Monday, February 28, 2005

Urban snob?

One of my smartest and most respected readers really let me have it after reading my review of Reedy Fork Ranch. Here's what he said:

You're increasingly coming across as an urban snob of superior virtue and culture making fun of those who don't share your appreciation of "better" architecture and the way you think neighborhoods ought to be organized.

Hard-working middle-class people are looking for affordable housing in a nice neighborhood with good public schools. "Snout houses," like the ones we've always had and have now, are there so people can put their cars in garages, which happen to be extremely functional pieces of architecture. Sidewalks on one side of the street are plenty good enough for them, and they somehow find a way to relate to their neighbors . . .

. . . If I were young and just starting out in Greensboro, Reedy Fork Ranch would be the place for me, and I suspect [my] kids would have had a perfectly fine upbringing exploring all the cul-de-sacs.

Ouch. That "snob" part is not pleasant to hear, but it's probably true.

But hey, one of the reasons I started this blog was to have a lively discussion about development and urbanism (both new and old) here in Greensboro, and so far this reader is the only commenter to come down on the side of suburbia. Let's have a debate.

So over the next week or so, I'll try to put out a few posts, not only about why I like certain types of housing, streetscapes, and neighborhoods, but why I think they're actually better.

Housing and neighborhood design shouldn't be about snobbery. They should be about happiness for as many people as possible.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

The Young Professionals have arrived!

And I'm happy to report that they're extremely nice.

I took the dogs for a long walk downtown this afternoon (avoiding housework), and wandered down South Elm, past the various demolition and construction projects, and into South Side.

A young couple was peering into one of the nearly-completed townhouses on MLK Boulevard, and I couldn't stop myself from striking up a conversation. They've recently moved here from Washington, D.C., and bought a South Side townhouse because they wanted to keep the "urban vibe" they enjoyed in DC. They love South Side, downtown Greensboro, and the new baseball stadium (though they like the "historic feel" of the old one, too).

They were very hip. He wore one of those stocking caps all the young men are wearing (people around here call them toboggans), rectangular, black-rimmed glasses, and an item of unthreatening pierced-eyebrow jewelry. She was wearing what looked like a high-end Gore-Tex shell.

In the background was the sound of saws, hammers, and a backhoe breaking ground for the last phase of construction; red clay and sawdust were everywhere. Quite a few other people like them were passing by as we talked, heading toward Natty Greene's or the Green Bean or Simple Kneads.

I joked with them that they were the reason for all of Action Greensboro's work and millions of dollars spent downtown; they were the cause of civil strife and a plebiscite over the baseball stadium; they were Greensboro's economic holy grail. And here they were!

They seemed to know that already, but they laughed just the same.

It looks like all our downtown boosterism is actually working. A lot of people should be patting themselves on the back. Jim Melvin is one of them.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

A lot more urbanity

may be coming to downtown Greensboro.

Great!

Out with the old . . .

. . . and in with the new parking lot. At least, I've heard that the wreckage of the historic structure shown here is to be a parking lot.



I have a sinking feeling that the Dixie building, pictured below, will be next. It's right across the street from First Horizon Park, on the corner of Bellemeade and Eugene Streets. It's been one of my favorite buildings for years.



One hopes -- against hope? -- that someone with a little heart, imagination, and capital, will do what Dawn Cheney is doing just a few blocks away with the Vick apartment building on Fisher Ave. That is, restore it to its original -- beyond its original -- glory.



Thank you, Dawn!

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Buildings are going down on Spring Street

I had word today about three historic, residential buildings near the new First Horizon Park that are slated for demolition. One of them apparently went down this afternoon.

The two others are an Art-Deco apartment building and a Queen Anne style house. The information I had -- which is strictly second hand -- is that these historic structures are being destroyed for . . . parking.

For the new ballpark.

I was actually starting to feel good about that ballpark. Now I'm not.

I'll try to get photos of the surviving buildings up soon, if I can get there before the wrecking ball.

Happy meetings

Just about every minute that I wasn't in class today, I was in meetings with planners, developers, and preservationists. Heaven!

I'm not being ironic. I really do like these meetings.

This morning Aycock neighborhood president Betsey Baun and I met with city staff to interview one of the firms that's bidding to do the Summit Avenue corridor study. All of the finalists seemed highly qualified, and that makes me hope for real improvements in the Summit corridor sometime soon.

