Friday, September 30, 2005

And Another New Expression

Ed Cone has begun calling the NY Times' subscription-only web content "DarkTimes."

Good name!

But I'll bet a lot of people would like to use that name for the whole darn paper.

English As She Is Spoke: Two New Expressions

In a hilarious NY Times story about English lottery-winning petty criminal Michael Carroll, I learned two great new expressions:

Chav. The Times gives a wordy explanation of its meaning, but I think it boils down to "English trailer trash," without the trailers of course -- Brit's don't have 'em. (They live in Council houses -- public housing -- instead.) Look at the Times' photo of Carroll and his house and you'll get the idea. But as Carroll demonstrates, you don't actually have to be poor to be a chav -- just tasteless and rude. If Jeff Foxworthy can change his accent, he may have a second career awaiting him on the other side of the pond.

Council-house facelift. I love this one: it's what you call a really, really tight ponytail often worn by women living in public housing. In America, I notice that this style is favored by female gymnasts, often accompanied by a stiff, poufy forelock and a lot of face glitter.

Read the whole thing.

Monday, September 26, 2005

I Wuz Fooled by the New York Times: Statistical Shenanigans

I posted earlier about apparent dramatic increases in minority student performance in the Wake County Schools, as reported by the New York Times.

I wuz fooled.

After being alerted by a corrective post at The Daily Howler (via Instapundit), I discovered that Wake County's scores were comparable to those all over North Carolina. And after I followed the Howler's links to all North Carolina End of Grade results, I discovered that Guilford County's increases were just as dramatic:

  • In 1993-4, only 36.5% of 3rd-grad black students in Guilford County were scored as "proficient" in math. But in 2003-4, 78.1% scored "proficient."
  • And only 33.7% of Guilford County black students were scored as proficient in reading in 1993-4, but 71.8% did so in 2003-4.
Wow! Either Guilford County has been doing a really, really good job, or . . . the tests have gotten easier?

At any rate, my apologies for jumping on the local media in my earlier post for missing the the story that the NY Times reported. Because that story really wasn't a story, was it?

Might I suggest, however, a story trying to account for the dramatic rise in EOG scores all across NC? Are the schools really doing a great job? If so, let's have some appreciation! If not, let's find out what's really going on . . .

My Mom On The Bus

In an e-mail from my mom:

While reading your blog about buses, I was reminded of riding buses to downtown Rockford [Illinois], to Walker School, junior high and high school. In college I took the bus to work on the east side but had to get up at 4:30 in the morning to allow for two transfers and reach the factory when the morning whistle blew at seven o'clock. As a senior in high school, I rode the bus alone, home from a movie late at night . . . .

Rockford buses were shabby, dirty and stifling in the summer, but most buses had heaters that melted the snow on your boots, leaving puddles under the seats.

Someday public transportation will come back to Rockford and other towns and the buses will be cleaner and cool like the bus you rode in Greensboro.
It occurs to me that more people back then rode buses because, on the whole, Americans were just plain poorer in the 30's, 40's, and 50's.

Not that my mom was poor by 1949 standards: she was upper-middle class. But upper-middle class families often had only one car, so kids (and moms) often had to ride the bus while dad was at work. When I was a kid, we didn't get a second car until I was in elementary school.

I suppose this situation probably helped the corner stores that most neighborhoods had: they were viable because many people didn't have the option of driving to the MegaMart. Instead of cars, many of those moms had kids who they could send on errands to get milk, bread, and even cigarettes (if you had a note from your parents).

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Car-Free Professor

Elyse Ashburn's story about Jay Lennartson's life without a car captures the essence of Jay: dedicated environmentalist, exercise enthusiast, and whimsical transportation experimenter. He's one of the world's nicest people.

I especially liked Elyse's pointed observation that Jay passed her photographer's car in the bike lane on Spring Garden St., "the only one in Greensboro."

But I think she got one thing a little wrong:

[Lennartson] seems conspicuously out of place on a campus where students drive from one end to the other rather than walk.
I'm sure some stundets are doing this.

But UNCG is experiencing a big surge in bicycle culture this year: several people have commented that for the first time ever, bike racks are full to overflowing. Posters and flyers have started appearing everywhere, promoting biking-around-town events and bicycle advocacy groups. And the new pedestrian areas along what used to be College Avenue and McIver Street (thank you, taxpayers of North Carolina!) are full of walking students.

So maybe Jay is actually part of a trend.

In any case, here's a suggestion for the N&R's next "alternative transportation pioneer" story: Greensboro architect John Linn.

John lives in Jamestown and rides the bus to his downtown office every day. He keeps an economy car parked downtown for visiting clients (he knows the secret, free spots) , then rides the bus home every evening.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Building Stronger Neighborhoods Grant Announcement

What follows is a public service announcement from the Building Stronger Neighborhoods grant program in Greensboro. The BSN program is great source of funding for small (up to $5,000 per year) soft-cost neighborhood efforts.

Building Stronger Neighborhoods Announces the FINAL Grant Cyle for 2005!

Building Stronger Neighborhoods Grant Deadline:

Monday, October 31, 2005 – 5:00pm

Building Stronger Neighborhoods Grantseeker Workshop:

Thursday, October 13, 2005
Glenwood Library

To register for the BSN grantseeker workshop, or to receive a BSN grant application, please contact Melissa Johnson at the BSN administrative office (e-mail:; phone: 379-9100).

The Building Stronger Neighborhoods program, through neighborhood development and grantmaking, supports Greensboro neighborhoods as they mobilize assets to enhance community quality of life. BSN is supported by the Building Stronger Neighborhoods Coalition: Cemala Foundation, Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro,Greensboro Public Library, Moses Cone~Wesley Long Community Health Foundation, and Weaver Foundation.

Raleigh's School Integration by Economics

From today's NY Times:

Over the last decade, black and Hispanic students here in Wake County have made such dramatic strides in standardized reading and math tests that it has caught the attention of education experts around the country. . . . School officials in Wake County, which includes Raleigh and its sprawling suburbs, have tried many tactics to improve student performance. . . .But the prime reason for the students' dramatic improvement, officials and parents say, is that the district has made a concerted effort to integrate the schools economically. Read the whole article.
Two questions: might this work in Guilford County (because what we're doing now doesn't seem to be working)? And why am I reading about this in the NY Times and not in a paper a little closer to home?

