina plantation owner. The vial contains the embryonic offspring of you and your beautiful and accomplished wife, who died tragically of consumption only months ago. In the burning clinic is one of your less-productive African slaves.

Which would you pick?

You get the idea. Ellen's ethical test only tells us something about the sympathies or prejudices of the chooser: it is utterly unrevealing of the objective moral status of human embryos.

Tuesday, July 5, 2005

War of the Worlds

At the risk of being redundant (after all, Chewie has already reviewed this movie), let me offer a few words about it:

Scary. Visually Compelling. Moving (sometimes). Visually Compelling. Fun (if you like Scary). And did I mention Visually Compelling?

Tom Cruise is entirely believable as an outstanding longshoreman and really crummy dad who sorta means well for his kids, and who finds out he has real courage and moral toughness when it comes down to protecting his family from blood-sucking aliens.

But what really stuck with me were Speilberg's nightmare visions of an alien-ravaged Earth: A church facade being ripped aside as an alien ship unscrews itself from the ground. A flaming passenger train roaring through a station. A killer mob trying to hijack a minivan. A wrecked jetliner in a Boston suburb. An intact farmhouse in a desolate landscape (with a deranged Tim Robbins in the basement).

If you know H. G. Wells' novel, or Orson Welles' radio adaptation, you won't be surprised by the ending. But you'll enjoy the ride.

Property Watch: 351 Summit Avenue

There is an illegal junk yard very near my house. It's behind a building at 351 Summit Avenue, and is clearly visible from both Summit and Fisher Avenue. You pass right next to it if you use the pedestrian tunnel from Chestnut St. under Fisher Avenue (most people won't use this tunnel because it's too scary, though I don't mind going through when I have the Mals with me).

If you look closely at this picture, you can see how close it is to downtown: the JP building is visible on the upper left. Zoning enforcement personnel have agreed that this junkyard is in violation of the zoning standards applicable to this lot.

Here's another view: lovely!

I've corresponded several times with a city zoning enforcement officer, who has been polite, informative, and responsive.

Nevertheless, enforcement has been less than vigorous. Zoning enforcement personnel have been aware of the situation since early March, and the junkyard still remains in July.

I understand that staffing is a problem in the zoning enforcement office. But I can't help but suspect that if this junkyard were in another part of town, it wouldn't still be here.

Or am I just whining?

Monday, July 4, 2005

Independence Day, 1964

From right: David Wharton, Russel Wharton, Sr. (my grandfather), Glenn Wharton (my brother), Richard Wharton (my Dad).


We're back (dammit), sun-baked, saltwater-soaked, and sand-encrusted.

A week on Hatteras isn't enough. It takes a few days to slow the pace, to get into the sweet routine of doing nothing. Just when you've fallen into the rhythm of food, sun, water, sleep, it's time to brush off, pack up, and drive back up Highway 12, along that little ribbon of dunes and salt marsh, watching next week's vacationers stream down that same ribbon for their share of la dolce vita.

Somehow seawater and sunlight have the power to wash and burn away anxiety. They turn us into browned, slack, and shambling beach bums, whose most challenging task is to secure a supply of soft-shelled crabs and a bottle of something cold to wash them down.

But we're back (dammit).