Monday, May 30, 2005

HoggFest Festival of Photos

A Who's Who of Greensboro bloggers, musicians, artists, photographers, and grass-roots philanthropists turned out yesterday for HoggFest to raise money for my friend and neighbor Jinni Hoggard's breast cancer treatment.

As I said to Jinni, it was a nasty reason to have a great party, and a really amazing testament to one of Greensboro's great strengths: small-scale community action. Organizer Roch Smith, Jr. did an amazing job, as did all the other volunteers. Read David Hoggard's typically warm and eloquent expression of gratitude here.

UPDATE: Billy Jones has a great round-up of local blog coverage.

MORE: has more photos.

Let the Festival of Photos begin!

Jinni, David, and Richard around the pig cooker.

Greensboro bloggers (from left) Ed Cone, Louisa Lauver, and Jay Ovittore help out at the food table. Actually, Jay helped out just about everywhere.

Billy Jones says, "Hey!" Many of his books were awarded as raffle prizes.

Patrick Eakes (right): entrepreneur, Rotarian, volunteer, Grasshoppers fan, and blogger.

Roch Smith, Jr. of really was the super-strongman of this event.

Logie (purple shirt) and friends entertained the outdoor crowd early in the afternoon.

Miki Moore of Reno Garage (they performed later in the evening) says "hi!" Note orange Hoggardmobile in the background.

Richard and David get down to the serious business of chopping pork. Mmmm.

Sam Wharton of Absolutely American was one of the younger bloggers there. He helped out selling raffle tickets late into the evening.

Food, fun, music, smoke!

This thing was a huge hit with the kids, especially when the air compressor ran out of gas and it collapsed around them. Lots of delighted squealing as concerned parents tried to pull them out.

Billy Jones and Woody Cavenaugh enjoy refreshments.

Benjamin Briggs (of Preservation Greensboro, Inc.) and his mom have a Coke and a Smile.

Aycock neighbors Tom Franklin, Bruce Oakley, and Renée Franklin are looking at something and having a good time. (I don't know the lady in green.)

Lenslinger Stewart Pittman and his daughter enjoy a little family togetherness.

Jinni Hoggard and Fisher Park neighborhood leader Ann Stringfield.

The Flatiron contributed 10% of its take toward Jinni's treatment. And no, the good pastor is not coming out of the bar. It was a Sunday, after all!

Todd, working the door at the Flatiron, collected quite a few of these over the course of the day.

Later in the evening, Reno Garage rocks out. All the bands were fantastic! Miki, David, and Mike (foreground) are my neighbors.

David Hoggard and organizer Mebane Ham enjoy the music in the Flatiron. Mebane is also a neighbor.

Laura Seel and David collecting cover charges late in the evening.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Status, Class, and Neighborhoods

This morning's NY Times has a great piece about class and status-seeking in contemporary America. It's well worth your while to read the whole thing, but this paragraph caught my attention:

In the last 30 years or so, however, [professor Shor] said, as people have become increasingly isolated from their neighbors, a barrage of magazines and television shows celebrating the toys and totems of the rich has fostered a whole new level of desire across class groups. A "horizontal desire," coveting a neighbor's goods, has been replaced by a "vertical desire," coveting the goods of the rich and the powerful seen on television, Professor Schor said.

"The old system was keeping up with the Joneses," she said. "The new system is keeping up with the Gateses."
Yet another reason to lament the decline of neighborhoods: even our envy is going upscale.

This Week's Tar Heel Tavern Is Up!

Stop in at the latest installment of the Tar Heel Tavern and find out what North Carolina's bloggers are saying. This week's Tavern is a "virtual meet-up," hosted by Iddybud, who I got to meet at last week's real-live, face-to-face blogger meet-up.

Thanks, Iddybud!

Friday, May 27, 2005


Be sure you make it to HoggFest this Sunday. All the cool kids will be there!

I'll be there for most of the day, and for a two-buck contribution, I'll play and sing The Ballad of Jed Clampett or other hackneyed banjo tune of your choice (if I know it).

What a deal!

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Music Baton Pass

Jay Ovittore has passed me Mr. Sun's Music Questions baton. Here are my answers:

Total volume of music files on my computer: 2.76 GB

Last CD I bought: Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim

Song playing right now: Aquas De Marco (Waters Of March) by Antônio Carlos Jobim

Five songs I listen to a lot lately: Can't answer. I like to put the iPod or iTunes on shuffle and let it go. I haven't listened to the same song twice in months.

Ten favorite albums of all time: Ok, I'm really going to date myself here. And if I compiled this list tomorrow, it would probably be completely different. But here goes:

1. Katy Lied: Steely Dan
2. Rachmaninoff Vespers (Robert Shaw)
3. Chopin Noctures (Daniel Barenboim)
4. Mozart: Exultate, Jubliate (Emma Kirby -- it's out of print)
5. The Beatles (also known as the "white album")
6. Brazil Roots Samba, Wilson Moreira, Nelson Sargento
7. Morning Bugle: John Hartford
8. Aereo-Plain: John Harford
9. Appalachian Journey: Yo Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, Mark O'Connor
10. Martin Mull and His Fabulous Furniture In Your Living Room

Hmmm, who to pass it to? I pick Patrick Eakes.