And let me make one "urbanist" observation: the long busrides that this program entails for the students might be a little less long if those "sprawling suburbs" were a little less sprawly: just something that future homebuyers in Raleigh might want to factor into their housing decisions.

The article also says that this strategy has supported urban real estate prices, along with suburban ones. That sounds like a good trend to me.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Great Soundtrack, Minimal Political Content

Wm. Lewis Byers, Jr. who is running for the District 2 (my district) seat on Greensboro's City Council, has posted a campaign video on his blog.

It's a little strange: a photo montage of Mr. Byers registering to run (I think), then hanging out with John Hammer (editor of the Rhino Times) and Matt Williams (local political reporter for the News & Record). Then a picture of super-cute kids in basketball jerseys sitting in the chairs of Mr. Byers' barbershop.

That is to say, it has no substantive political content at all (except for maybe the upside-down American Flag on his campaign poster).

But it has one heck of a soundtrack!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Pig Pickin' on Bike Trails

Glenn Reynolds has got a great idea going over at Instapundit -- encourage your Congressmen and Senators to help pay for the Katrina reconstruction by cutting pork out of the budget. He's calling it Porkbusters.

I'm all for it.

But I've noticed that both local and far-away bloggers are singling out bike and pedestrian trails as particularly "porky." Hmmm.

Two points.

(1) Trails help poor people. I see commuters every day whose bike (or their feet) is their primary transportation to work. A lot of those people work along high-traffic roads like Battleground Avenue. There are no sidewalks along many such roads in Greensboro. That "porky" Battleground trail will greatly increase people's safety and ease of access to work and retail.

(2) In the world of transportation projects, bike and pedestrian trails are small potatoes -- tater tots! --, and account for a miniscule amount of all transportation pork. For example, the Battleground trail project is getting $800,000. The cost of improvements along a 1.4-mile stretch of Friendly Avenue: $5.9 million.

Trimming a few meager strips of gristly fat from little trail projects isn't really going to help much, folks.

Go for the soft, bloated, belly-hanging-over-the-belt projects: unneeded roads that benefit only Congressmen and their road construction industry pals.

On the Bus

Twice in the past few weeks I've taken up the city's offer to dump the pump and rode the bus to work.

The good stuff: My house is just a block from a bus stop. Easy! For that matter, I can walk to the Depot in about 15 minutes.

Greensboro's buses are nice, clean, and have the absolute best sound system of any I've ever ridden. The recorded announcements have that calm, mellifluous, female voice you hear in every sci-fi movie ever made that says, ever-so-sweetly, "this space station will self-destruct in 3 minutes." Except she's saying, "next stop, Tate Street."

The drivers were polite, the schedules easy to understand, and the riders were friendly.

And the newly renovated Depot is the most beautiful bus transfer station I've ever set foot in. A year after its reopening, it's still clean and well-run. Way to go, GTA.

Also on the upside, I can read or work on papers while I'm riding to work. And when I step off, I get a kind of strange feeling of freedom, not leaving a vehicle parked somewhere.

But there are downsides, too. For most of the day, the bus only runs once an hour. If I miss it, I'm going to miss a class.

The bus takes about 40 minutes to get me to campus, which is almost the amount of time it would take me to walk there. (If I drive, I can get to my office in 20 minutes, and if I ride my scooter I can do it in seven). If I take it home after 6, it's even longer.

And yesterday the Summit Avenue bus arrived late, which meant that a whole busload full of people missed their connection at the Depot. To GTA's credit, they quickly sorted us out and put us on small busses that got us where we needed to go. If they hadn't we'd have had to wait an hour for the next buses.

Most of the riders were heading out to places like High Point Road to fast-food or retail jobs (judging from the uniform shirts many were wearing). I would imagine that once-hourly bus service means means quite a bit of wasted time for them, either arriving too early for work, or waiting for a bus home.

For all that, however, I liked riding, and plan to keep doing it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

"This is about cars, not neighborhood."

Sue Polinsky is disappointed with the transportation improvements underway on West Friendly Avenue. The plans include a landscaped median to replace the current "suicide lane" for left turns, and sidewalks on both sides of the street (click here for Amy Dominello's News & Record story.)

But Sue doesn't see any plans to make it easier for residents to walk across Friendly:

This is about cars, not neighborhood . . . . I have yet to see the places traffic lights will be installed on Friendly in this highly residential area so people can actually cross the street safely. It seems we are merely being kept on our respective sides more efficiently.

Installing crosswalks with lights would certainly entail stopping automobile traffic, and I'm guessing that GDOT doesn't want to do that because they are likely to get many more complaints from impatient motorists than they are from potential pedestrians.

The total constituency of drivers in the city who want to get places fast is politically far more potent than the constituency of any single neighborhood that's having a road project bisect it.

Divide and conquer. Drivers win, neighbors lose. It's an old story.

I should clarify: it's urban neighbors that lose. Those who are fairly well-off can avoid road projects that divide or deform their neighborhoods by simply moving to the suburbs or exurbs.

But this population shift then ramps up even more arterial road projects through more urban neighborhoods, eroding their value, encouraging more people to move to the exurbs, thus driving even more arterial road projects through what used to be suburbs, encouraging even further-flung suburban and exurban development, then more . . . you get the idea.

Is there anyone to whom this pattern of growth seems like a good idea?

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Classical Archaeology Made Easy With Google Earth

Using satellite images from Google Maps and Google Earth, an Italian computer programmer has stumbled upon the remains of an ancient villa. (Read the whole thing.)

But don't tell the National Endowment for the Humanities, or they might stop funding all those fun excavations in Italy. And then how would archaeologists spend their summers?


My Dunleath Vote

It's old news now, but one of my neighbors has asked me why I voted, as a member of the Greensboro Historic Preservation Commission, to approve the conceptual site plan (link via Hoggard) for the Dunleath property in my neighborhood, which might include as many as 60 townhouse and condominium units -- no single-family detached homes.