Mid-day, Betsey and I met with owners of a substantial chunk of property in Aycock who are planning a major development there. Greensboro architect Jerry Leimenstoll is their lead designer. Jerry has a sterling reputation among local preservationists, and although everything is still in the preliminary stages, prospects are good for a very exciting urban infill project just around the block from my house. Timeline for completion: 24-36 months.

Late in the afternoon, at the Greensboro Historic Preservation Commission meeting, we gave John Stratton the final go-ahead on his excellent infill project in Fisher Park. He seemed happy to have successfully navigated the treacherous waters of historic district development.

Elsewhere, and at the same time, some of my other neighbors were meeting with the developers of the North State Chevrolet property adjacent to the new First Horizon Park to help plan whatever will be built there. (My wife is hoping for a Trader Joe's there.) I'm sure you'll be hearing a lot about it soon.

Still other neighbors will be meeting next week with still more developers regarding still another project involving my neighborhood. Could be big.

Finally, I had a chance meeting on South Elm Street with Ed Cone and Luna. They showed me around Ed's spacious and sunny office in the Old Greensborough building. I'm envious. But Ed usually says nice things about me, so I'm not holding it against him.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Reedy Fork Ranch

Over the weekend I visited Reedy Fork Ranch, the large new housing development northeast of Greensboro, just off US 29. I've heard a lot of radio advertisements for it and seen a few billboards, too, the theme of which is "room to roam." The radio ads feature pastoral nature sounds, and the billboards show grasslands surrounded by woods. Nice.

But when I got there, what I found seemed to be an unremarkable housing development built on a formula that developers have been using and re-using for three or four decades.

The road pattern is mostly "dendritic," meaning that, from the main access road ("Reedy Fork Parkway"), residential streets branch off, finally leading nowhere, ending in loops or cul-de-sacs. The pattern is typical of automobile-oriented commuter neighborhoods, since it makes it easy to drive in and out of the development, but not to walk around the neighborhood to visit actual neighbors.

Reedy Fork Ranch has walking trails, but not sidewalks on both sides of the street. When I drove through, kids were playing in the street. I noted the missing sidewalks to the realtor in one of the model houses, and he said, "they don't do that any more," though he allowed that he liked sidewalks himself, and has an urban sidewalk route that he walks every day in Burlington. The nice thing about sidewalks is that they allow you to choose where to go; walking trails force those choices on you.



The orientation toward automobiles is apparent in the design of the houses, too. Almost all have very prominent front-facing garages, and on the smaller houses this feature absolutely dominates. It's not for nothing that these are called "snout houses;" their entrances really do look like big pig snouts.



Pedestrian access to the front door is invariably from the driveway, and those entries are miniscule compared to the garage. For the families who live here, the garage entrance usually is the main entry to the house. This design minimizes the opportunities for casual contact with neighbors.



The developers left a lot of old trees standing on the edges of the residential areas, but chose to clear-cut huge tracts in between, planting new trees on the larger lots. This gives the areas I saw a rather barren look. Landscaping on the lots is pretty thin, and I don't think this development would meet the standards of a new tree ordinance that the city of Greensboro is working on (more on that topic soon). The lots are quite small, which I think is a good thing, since it minimizes the environmental impact of fertilizers and herbicides on the watershed.



The houses aren't pretty from the outside. Vinyl siding is the rule, though upgrades of brick or stone for the facades are available. Side and rear views of the houses show that the builders' main concern is to provide inexpensive square footage; the houses are boxy and display no sense of proportion or style.



The insides of the houses, however, are quite nice. The upper-end models I looked at had 9-foot ceilings downstairs, crown moldings, and some hardwood floors. The bathrooms and closets seemed luxurious to me (but I live in a 100-year-old house where the three closets are only a foot deep, and the original bathroom was in the back yard). Many nice upgrades like granite counters, tile floors, and added interior trim work are available for those who want to pay for them.

The only problem I found on the models I toured was with the aluminum windows. I opened one with difficulty, and then couldn't get it to close and lock properly.

Reedy Fork Ranch is very close to Guilford County's Bryan Park, which has two championship golf courses and a huge soccer complex. I'm sure the residents will enjoy these amenities. Apparently a large shopping center is planned nearby, "like Friendly Center," the realtor told me.