Thanks, Sandy

Councilwoman Sandy Carmany has an illuminating post about the Greensboro 2005-6 budget on her blog. In with all her other observations, I was really glad to see this:

The proposal to double the amount available for neighborhood small grants pleased me. While many folks would like to see it increased even more, everyone should understand that this is NOT the only money being spent on neighborhoods. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are being spent in neighborhoods throughout the city to install new playground equipment, upgrade parks and recreation centers, improve streets, construct new sidewalks, install 4-way stops and pedestrian crosswalks, etc. that do not fall under these grants.
I would like to see this amount increased even more, because I have a secret agenda for city government.

You see, I believe in the principle of subsidiarity, which holds that "nothing should be done by a larger and more complex organization which can be done as well by a smaller and simpler organization. In other words, any activity which can be performed by a more decentralized entity should be."

That's why I like neighborhood planning, which has happened in Lindley Park and Aycock. Neighborhoods generally have better information about what they need than higher-level organizations do, and so are in a better position to direct funds efficiently to address those needs. Ideally, I'd like to see neighborhoods have much more power in allocating the transportation and recreation funds that Sandy mentions.

But I'm not advocating the dismantling of city government, either. Neighborhoods get tremendous benefit from the expertise of city staff -- I know this from personal experience. But wouldn't it be great, for example, if someday GDOT came to each neighborhood and said, "OK, our 5-year budget for your area is $15 million. These are our federal and state mandates, these are the city ordinances we have to follow, these are the goals of the city's Comprehensive Plan. What are your neighborhood transportation priorities for the next 5 years, and how can we help you get there? Where do you need crosswalks? What's your worst intersection?" Etc. And if the neighborhood had already developed a neighborhood plan, all the better.

Probably none of this stuff seems very relevant (and therefore not very interesting) if you live in a new neighborhood where transportation, housing, and recreation are in good shape. But if you live in an older neighborhood, stressed by neglect, poor zoning, or poor transportation decisions from decades past, I think it's a very big deal.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


I wrote yesterday about how some New-Urbanist retail villages -- such as Durham's Streets at Southpoint -- give some people the willies because they can be fakey and Disneyesque. A commenter compared them to Potemkin villages (although Kim says she loves Disney World).

But I got the willies this morning when I read in the Greensboro News & Record that the Starmount Company, which is developing the West Friendly Avenue property on which Greensboro's Burlington Industries building stood until last Monday, plans to build "a smaller version of Southpoint" there.

It gets even eerier. Ron Wilson, Starmount's spokesman, said, "today's trend in shopping centers is almost Disneylike." Eek!

Apart from the weird coincidence, what's unsettling to me is that Starmount seems to think that building Disneylike, fake downtowns is a good thing.

Actually, the guiding concepts of the proposed center, which include developing an attractive streetscape on Friendly Avenue, putting parking behind buildings, including common areas, and developing two-storey retail spaces, are all GREAT. Far superior to traditional strip or mall development.

But there's no need to make something like this kitschy. Greensboro has plenty of fine architects who know how to refer to and respect our indigenous, traditional designs without falling into phony historicism. Here are a few names:

John Linn. Jerry Leimenstoll. Carl Myatt. Steve and Gina Freyaldenhoven. Patrick Deaton.

Here's hoping Starmount will give some of them a call.

UPDATE: What Not to Build: a fake Arc de Triomphe as your mall's centerpiece, the rest of which is a

jumble of Disneyland and Las Vegas, a shoppers' version of paradise and hell all wrapped in one - [which] will be nearly three times the size of the massive Mall of America in Minnesota. It is part of yet another astonishing new consequence of the quarter-century economic boom here: the great malls of China" (from the NY Times).

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

$750,000 for Sidewalk Rights-of-Way

City Councilwoman, "transportation queen," and blogger Sandy Carmany offered to look into questions raised in an earlier post about how much it will cost the City of Greensboro to buy sidewalk rights-of-way on Wendover Avenue and Bridford Parkway. She was as good as her word.

The long and short of it: it's projected to cost $750,000. GDOT director Jim Westmoreland's whole explanation can be read in comments here, and you can download an excel spreadsheet of the projected costs here. You can see the city's whole sidewalk plan here.

Thanks Sandy, for looking into this. All I can say is, I wish so much of that money didn't have to go toward this particular segment of the sidewalk plan: that's about 15% of the total sidewalk bond money going toward the purchase of right-of-way on Bridford and Wendover alone.

Wouldn't it be civic-minded of all those business owners to decide that, since the sidewalks will be improving their connectivity, and therefore helping their business, they could just donate that right-of-way to the citizens of Greensboro? I know I would. (But then, that's why I'm not rich.)

Nevertheless, shame on me for not being involved in the planning process sooner. I should have gone to the meetings.