My neighbor points out that the Aycock board voted to oppose the plan (it was a split vote), that many detached homes are being successfully built in Southside -- why not in Aycock, too? --, and that concerns about increased traffic on Percy St. have not been addressed.

Short answer first: the conceptual plan that was put before us was congruous with the Historic District Design Guidelines, so we approved it.

The HPC's only authority is to determine whether a given project is congruous with, or incongruous with, the Guidelines. We don't have the authority to determine whether the underlying zoning of a tract of land is too dense, or to say that traffic problems haven't been addressed, or to say to a developer, "well, this is nice, but we'd really like to wait until something nicer comes along."

In the case of the Dunleath proposal, the conceptual plan was pretty close to being a slam dunk, as far as it went. The HPC vote was 6-1 in favor.

But it's just a conceptual plan. The developer will have to return to the commission with detailed exterior architectural plans for all the buildings (we don't have any say about interiors) and detailed site, landscape, parking, utility, and lighting plans. All will have to meet the Guidelines' standards.

OK, so much for the Preservation Commission stuff. What do I think about the other issues --housing types, density, and traffic?

As to housing types and the Southside comparison: well, Southside is a mix of townhomes, duplexes, and single-family homes, with a lot greater over-all density than our neighborhood.

Southside realtors are also pulling down very high per-square-foot prices for all those units. A two-story townhome on MLK Boulevard is priced at over $400,000. I'm thinking that well-executed multifamily dwellings in our neighborhood will juice up our real estate values and spur investment in historic properties.

The Wafco Mills project that was built some years back in the College Hill historic district -- consisting of condominiums and townhouses -- is on a similar scale to Dunleath, and it has worked very well.

Plus, the architect on the Dunleath project is Jerry Leimenstoll, who understands both historic preservation and good design. He has promised deep, usable porches fronting Chestnut St., and pedestrian-oriented design.

What about those 60 units, though? Isn't that too dense?

I don't know. The Dunleath property is zoned RM-18, and 60 units is a lot fewer than the developer has the right to build.

Chestnut Street currently has about 90 dwelling units on it. Is 60 new property owners a bad thing? That's many more "eyes on the street," many more potential neighborhood association volunteers, many more consumers driving economic improvements on nearby Summit Avenue.

And the traffic?

Adam Fisher in GDOT tells me that 60 units is too small a change even to trigger a traffic study. There will be more cars, yes. But as I sit on my Percy St. front porch of an evening, there's usually very little traffic. On-street parking keeps those cars moving pretty slowly (most of the time).

So you can think of those 60 units as generating more traffic, or as bringing more neighbors to wave at as they drive by.

Change of some kind is inevitable. It can be growth, or it can be decline.

I'm in favor of growth.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Savage Groundcovers of Hanging Rock State Park

Today was a beautiful day for a hike, and Hanging Rock State Park was only a 45-minute drive away. Or it would have been if we hadn't missed a turn, so it also became a beautiful day for a 75-minute drive in the country.

Sam is the only one of our children who enjoys hiking, so, with the girls otherwise occupied, Laurette, Sam, the dogs and I had a fine afternoon.

We followed the Indian Creek trail, which approximately follows the creek as it meanders toward the Dan River.

When we started breaking through big spiderwebs after the first mile, we realized that nobody else had walked the trail today, and decided to let the dogs off their leashes. They turned out to be natural hikers, staying on the trail, waiting for us to catch up before going around any blind curves, and constantly checking on us to make sure we were all staying together. I attribute their good behavior to their herding pedigree.

On the trail there were no breathtaking vistas, but quite a lot of subtle pleasures. I really do like groundcovers.

Sam enjoyed taking pictures with his new camera.

And Laurette enjoyed seeing the dogs enjoy themselves. They're on the leash here lest they jump off the rock outcrop. They really loved splashing in Indian Creek.

Then home. A good day.

Update: more (and better) pictures of our hike from Sam.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Supply-Side Public Transit

...Even though conventional economists will object, public transport needs to be supply- rather than demand-led. This is the way to achieve flexibility and innovation, and to respond to changing travel needs.

Leroy W. Demery Jr. and Michael D. Setty argue at that the quality of public transit may be more important for attracting transit riders than are demand-driven factors like congestion and gridlock.

Their thesis boils down to, "build a good system and public transit riders will come." It takes a while, though -- a decade or two. And it's expensive, because it won't work unless you build a really good multi-modal system. Demery and Setty's findings go completely against the grain of public transit thinking for the past 30 years.

It's a fascinating article if you're a public transportation policy wonk. Read the whole thing.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Last Place

Matt Labash writes in the Weekly Standard:

As I write this, I'm listening to Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens: The Big Ol' Box of New Orleans. It features the Meters and Professor Longhair and Sidney Bechet & His New Orleans Feet Warmers, along with all those mad-genius brass bands bringing up the Second Line: Dirty Dozen and Rebirth and Tuba Fats' Chosen Few.

My gnawing sadness returns. Because all this music came from a place. And as a fellow New Orleans enthusiast I know says, "It's one of the last places that feels like a place." New Orleans had Voodoo doctors, and stride-piano professors, and Mardi Gras Kings and Queens. The rest of us have Home Depot and Applebees.

But his piece slowly morphs into a Dantesque tour of nightmarishly surreal realities in post-Katrina New Orleans, with cops casually killing a unarmed black man, dead babies stored in a freezer, and universal hatred for FEMA bureaucrats.
I have no words. So I'm forced to lean on those of Walker Percy, a good Louisiana boy who, contemplating race in Love in the Ruins, wrote: "Even now, late as it is, nobody can really believe that it didn't work after all. The U.S.A didn't work! Is it even possible that from the beginning it never did work? that the thing always had a flaw in it, a place where it would shear, and that all this time we were not really different from Ecuador and Bosnia-Herzegovina, just richer."
Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Hell Freezes Over

Robert Stoker, senior real estate manager for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., declared, “We've reached a stage where we can be flexible. We no longer have to build a gray-blue battleship box.”
Wow. That's from the Michigan Land Use Institute. The author of the article commented, "it was as though the Pope had changed the words in the Lord’s Prayer." Here's more:
Pushing the change [toward better urban design standards for big retailers] are savvy local government officials who realize that, for urban and inner suburban neighborhoods, attracting major retail stores and mixing them correctly with residential development revitalizes communities. And some retailers are responding by locating their businesses within those communities, not just at the end of expressway ramps.