Here is Bryan Park's clubhouse:



The development also features a 500 acre central park, a historic millpond, two community centers, and other natural areas.

Over all, Reedy Fork Ranch reminds me a lot of Adams Farm, another very popular and successful planned subdivision in western Greensboro. Prices start at under $90 per square foot, and base prices for various house models range from around $100,000 to $220,000. It seems like a good place for people who see their neighborhoods as a place to retreat from work, commerce, civic life, and even from other neighbors.

Monday, February 21, 2005

John Constantine vs. Father Merrin

I saw Keanu Reeves' new movie Constantine this weekend with my son; it's a mildly interesting and very violent action film wrapped up in some gooey, quasi-Catholic cosmology. It's also mixed up with a lot of manichean dualism entailing dull conversations about "the Balance" between Good and Evil. Bleah. The scriptwriters were clearly affected by the 20th century's most influential theologian, George Lucas.

Reeves plays John Constantine, a cynical psychic who is trying to earn his way into heaven by "deporting" renegade demons back to Hell; he gets mixed up with detective Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz), who is trying to figure out her twin sister's mysterious suicide. Together they end up battling all the forces of Evil in a rather uncompelling way, although a few cameos by Satan and the archangel Gabriel brighten things up at the end.

I'm often amazed at how little trouble Hollywood takes to get even simple details of scholarship right. At a crucial point in this movie, Constantine's quirky, occult-scholar pal has to consult the infernal version of the Bible, which has extra stuff in it. I'm almost sure I heard him refer to "the seventeenth act of Corinthians." Act? Don't these guys know that the Bible is divided up into chapters? Probably not.

On top of that, the content of what he reads therein is obviously supposed to sound like the book of Revelation, not like any of the loving chastisements that St. Paul wrote to those rowdy Corinthians.

Oh, well.

Constantine compares very unfavorably with my favorite demon-oriented movie, The Exorcist, which I rented last week. After thirty-two years, it's still very scary. Maybe that's because The Exorcist takes evil seriously. I also like the fact that William Friedkin, who directed it, along with William Peter Blatty, who wrote the novel, were very careful to get their Catholic theology right.

Toward the end, Father Karras, the young priest who's having a crisis of faith, asks his elder partner, "Why did the demon possess this little girl? It makes no sense." Father Merrin, the experienced exorcist, replies, "I think the point is to make us despair — to see ourselves as animal and ugly, to reject the possibility that God could love us."

Skip Constantine. Rent The Exorcist.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Remember summer?

Don't get mad; get it right

Sam Hieb thinks Greensboro bloggers aren't outraged enough about the mess that happened at St. James II, and suggests that Greensboro shouldn't fund any other such projects.

I agree that we should be outraged about the waste of money that could have actually helped poor people. I don't agree that Greensboro should stop doing projects like these. Instead, it should stop doing them the way it has been doing them, that is, without sufficient oversight.

If you look at Greensboro's recent history with low-income housing, here's what you see: independent leaders like Michael King, Skip Alston, and Christian Wellness repeatedly asking the City Council for funds or other help, with the Council repeatedly granting those requests.

At the same time, HCD staff repeatedly ask for increased financial accountability, and are resisted. (I think this is the source of Alston's "racism" comment.)

You can read the same story played out time and again here, here, here, here and here.

The answer is not to curtail low-income housing in Greensboro -- the answer is to provide city staff with the resources to make sure that the city's investment is adminstered responsibly.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Stop feeding Skip

So many Greensboro bloggers have commented on county commissioner Skip Alston's accusation that Greensboro HCD staff are racist, that I couldn't possibly link to all of them. Well, I could, but I'm too lazy. You can find a lot of them over at Greensboro101.com.

I think we should all just let the matter drop. Skip will never apologize. He's a race-controversy careerist, and all our electronic outrage merely increases his standing among those citizens who will reflexively say "amen!" whenever Skip looks like he's sticking it to The Man.

Skip is the yin to Billy Yow's yang in the Tao of Greensboro's Pointless Race Politics. Let's please ignore them both when they do this stuff. It only encourages them.

The real problem with housing staff in Greensboro

Greensboro blogs and print media have been abuzz with county commissioner Skip Alston's accusation that city housing staff are racist.