Do we have any of those savvy local government officials around here?

I had a conversation not long ago with a high-level city employee who told me that Greensboro just isn't able to get big retailers to "break" -- that is, to build something to a higher design standard than a cinder block box in a puddle of asphalt. Hmmm. But has anyone actually tried to get them to break?

If they can do it in Gaithersburg, Maryland, in Rego, New York, and in Charlotte (scroll down to see their new Office Depot), why can't we do it here?

Greensboro will soon be getting two new Wal-Marts. Will they be "gray-blue battleship boxes?" C'mon, you savvy local government officials. Get busy. We can do better.

How to Revive NOLA's Distinctive Urbanism?

Urban planners are contemplating how to handle the rebuilding of New Orleans. In this morning's NY Times, the inherent creative tensions between preservation and new architectural and urban designs are already thrumming:

"Any city that only tries to preserve itself is already dead. The great tragedy would be to embalm New Orleans by simply rebuilding it the way it was."
Venice was cited as a city that's only about preservation, and was described as being "on life support."

But most of the planners seem to think that some kind or degree of preservation will be essential to New Orleans' revival.

"There was a very unique vernacular," said Angela O'Byrne, president of the New Orleans chapter of the American Institute of Architects. She pointed to the city's mix of Greek Revival, Italianate and Creole styles, and to its cottages and bungalows with porches suited to the climate, adding, "As much as possible, all of it needs to come back."
But not in "Disneyfied" form. Nobody wants NOLA to be a theme park.

Once they decide on a plan, the question becomes: how to get from A to B? Pete Wilson, Republican former governor of California and a current fellow of the conservative Hoover Institution, had some ideas in yesterday's Wall Street Journal.

He recommended giving incentives to contractors, using tax-increment financing for rebuilding levees and the blighted areas around them, and having the city form and finance a non-profit corporation to direct the real estate end of the rebuilding. He said he did so when he was mayor of San Diego:
The result was that the pace of redevelopment of downtown San Diego remarkably accelerated. And the quality was so enhanced that our relatively modest public effort continues 30 years later to spur far greater private redevelopment. It has transformed a decaying core with a declining tax and job base into one of America's most vibrant and thriving urban environments.
(I always love it when other conservative Republicans praise thriving urban environments: it makes me feel less lonely.)

There are lessons here for Greensboro, too. Just direct your gaze to South Elm St., the victim of many years of economic devastation. It has great architectural bones -- a lot of really good, old buildings ready to be re-used (I'll bet you didn't know they were there: maybe I'll take some pictures soon).

It's almost certainly eligible for tax-increment financing. And forming a non-profit corporation answerable to the City Council to direct its redevelopment sounds like a pretty good idea.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The State of Planning for the Renovation of World War Memorial Stadium (more than you ever wanted to know)

This is going to be a very long post.

But because there's a lot of interest and a lot of misinformation about what has happened, is happening, and likely will happen to Greensboro's World War Memorial Stadium, I'm just going to pack in as many facts as I can.

Sorry if it's boring – think of it as an encyclopedia article. If you have an corrections to make or pertinent facts to add, let me know and I'll update it.

A Very Brief History of the Stadium

World War Memorial Stadium stands at the intersection of Yanceyville Street and Homeland Avenue, across the street from the Greensboro Farmers' Curb Market and a former VFW post. The City of Greensboro owns all three facilities.

WWMS was originally planned as an amateur stadium for track and field and football; an early conceptual drawing showed it with u-shaped stands and an arched colonnade all around the exterior of the stadium. That plan was never executed.

Completed in 1926, the stadium has an "inverted J" seating configuration. It has three arches at its entrance flanked by massive pylons in an eclectic mixing of classical and art-moderne styles. It is North Carolina's largest memorial to honor armed forces personnel who died during World War I. Its seating capacity is variously estimated at 5500-7500.

Early in its history the stadium began to be used for minor-league professional baseball, and that has been its primary use for most of its life. It was also used (and is used now) for college baseball by NCA&T University and Greensboro College, and for other amateur baseball teams that use 90-foot base paths.

WWMS was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. Its nomination to the Register was undertaken and paid for by the Charles B. Aycock Neighborhood Association. The stadium itself actually stands just outside the boundaries of the locally-designated Charles B. Aycock Historic District (which is listed on the National Register as the Summit Avenue Historic District).

After much civic controversy, and efforts by the Aycock neighborhood and local preservationists to keep professional baseball at the stadium (see below), the Greensboro Grasshoppers (formerly known as the Bats) in 2005 moved their minor-league franchise to a newly-constructed stadium in downtown Greensboro, First Horizon Park. In the same year, WWMS hosted about 200 amateur baseball games.

The TND Plan

In 2001, when civic leaders in Greensboro first proposed building a new stadium for the minor league team, the Aycock neighborhood was in the first stages of developing a master plan for neighborhood-wide improvements. The state of WWMS, which is adjacent to the neighborhood, had always been a concern, and plans by the Greensboro Bats to abandon the stadium raised worries that it would eventually fall prey to "demolition by neglect."

In response to the proposal for a new downtown stadium, the neighborhood engaged New Urbanist planner and neighborhood baseball expert Philip Bess to hold a planning charrette in the summer of 2002 and to draw up a comprehensive neighborhood master plan which would include a conceptual renovation program for WWMS. The neighborhood hoped that such a plan would entice civic leaders to invest in the historic stadium rather than build a new one.

That effort failed, but Philip Bess & his associated did produce in 2003 the Aycock Traditional Neighborhood District Plan (TND Plan), which illustrates many renovation possibilities for WWMS. The TND Plan also contains a wealth of conceptual plans for neighborhood-wide improvements and continues to be an important "idea book" in Aycock's neighborhood improvement efforts.

The cost of the charrette and the TND Plan was about $70,000. Money for it came from the Aycock neighborhood's Municipal Service District funds, from the City of Greensboro, from Guilford County, from Preservation Greensboro, Inc., from the Architectural Salvage of Greensboro, and from many individual contributors.

The Strategic Plan for the Aycock Neighborhood
A subsequent Aycock neighborhood planning effort, led by the city's Department of Housing and Community Development, boiled the TND Plan's many concepts down to a set of concrete goals and objectives that are contained in The Strategic Plan for the Aycock Neighborhood.

Some of those objectives relate in a very broad way to the best use and maintenance of the stadium and to improvements in the area surrounding it. The Strategic Plan was adopted as city policy by the Greensboro City Council in 2003.

The first phase of implementation of the Strategic Plan is the execution of a corridor study of Summit Avenue, part of which includes the WWMS area. As of this date, that corridor study is being done under the direction of the firm HadenStanziale, which has been charged with coordinating the corridor study with the work of the WWMS Taskforce (see below), and recommending streetscape, marketing, and transportation changes to the area around the stadium.

The WWMS Taskforce

In 2003, former city manager Ed Kitchen appointed the War Memorial Stadium Taskforce to undertake a 3-phase study of the future uses and configuration of WWMS. The first phase was to recommend the best uses of the facility; the second phase was to recommend appropriate renovations to the stadium, and the third phase would look at physical improvements in the area immediately surrounding the stadium.

Members of the taskforce include representatives of the Aycock neighborhood, NCA&T University, Greensboro College, The VFW, the American Legion, various amateur baseball organizations, The Greensboro Sports Commission, the Greensboro Historic Preservation Commission, Preservation Greensboro, Inc., the Department of Parks & Recreation, and the Department of Housing and Community Development.

The Taskforce met 6 times to complete the first phase of its work, and produced a set of recommendations for WWMS, as follows:
  • The major use of the facility should be Greensboro's premier venue for amateur baseball. The facility should concentrate its efforts on securing both the NCA&T University and Greensboro College baseball teams as regular, year-round users of the facility. Additionally, the facility should avail itself for all other amateur baseball uses that play on 90-foot bases.
  • In an effort to preserve the quality of the playing surface, it is recommended that usage should be limited to a range of 150 -200 game days (equivalent) per year. This must factor in practice times and must include the use of protective tarps for the high use areas during warm-ups and scheduled practices.
  • It is recommended that designated FT staff be permanently stationed at the facility to provide the quality playing surface that currently exists to accommodate college level play as well as enhance the City's ability to bring in tournaments to the facility. It is recommended that events, that would otherwise compromise the quality of the playing surfaces, not be allowed in the facility.
  • It is recommended that the City of Greensboro pursue the development of a baseball museum in the facility. Clearly, the historic nature of the ballpark functioning as a memorial to veterans of World War I, its proximity to an established Historic District, the facility being on the National Register of Historic Places, and its location relative to the existing Historic Museum, and Civil Rights Museum all suggest that some space be set aside to showcase the facility's history and the people who have played in it.
  • It is recommended that the City of Greensboro partner with private industry to bring a restaurant to the facility which would overlook the playing surface and would be accessible during game times as well as times when no events are scheduled.
  • It is recommended that to the extent practical, the facility be used to host concerts and civic events. Sporadic scheduling should not create unmanageable damage to the playing surface, especially if recovery periods prior to scheduled baseball events are greater than five (5) days.
  • It is recommended that the area between the ballpark and the tennis courts be evaluated for alternative uses such as croquet, bocce ball, and lawn bowling.

WWMS Taskforce Phase 2

The WWMS Taskforce began phase 2 of its work in 2004 as it searched for a planning and architectural firm to develop a set of buildable renovations plan for WWMS. Three firms submitted their qualifications for the project, and after interviewing them, the Taskforce selected the Winston-Salem firm Walter Robbs Callahan & Pierce (WRCP).

The planners have been charged by the Taskforce to come up with "good / better / best" recommendations for presentation to City Council. Whichever one is chosen by Council will likely be put up for a city-wide bond referendum.

September 12, 2005 meeting of the WWMS Taskforce

The Taskforce met on 9/12 with WRCP. WRCP led the meeting by reviewing the past planning efforts (see above) to verify that the goals for the stadium had not changed in the past few months since the Taskforce met.

Here's the checklist of items that were discussed:
  • Sports: everyone agreed that amateur baseball is a very high priority for the stadium. The primary users would be NCA&T, Greensboro College, and 16 years-and-up amateur leagues. Adult exhibition softball could also be accommodated. Other sports such as soccer, lacrosse, and track and field were eliminated from consideration because of the expenses and difficulty of maintaining a multi-use field. Accessory uses such as bocce ball and croquet may be accommodated in areas adjoining the stadium.
  • Community Events: Aycock Neighborhood representatives led by Betsey Baun and David Hoggard argued for the importance of bringing the public to this stadium, especially since amateur baseball events normally bring in small crowds. They suggested that concerts of limited duration – not all-day events such as ZoneFest – would be an appropriate use for the stadium in its neighborhood setting. Parks and Recreation staff were worried about the effect of these on the playing surface, but both groups seemed to agree that regulations for non-baseball activities could be developed to protect the field.
  • Restaurant: The idea for a restaurant with a view of the field was first proposed in the TND Plan, and the Taskforce indicated to WRCP that it should include some kind of restaurant option in its planning.
  • Museum: The Taskforce recommended to the planners that a museum of some kind be integrated into the stadium, but probably not as a separate or free-standing facility. Aycock representative Tracy Lamothe said that she had communicated informally with the Cooperstown baseball museum a few years ago, and that officials their had indicated their willingness to lend out historic items from WWMS in their possession.
  • Seating: This is the most difficult issue facing the planners. Part of the renovation plan must necessarily deal with the fact that the concrete foundations for stadium seating in the uncovered portion of the stands are so severely deteriorated as to be beyond repair, according to a report by engineering firm Sutton-Kennerly.
    Taskforce discussion focused on how much seating is likely to be needed, on the effects of reducing the seating on WWMS's standing in the National Register of Historic Places, and on whether reducing the amount of seating will limit future programmatic options for the stadium. David Hoggard and PGI director Benjamin Briggs both indicated that we simply don't know what possibilities exist for the stadium in the future, but that reducing seating too much would limit those possibilities.
    Eventually the group settled on three options: having 2,500 seats in the renovated stadium would be the "good" option; 3,500 would be "better," and 5,500 would be "best."
  • Precinct Planning: A number of options for the use and development of the areas surrounding the stadium were discussed. Many of these options – such as turning the area in front of the stadium into a public square (provisionally named "Veterans Plaza") – need to be coordinated with the Summit Avenue corridor study currently underway. All agreed that the area around the stadium need visual improvements and that potential expansion of the Farmers' Market should be considered. It was not felt that any additional on-site parking was needed.
Future Meetings