Greensboro Housing and Community Development (HCD) staff are stressed. But not about Alston's comments. They're worried about losing their jobs because of cuts in the federal budget.

President Bush's 2006 HUD budget proposes to merge the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program with 17 other grant programs, and to drastically reduce the funding for all of them to only 75% of the amount that was given to CDBG alone.

Matt Williams in the News & Record documented individual projects that might be lost in Greensboro.

But he didn't report that the salaries of several key staff in HCD are paid out of CDBG money. Staff who are behind projects like South Side, the East Market Street redevelopment, and ongoing plans to clean up and redevelop South Elm Street. That is, these folks are the creative force behind some of Greensboro's most successful – even national award-winning -- urban projects.

HCD has been arguing for years that it's foolish to pay staff out of federal funds, because federal funds are evanescent. Well, they just evanesced. Time to get smart, Greensboro. If we lose these people, I'm sure Raleigh, Charlotte, or some other city looking for bright and successful city planners would love to have them.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Blogs or dogs?

I had to choose tonight between the Greensboro blogger meet-up at the Green Bean and watching the Westminster Kennel Club dog show.

Bloggers lost.

And how could they not? Many of Trajan and Hero's relatives are going to be on national TV!

If you go here, you can see information about Trajan's cousin Mirabella. There's also a ten-minute streaming video of the preliminary rounds for my favorite breed, the Belgian Malinois, though if you can make it through all ten minutes, you are a Malinois lover indeed.

Update: Darkmoon reminds me that I got the date of the Greensboro blogger meetup wrong -- it's today. I still can't make it: I'll be having dinner with Ben Issac after his lecture this afternoon on the invention of racism in classical antiquity. It's at 4:30 p.m. in 230A McIver Building at UNCG, sponsored by my department.

And in case you missed the big news last night, the Malinois did not win Best in Show at Westminster. That award went to Carlee, a German Shorthaired Pointer. Mals never win. At least they didn't give it to that damned terrier.

Dorkusations

My 13-year-old daughter likes me pretty well some of the time, such as when I've just set up her iMac G5 on a wireless network or spent 3 months' of my lunch money on a pair of Chestnut Uggs for her. Maybe she even likes me most of the time. It's hard to tell.

But I know that she thinks I'm a complete DORK pretty much all of the time, though she's never actually said so. Well, at least not more than a few times (a day). Usually, however, she conveys her utter and unreserved contempt for my sense of style, humor, and modus vivendi by means of the exquisite eye-roll, sneer, sigh, or shrug. Sometimes she shudders at me.

All of these gestures are silent accusations of dorkosity against me, for which I have coined the portmanteau word dorkusation and its derivative dorkusingly. As in:

When the father opined that the skirt in question might not be appropriate for a wedding, his daughter rolled her eyes dorkusingly and stomped back into the changing room.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Uxori meae carissimae


quam se ore ferens . . . nec vana fides, genus esse dearum!
X O X O X O X O X O X
vir tuus

Psychologist cribs from Aristotle, makes money

On the way back from my morning run, I heard a cute story on NPR's Morning Edition about psychologists measuring happiness using Palm Pilots.

One of the psychologists interviewed, Dr. Martin Seligman, offered a definition of happiness that sounded awfully familiar to me. He said something like, the key to happiness is to identify your signature strengths and virtues and use them in your life.

Is it me? Or isn't that just a reworking of this:

to anthropinon agathon psyches energeia gignetai kat' areten, ei de pleious hai aretai, kata ten aristen kai teleiotaten.

"the good for humans is the soul's activity in accordance with virtue or excellence, and if there's more than one of these, in accordance with the best and most perfect of them." -- Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1.7.15

Dr. Seligman has a website, where he does actually mention Aristotle, and you can pay money to learn how to be happy.

Or not. Why not just read Aristotle's Ethics? It's a lot cheaper, and it has a proven track record.

P.S. Can Seligman really be this man's name? Because in German it means "happy man."

Sunday, February 13, 2005

No degrees of separation

I got to sit in on an interesting conversation with Dan Gillmor and a group of News & Record editors and staffers this morning, along with the flesh-and-blood avatars of EdCone.com, Southern Rants, Hogg's Blog, Greensboro Is Talking, Greensboro101.com, and the eponymous Patrick Eakes. What nice people, and what interesting ideas they have about the future of journalism in Greensboro. Most of them had been to the Triangle Blogger Conference in Chapel Hill on Saturday.

Chapel Hill web guru Paul Jones, editor of iBiblio, was also there, and as he and I eyed each other across the room, I could see us both slowly realizing that we were not strangers. Paul knew me when I was a young Classics graduate student, and he was doing tech work for UNC that still involved a lot of punch cards and magnetic tape. Ah, the days of FORTRAN.

I also learned that the Triangle Blogger Conference yesterday was held in Murphey Hall, home of the UNC Classics Department, which is the the place I where spent countless hours communing with the likes of Lucretius, Sophocles, and Herbert Weir Smyth. It is also the place where I first set eyes upon my lovely and accomplished wife, Laurette DeVeaux Wharton. (I ask you, guys, could you resist dating a beautiful archaeologist named Laurette DeVeaux?)

Actually, the consequence of that fateful meeting is the reason I had to miss the Triangle blogger conference. Two consequences, actually; both of them female. I spent Saturday morning with my younger daughter, walking downtown to Simple Kneads and Cheesecakes by Alex, then Saturday afternoon setting up a wireless network for my older daughter's new iMac G5 (and for Laurette's Dell laptop).

In fact, I'm blogging from bed using that laptop right now, next to my lovely and accomplished wife, whom I met in Murphey Hall, where the Triangle blogger conference was, which also hosted Paul Jones and Dan Gillmor, whom I saw this morning.

Small world. But cozy.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Another hapless victim of senseless violence

A civics lesson and a hug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Why not here?

I love bungalows.

When we were visiting some of my wife's relatives recently, I took a few photos of a whole neighborhood full of them on Bainbridge Island, Washington.

What a beautiful historic district this is.



There are a few classic American foursquares scattered throughout as well, just like in my neighborhood.



Notice the nice details like the brackets above the garage door and under the eaves of the house. My brother-in-law also keeps an artist's studio above the garage. They just don't make houses like this any more.



Except that they do.

This development is only a few years old. The developer is a devotee of bungalow architecture (obviously!), as well as a fan of old-and-new urbanist neighborhood design: sidewalks, shallow setbacks, small lots, recessed, detached garages (too bad he didn't use alleys), no cul-de-sacs, and small "pocket park" public spaces.

The houses are all built with modern materials: hardi-plank exterior siding and shingles, double-paned windows, and painted epoxy-wood composite trim on the inside.

The developer made some courageous descions regarding the outfitting of the interiors of these houses. Instead of trying to attract typical suburban home buyers with "trophy house" teases like granite counters, Viking stoves, garden tubs, and "bonus rooms," he opted instead to include classic craftsman-style detailing: built-in bookshelves, transom windows, and pillared knee-walls.

These houses don't boast the square footage of the typical multi-gabled mcmansion, but they do have some very inviting spaces, congenial to a pleasant way of life:



The houses in this development sold like crazy, even with lowly formica counters -- and for very handsome prices. The neighbors have a strong sense of community, and their kids roam the sidewalks in small packs, as I remember doing as a small child. Public schools, a library, and a swimming pool are all within walking distance.

In Greensboro, there's quite a bit of unused urban space between West Bessemer, Wendover, Summit, and Yanceyville, and there's going to be even more if the car dealerships currenly there decide to pull up stakes. I've heard that they're planning to do so eventually.

Why not build some bungalows there?

Update: Reader Anna provides a link to the Cottage Company. My brother-in-law's house is in the North Town Woods development, built by The Bungalow Company.

Hawthorn Park is another bungalow community being built in Atlanta's historic Kirkwood neighborhood.

Here in North Carolina, Duke University's Trinity Heights neighborhood of bungalows and townhouses is now completely sold out.

If any of you, gentle readers, are well-connected in Greensboro's real estate development circles, would you please send these links along to the kind of people who could make something like this happen?

Monday, February 7, 2005

Car conversation with teenagers

Son (15): I can't believe my biology teacher isn't giving us everything we need to know for our genetics test until the day before.

Me: Really? What are you studying?

Son (15): RNA, DNA, protein synthesis, amino acids, stuff like that.