WRCP said it would digest the September 12th discussions and would plan to meet again with the Taskforce in a few weeks. In all likelihood, there will be many more meetings of the Taskforce with WRCP before concrete plans take shape.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Placemaking, Preservation, Progress

The NY Times has a terrific slideshow and article about Mississippi preservationists and residents assessing the loss of distinctive places wrought by Hurricane Katrina. Florence Williams writes insightfully about the intimate connection between people and places.
"Our concern is that people might think we care more about buildings than people, but buildings are them and their community," said Jennifer Baughn, an architectural historian for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
"You can lose what makes a place a place," Ms. Baughn added.
Indeed. One longtime Biloxi resident said,
"I'm going to miss so much the Colonial Revival homes that gave me pleasure every day, and now they're all gone. It makes me want to move away. I'm terrified of what's going to replace them."
But Ken P'Pool (sic), director of historical preservation for the State Archives tried to be somewhat optimistic:
"[The historic buildings that survived] will become the symbols of stability and continuity around which communities will rebuild."
It strikes me that communities like Biloxi and New Orleans, which have a strong sense of identity and a healthy self-regard, are likeliest to preserve their architectural heritage and use it as a jumping-off spotfor new development.
But insecure, "wannabe" cities are likelier to tear down their own architectural heritage as being "just old," and to try to emulate the lastest development fads and fashions.
Which kind of city is Greensboro? A year ago, I would have said that we're pathetic wannabes.
But the city council is now talking about re-using the old Canada Dry warehouse as an ACC Hall of Champions. Action Greensboro is helping to restore the original facade of a building downtown. And city staff and citizens are discussing ways to preserve War Memorial Stadium, albeit in a probably diminshed form. Maybe we're not such Charlotte-Raleigh-Atlanta wannabes any more: maybe we're comfortable being ourselves. I'm hopeful that the city is reaching a kind of preservation-and-progress tipping point.
Still, some people still aren't quite getting it.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Sunday Music at War Memorial Stadium

As I was painting my shed late this afternoon, bluegrass music started drifting into my back yard.

I followed the sound over to World War Memorial Stadium, which was the site of this week's Music for a Sunday Evening in the Park. Usually the music is in a regular park; this week it was a ballpark.
The crowd was just gathering as I came in; Steel Magnolia was set up at the outfield fence. They sounded great, as did Gaelwynd a little later.

Some people have expressed concern that the city won't take care of the playing field now that minor leage ball has left this stadium for First Horizon Park. But the grass looked plush to me, even after 200 amateur games this season. So far so good. Nice job, Department of Parks & Rec.

Looking at the many empty seats, though -- many of which will probably be destroyed when the stadium is renovated -- made me feel pretty sad. I think it will be important to retain the proportions of the original seating (maybe with a berm?) in the downsized version.

Tomorrow afternoon the War Memorial Stadium task force meets with the firm the city has hired to do the renovations / alterations. I'll be there, as will Hoggard. We should start discussing soon what the future stadium will look like.
Stay tuned.

"They aren't important until they are gone and it's too late"

Jim Martin writes on Instapundit:

As inexpensive as digital images are ... everyone should take the time to photograph, in detail, the historic structures where they live. The huge damage Katrina wrought to the Gulf Coast is a hard lesson for the rest of the coutry. Most of the old antebellum mansions are totally erased and will never be recontsucted. It would have been nice to have had detailed photos of them for posterity in a safe place far from hurricanes.

There are hundreds of old buildings, some on the National Registry of Historic Sites, which need to be photographed from all angles: up close, inside and outside to show minute detail of construction methods...If any of these structures are damaged by fire or storms and enough remains for restoration, architects and builders will find photos taken as special projects by archivists a great advantage.

A weekend is all many would require, a great Fall project to get started.
His parting shot, "They aren't important until they are gone and it's too late" really hits the mark, from my experience.

Especially since not all destruction of historic buildings is caused by natural disasters, and the "it's not important" argument is the one you hear most commonly from the destroyers.

But about that digital preservation project: is anyone in Greensboro up for a historic structure photoblog / digital archive? Let's make it happen. Write me.

UPDATE (smacking myself on the forehead): My neighborhood already has a digital archive of the exteriors of every house and building in it -- we started working on it last year, and Stefan-leih Geary of HCD and her assistant did the lion's share of the work. But we don't have interior records, and ours is only one neighborhood.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

This Morning at the Greensboro Farmers' Curb Market

Since our kids have become teenagers and our schedules have gotten busier, we don't put as much effort into cooking as we used to. And so we don't take the best advantage of one our nicest neighborhood amenities -- the Greensboro Farmers' Curb Market on the corner of Yanceyville and Homeland Avenue.

But today was just too good a day not to go. So I ambled over at about 8 a.m., and shot this nice view of the busy parking lot with War Memorial Stadium in the background (and what a handsome piece of architecture that is).

The place was really hopping, as it is every Saturday morning from Spring through Fall. Thousands come every week.

The tomatoes and eggplants are lustrous, practially luminsescent with all the sunlight they've been absorbing for the past few months.

And these peppers looked so tasty and colorful that I was tempted to pick one up and take a big bite out of it like the host of the Iron Chef.

I always want to buy honey when I come here because I have a fascination with beekeeping that I picked up from reading book 4 of Vergil's Georgics too many times. But we don't actually eat very much honey, so I just took this picture of the sun shining through it while the vendor talked to my neighbor Tracy.