Daughter (13): I dissected a cow heart once.

Me: I never did too well with genetics. I just started a book by a guy named Edward O. Wilson, who thinks that all human knowledge can be explained through evolutionary biology.

Son (15): He hasn't even told us the the procedures we'll need to know for the test.

Daughter (13): It looked kind of like a chicken with no wings or legs.

Sunday, February 6, 2005

"There is a lot more to raising a child . . .

. . . than having a baby," Ed Cone correctly notes, referring to a letter that his cousin wrote to the NY Times.

It's also true for a lot of women, apparently, that there is a lot more to having an abortion than a quick trip to the Planned Parenthood clinic.

Greensboro is rich in institutions that help women and their children through the problems of pregnancy and child-rearing. I'm proud to say that two of them are housed in my neigbhorhood. Here is some basic information on the ones I know.

Summit House
The Summit House program strengthens the family by intervening in the lives of non-violent women offenders and their children. Comprehensive services are administered to the women and their children through the efforts of a public-private partnership in a highly structured and controlled environment. The program strives to break the cycle of crime. Summit House also advocates nationally for community-based sentencing programs.

Room at the Inn of the Triad
Room at the Inn provides transitional housing for homeless pregnant women. Residency is throughout pregnancy and up to one year after delivery. Six rooms are available, two with facilities for the expectant mother's additional children. Employment and/or educational pursuits are required. Room at the Inn is full 80% of the time and has a waiting list. Residents are required to apply for food stamps and to pay two-thirds of any public monies received, but no one is turned away for inability to pay. Phone: 336-275-9566.

Mary's House
Mary's House provides transitional housing to homeless single mothers who are in recovery from substance abuse. The women are housed, without their children, for 30 to 60 days; then their children may join them. Mary's House has a maximum capacity of eight families and is full 80% of the time. Residents stay an average of one year, but may stay for two years. The cost is 30% of the adjusted gross income for each client. Phone: 336-275-0820.

Greensboro Pregnancy Care Center
917 N. Elm St.
Greensboro, NC 27401
Telephone: (336) 274-4901
Fax:(336) 274-0325
Email: elizabeth@pregnantfreehelp.com

Update: I read in the City Connections Newsletter today that "The City of Greensboro will receive funding from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide 16 units of new permanent housing to homeless mothers in recovery and their minor children." The grant is for more than three quarters of a million dollars. Maybe your neighborhood would be interested in receiving one of these houses?

Thursday, February 3, 2005

Epic blogging

After some initial technical difficulties, my class blog for Comparative Studies in World Epics is up and running.

I've opened the blog to all comments, so if discussing epics is your thing, feel free to drop in and give my students a piece of your mind. I think they're (mostly) intrigued with the idea of blogging for course credit.

Most of them decided to post pseudonymously, and I went along with the idea. So, if you were wondering, over at that blog, I'm Zeus. As if I needed to tell you that.

"If you fail to plan . . .

. . . you plan to fail."

That's a little saying I picked up while training to be a Boy Scout leader, and it's maddeningly true.

Greensboro's Glenwood neighborhood learned that lesson Tuesday, when the Greensboro City Council approved a student apartment complex in their neighborhood against the wishes of the Glenwood Neighborhood Association. (The News and Record's stories are here and here.)

If Glenwood had had a neighborhood plan in hand, it's likely that they could have forced the developer to work toward their vision, rather than the other way around.

Two neighborhoods in Greensboro have developed such plans: Lindley Park, and my own Charles B. Aycock neighborhood. Like a lot of older, urban neighborhoods around the country, we've learned through hard experience that if we don't plan for ourselves, someone will plan for us. And that someone is usually not a someone with our best interests at heart.

I know a bunch of people from Glenwood, and from what I hear it's a great place in many ways, but it also has a lot of typical urban problems. And I know that the Glenwood neighborhood association doesn't need me to tell them this, but I'm going to say it anyway.

Get a plan. If you haven't already, have a talk with the city's chief neighborhood planner, Sue Schwartz. You won't regret it.

Wednesday, February 2, 2005

The New Urbanism Here in Greensboro

Developer John Stratton's proposal to build 14 condominiums and one single-family home in historic Fisher Park was approved by the Greensboro Historic Preservation Commission last week. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the Commission, and I made the motion to approve the plan). I think Stratton's project is a sign of things to come in Greensboro, and a very good one.