The young watermelon vendor in the parking lot seems to prefer urban dress, but I think he's realy a countryman. Either way, he's very nice, and his melons are good.

The Greensboro Principle kicks in big timewhen I'm here. What's the Greensboro Principle? It says that you can't go anywhere in Greensboro without meeting someone you know. Lately, I can't go anywhere without running into 5 or six people I know.

Among the 7 friends I met this morning was Jill Fuller, a UNCG sociology professor. She told me that not only does she come to the market every week, but she has out-of-town friends who insist on visiting whenever they're in Greensboro. It's kind of a happening for them.

The market is that kind of place -- pleasant, festive, full of local flavor (in every sense), cool, a bit funky, and just a little underappreciated by the natives.

If you haven't been there, you should really go. It's neat.

Oh, and did I mention that it has great produce? And Goat Lady cheese? and Cheesecakes by Alex? And . . . lots of other great stuff.

Northwest Greensboro Seethes with Sex Crimes and Robbery

Three crime items in this morning's News & Record caught my attention:

Item 1: two Greensboro men and a teenager were arrested in connection with the sex crimes of taking indecent liberties with a young boy and first-degree statutory rape of a young girl. The two accused men live in the northwest quadrant of the city.

Item 2: a Greensboro man was arrested in connection with the armed robbery of a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant, also in the northwest quadrant.

Item 3: a teenager playing with a gun in east Greensboro accidentally shot himself.

Now guess: in which news item was city geography (east, northwest, etc.) actually mentioned in the article in addition to the addresses of the people or places involved?

Here's your answer:

GREENSBORO -- A teenager was injured Friday after he accidentally shot himself in the leg, police said.

The incident took place in a wooded area off of Holt's Chapel Road on the east side of the city.

It is the habit of the News & Record when writing these little crime notices to mention city geography whenever the crime takes place on the east side of town, but not when they happen in the wealthier, whiter west and northwest.

Two recent N&R stories have noted that all of this year's murders in Greensboro happened in east Greensboro, but I don't recall them ever mentioning geography in their stories about the many armed robberies that occur in western areas like High Point Road or Battleground Ave.

I believe that the N&R is (probably unconsciously) buying into and promoting the stereotype that northwest Greensboro is "nice," but east Greensboro is "unsafe."

Please stop it.

Friday, September 9, 2005

Remembering Last Summer at the Uffizi

Here's me in front of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence last summer.

The Uffizi is one of the great art museums of the world, and in the summer draws many thousands of visitors daily. When we were there, we ran into Steven Spielberg and his lovely wife Kate Capshaw.

Oh, and we saw a lot of great paintings, too -- but we stuck to the Botticellis and early Italian Renaissance painters, as well as a few Caravaggios. It's easy to get overwhelmed in places like this.

The Uffizi does not have any place to park. At all. How do they do that? Just something to think about.

Thursday, September 8, 2005

Saving What's Left on the Gulf Coast

Some of my local preservationist friends are brainstorming about how to save the historic sites and structures along the Gulf coast that were wrecked by Katrina. Mike Cowhig wrote,

Sue Schwartz points out that one of the untold stories is the destruction of historic structures along the coast of Mississippi. Check out the website for Mississippi Heritage. Many of the historic structures that survived the storm are now threatened with destruction by the bulldozers doing the cleanup. One of their biggest needs is money to fund surveys so they can figure out what can and should be saved.
Sue has suggested a Greensboro fundraiser: sounds like a great idea.

David Preziosi, Executive Director of the Mississippi Heritage Trust, says that checks can be mailed directly to this address:
David Preziosi
Executive Director
Mississippi Heritage Trust
P.O. Box 577
Jackson, MS 39205
Just put "Recovery Fund" on the memo line of the check.

You can also make a donation at the National Trust for Historic Preservation's website.

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Thank you, Butch Simmons

We all like to jump down city staff's throats when we think they're doing something wrong (I do it myself quite frequently), but we almost never thank them when they do something right.

That's too bad, because every city hall employee I know is extremely hardworking. I can't tell you how many times I've seen city staff at after-hours or weekend neighborhood and community meetings.

So I'm taking this opportunity to thank Walter "Butch" Simmons, the head of the city's department of Engineering and Inspections, for following through on a project in our neighborhood.

The city recently bought the former VFW property in our neighborhood across from the Greensboro Farmers' Curb Market to use it for parking city vehicles. The neighborhood objected, then asked the city to meet a number of conditions because we were worried about the property's appearance.

Butch met those conditions, spending $9,000 on landscape improvements to the property, and removing at our request some railroad ties that were uglifying the place.

The city did a good job. Thanks, Butch. And thanks to Assistant City Manager Bob Morgan, who answered the neighborhood's sometimes testy questions on this issue so politely.

Update: The Troublemaker has a different view of Butch, and of city employees generally (via Cone).

Update II: Here's a photo of the site:

Monday, September 5, 2005

Curb Appeal

One of the least expensive ways to improve the value of your property is to landscape it well. I've often thought that much of makes a "bad neighborhood" is really just bad landscaping; I've seen horrendous properties almost miraculously transformed by good landscape design.

You can get some advice on maximizing your curb appeal here:

Hey, it's from the NC Cooperative Extension Service, and the Greensboro Library, which means you already paid for it. You might as well get your money's worth.

Yes, it's on the east side of town, at the corner of Benbow and Lee. But it's a very nice library branch. We promise not to shoot at you.

Katrina's Cultural Toll

Frederick Starr in the NY Times grieves over the cultural and architectural losses that Katrina has wrought:

[New Orleans] faces the loss of some of America's most notable historic architecture. Maybe not in the French Quarter, which may emerge relatively intact, or the Garden District, which was spared most of the flooding. The dangers lie in neighborhoods like Tremé and Mid-City, which extend along Bayou Road toward Lake Pontchartrain and are rich in 18th- and 19th-century homes, shops, churches and social halls. They have been badly hit by the violent winds or torrents of water. And so have hundreds of other important buildings and vernacular structures throughout the city and across the breadth of South Louisiana and the Gulf Coast...

Louisiana, especially South Louisiana, is a living archive of American social and cultural history, and not just in its buildings. In no other state is the proportion of people born and raised within its borders so high. As a consequence, they are something that is ever more rare in a homogenized and suburbanized America: the living bearers and transmitters of their own history and culture. Katrina, and those fateful levee breaks in New Orleans, put this all at risk.
Of course the human toll taken by Katrina is infinitely greater than the loss of buildings, and Starr writes movingly about that, too.

Starr's attachment to New Orleans and its people began to grow when he bought a historic house in a marginal area and worked with old and new residents to improve the neighborhood. They came up with a neighborhood motto -- "Be nice or leave" -- and started their own neighborhood festival. His experience will resonate with many of Greensboro's historic district dwellers -- it certainly does with mine.

In the long run, Starr is optimistic about his city:
I expect [the people] too, will return, and that life in New Orleans will go on, with all its precariousness and sense of fragility and, yes, with all its relish for the moment.
Read the whole thing.

Update: Waterfall has a personal remembrance and photo of a house lost in Gulfport, Mississippi. Hat tip to Slowly she Turned.

Saturday, September 3, 2005

Pretty Killers

In late summer, the orb-weaving spiders really get going. Five of them have taken up residence in our Sweet Autumn Clematis, whose scent attracts plenty of prey. Here are a few shots of those beautiful, venomous arachnids:

Greensboro Neighbors Help Katrina Refugees

This just came in the mail from my neighbor Mebane Ham:

At 6:30 this morning I received a phone call from the Volunteer Center. Greensboro was going to be receiving 300-500 evacuees from the New Orleans area and needed some help. Could I find 10 volunteers to help set up the sleeping cots for these unfortunate victims?

No problem, I said, trying to wake up and figure what planet I was on, much less where I would find folks to give up their Saturday during a holiday weekend. Yet, knowing what neighborhood I live in, I figured it wouldn't be a problem.

And actually, it was no problem at all. With a few well placed phone calls and a little bit of a wait for the American Red Cross, we were off setting up mats at the Coliseum. By noon we had almost 400 mats set up and waiting for their occupants.

As of this email our New Orleans guests have not arrived but are expected late today. Much support will be needed to care for our guests. Everything from serving food, finding more perrmanent shelter and transportation.

Please give the The Volunteer Center (373.1633) a call if you can offer any time or services.

Thanks to everyone for their willingness to help. You are what makes this neighborhood GREAT!

Here's a photo that Mebane took of the sleepy volunteers getting organized:

Greensboro is full of people and neighborhoods like this, you know. It's one of our little secrets.

UPDATE: The Governor makes it official, though the N.C. Helping Neighbors Fund. Hat tip to Mark Binker.

Thursday, September 1, 2005

Local Red Cross Training Hurricane Katrina Volunteers

This comes from Donna Newton of the Greensboro Neighborhood Information Center:

The American Red Cross is offering a 3 day training for volunteers who are able and willing to take a 2 to 3 week assignment to go to Louisiana to provide disaster relief. They will pay all travel expenses. The training for next week is full. However, they will be training frequently over several months and expect that the need to send volunteers will continue for many months. If you are interested and can devote the time to this effort, I encourage you to call the Red Cross and get on the list for training. The local number is 333-2111. Just tell them you want to speak to someone about the disaster relief training.

Of course, they also need money and blood donations, so anything you can do will be valuable.
If you want to send money, Instapundit has a huge roundup of charities.

Max Thompson, RIP

Longtime Aycock resident and neighborhood advocate Max Thompson has died.

Max was one of the founders of the Aycock neighborhood association and was a tireless advocate for the neighborhood he loved. Fisher Park architect Carl Myatt has called him a "bulldog" for the causes that he believed in, and he is a local hero to many Aycock residents.

Max is the person most responsible for the presence of the Hendrix Street footbridge which connects the Aycock and Fisher Park neighborhoods. He pushed, cajoled, and argued with city staff, elected officials, and railroad executives for years to see that the new bridge was built after the old one was condemned and demolished. He was constantly told that it couldn't and wouldn't be done.

But it was done.

Max did it. He also saw to it that the area around the bridge was properly landscaped. Here's how the entrance the bridge looks now on the Fisher Park side:

Max knew instinctively that keeping our neighborhoods connected was essential to the neighborhoods' vitality. The bridge is used constantly by residents from both sides of the bridge, and has been instrumental in recent improvements to nearby Chestnut St.

Max will be sorely missed, but must not be fogotten. Carl Myatt has suggested the Hendrix Street bridge be named after Max, and I think that's a great idea. I only wish we'd done it while Max could have appreciated it, too.

Update: Here is Max's obituary from the News & Record:

Mr. J. Maxton "Max" Thompson Jr., 62, of Greensboro, died at his home in Greensboro on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2005.

A memorial service celebrating his life will be held at 2 p.m. Friday at Tabernacle Baptist Church.

Born in Guilford Co. to Joseph Maxton Thompson Sr., and Frances Sellars Thompson, Max graduated from UNCG with a degree in Political Science. For years he was owner and operator of Millpoint Nursery. He was an avid fisherman, loved baseball and for years coached little league baseball. He was a large supporter of restoring War Memorial Stadium. Max used to sing in a Barber Shop Quartet and was a member of the local Barber Shop Quartet chapter. He was past president of the Aycock Neighborhood Assoc. and past chairman of the Zoning Commission. Max was also very instrumental in the replacement of the Hendrix St. Bridge.

He was preceded in death by father who died Feb. 16, 2005, and his brother Tyler Thompson.

Those left to cherish his memory include his son, Sam Thompson of Carrboro; his mother, Frances S. Thompson of Greensboro; sisters, Page Thompson of Greensboro and Toni Thompson Dingley and her husband, Emmett of Virginia; aunts, Ann Thompson of Greensboro and Willis T. Durham of Burlington.

The family will receive friends at the church following the memorial service.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Aycock Neighborhood Assoc. c/o Chuck Newell 704 Cypress St., Greensboro, NC 27405.

Hanes-Lineberry Vanstory Chapel is assisting the family.