You can get a rough idea of what his project will look like from these architectural elevations. Here's the front:



Here's the side:



Here's the single family home:



All of this is tucked into a couple of lots on N. Elm St. and on Magnolia Court which have been disused for some time.

The project succeeds on many fronts. It is architecturally appealing; it meets the Historic District Design Guidelines and fits into its historic setting very well; it has the approval of the neighborhood association; it is in line with the City's Comprehensive Plan for the area; and -- most important for Mr. Stratton -- it will probably make him a lot of money. (I hope it does; he's earned it.)

Mr. Stratton held a lot of meetings with the Fisher Park neighborhood association, with the Historic Preservation Commission's design review committee, and with the Commission itself. He also had to go before the zoning board and City Council. I believe the opinions and advice he got from these groups added a lot of value to his project. Although meetings like these are probably not high on a developer's list of favorite things, as infill progresses in Greensboro, that is the way development will have to happen.

I also think Stratton's project is a good example of what's known in planning circles as the New Urbanism. If you want to get a quick idea of what the New Urbanism is all about, along with some criticisms of it, read this. A lot of people think the New Urbanism is the most important architectural movement in America since the rise of Modernism.

New Urbanism preaches that neighborhoods are important, that they need a variety of housing types, that they should be friendly to pedestrians and cars. New Urbanists are not in favor of restricting growth a la Portland, Oregon, but are in favor of market-driven development that is congenial to urban living. New Urbanists like architectural forms that create inviting public spaces and streetscapes.

Somehow, a lot of that stuff happened in Mr. Stratton's project, without anyone really trying to be a New Urbanist. Neat. Let's have some more of that.

Tuesday, February 1, 2005

I Am Charlotte Simmons

Charlotte Simmons is the fiercely intelligent, beautiful, and ambitious, though somewhat countrified, heroine of Tom Wolfe's latest novel. The product of working-class parents in fictional Sparta, NC, and the valedictorian of her high school class, she sets off to DuPont University (read Duke) bearing her own, her family's, and her teachers' high expectations.

Things don't turn out as she planned.

Instead of finding a rarefied life of the mind, Charlotte discovers that the lofty professors she came to study under are, as Wolfe puts it, ghostly presences inhabiting the fringes of university life. At the true heart of DuPont's throbbing vitality are big-time college athletics and a beer-and-hormone-soaked fraternity culture. Wolfe's novel details Charlotte's immersion in this hissing cauldron of lust and ambition for a semester and a half. He does not tell us whether Charlotte makes it out intact.

Wolfe's trademark pleasures are here: vibrant and resistless prose; uncanny observation of the details of speech, gesture, and clothing; and a real appreciation for the virtues of the objects of his unblinking satiric gaze. At times Wolfe seems to be all eye, a hyper-accurate recorder of the exploits and foibles of his characters.

But that is not all he is. I Am Charlotte Simmons is a seriously philosophic novel, exploring Charlotte's identity through lenses alternately social, sartorial, sexual, and socio-biological. This last seems to fascinate him most, and the question most often posed by the narrative is whether Charlotte is a free moral agent or merely a set of genetic memes working out their expression in an entirely deterministic cosmos.

The book's title is Charlotte's mantra; it's what she tells herself in moments of loneliness and self-doubt. In the beginning, she knows exactly what it means: "I am someone special, destined for great things." By the end, neither we nor Charlotte are quite sure who she is, nor exactly what things she is destined for, though they are not likely to be merely ordinary.

Wolfe's portrayals of the life of college athletes, coaches, faculty, and administrators are generally delightful and hilarious. Fraternity life, however, being mostly vapid in itself, provides fewer opportunities for pleasure. And Charlotte's protracted humiliation and ultimate debauch at a fraternity formal was, to me, emotionally excruciating; I had to force myself to get through it.

In fact, the book takes a rather distressing turn toward the end, as both we and Charlotte learn that she has the survivor's ruthless streak, and that in the dangerous waters of ivy-league university life, Charlotte can bite with the best of the sharks.

But I Am Charlotte Simmons is an estimable book, and a satisfying one in its refusal to make its complex and attractive heroine entirely lovable.