UPDATE: Sandy Carmany adds:

. . . some of that right-of-way is being used to add additional right turn lanes at some of the intersections to hopefully improve traffic flow, so all the expense is not just for sidewalks. (And while you are questioning the need for sidewalks in this area, take a look at one telltale sign that clearly indicates a need - the bare footpaths that have been worn into the grass in some locations indicating heavy pedestrian traffic, hopefully not all panhandlers.)

Second, a couple of the businesses ARE donating the right-of-way on their properties.

And third, the state has agreed to ante up and pay for some of this project. Sure, that's still "your" money, just out of a different pocket, but it does free up more of our local money to place more sidewalks elsewhere in the city.
I'm really glad to hear that the money is going for sidewalks that are truly needed. I'm just guessing, but I'll bet a lot of that foot traffic is from people who work in those stores and restaurants, but have to take the bus to get there. And I have occasionally seen people risking their lives by actually trying to walk across Wendover. Scary.

New Urbanist Willies

Karrie Jacobs writes in about why a New Urbanist retail village in Cape Cod creeps her out:

. . . as I walked out of the theater I was already feeling uneasy--then I noticed that I was not in a normal mall. Rather I was in a fake downtown, an overtly cheerful place with individual brick and clapboard storefronts lined up along something a lot like actual streets. I was in a fabrication--a carefully crafted faux history implanted in the suburban landscape. . . .
Sounds a bit like The Streets at Southpoint in Durham, doesn't it? She goes on . . .
This was yet another episode in my ambivalent relationship with New Urbanism. Honestly the New Urbanists--the Duanys, the Plater-Zyberks, the Calthorpes--make good places. I can't fault their planning skills, but there is something about their need to use the past as a sort of architectural tranquilizer that gives me the willies. I see it as a form of cultural brainwashing, a strategy that doesn't solve the problems we've created so much as teaches us to forget them.
Jacobs goes on to visit Rancho Cucamonga, California, a suburb that just decided to build an urban center, though it had never had one before:

I was impressed by the care that has been taken to craft proper streetscapes. I admired the different architectural styles and materials. I took note of the fountains, street trees, gently modern streetlamps, and occasional grassy squares. I even liked the food hall (designed by Altoon + Porter), a daylight-filled shed that is supposed to resemble a fruit-packing warehouse. Victoria Gardens was not bad--except that there is so much faux memory grafted onto this place that it makes the villains in The Manchurian Candidate seem like lightweights.

Read the whole thing.

She's got a point. Some New Urbanist creations can be creepily Disney-worldish, especially if they're tarted up with lots of faux-historic geegaws. (But millions of people love Disney World, don't they? I just don't get that.)

Of course one obvious way to avoid that effect is to preserve a city's real historic character, and then integrate new development into it, using a little taste and imagination.

You know, we had a chance to do that here on West Friendly Avenue here in Greensboro, but I guess we blew it. I mean, we blew it up.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Urban Hero

Over the weekend, my family had a wonderful time celebrating my older brother's wedding in Baltimore. Like all weddings, it was full of interesting bits, but I've found that my family doesn't particularly like to be blogged about (hah -- I wonder why?), so I'll write about someone else: Fr. William Watters, the priest who presided at the wedding ceremony.

He is a most impressive clergyman; a Jesuit through and through. Utterly unflappable, he remembered every person's name after being told only once, and directed us through the service with ease and grace.

When it came time for the wedding homily, he suprised both bride and groom by recalling to them things they had said to him during their very first pre-cana interview months ago. His remarks were a typically Jesuitical blend of deep spirituality, meticulous preparation, and great personal warmth.

He was so good that afterwards a lapsed Catholic remarked, "he made me want to come back!" He got good reviews from the Protestants, Hindus, and agnostics in attendance, too.

But weddings are just what he does in his spare time. After being posted for many years in Nigeria, he came back to the states some years ago to recuperate from a serious illness. Jesuit recuperation apparently includes founding and running a rigorous middle school for poor, at-risk boys in urban Baltimore.

It's called the Ignatius Loyola Academy, and you can read Fr. Watters' message here.

I am so glad I met this man.


I watched the Burlington Industries building in Greensboro being imploded at 10 a.m. this morning. It was really, really loud. The N&R has video here.

I spent about 45 minutes waiting for the explosion, eavesdropping shamelessly on a couple of retired former Burlington executives and their wives. They talked about their children and grandchildren, about other business people that they spotted in the crowd, about their digital cameras -- but not about Burlington Industries or the building that they had worked in, which was about to be destroyed.

I asked one of them whether he liked the building, and he said only that he never thought it was very functional. Clearly there wasn't any sentimental attachment here.

When the structure went down, the crowd cheered. But it made me feel kind of weird. Watching a glass-and-steel structure collapse in a cloud of dust just brought back memories of a very bad morning in September a few years ago, when I watched in amazement and horror as thousands died in New York.

This time, though, it was just a building, even if it was an interesting and historic one.

UPDATE: Ed Cone has photos and impressions, and David Hoggard also has a few thoughts. WXII has video with a few shots of Ed Cone (dark hair and beard -- you can hear him say, "I can't believe they're clapping!")

MORE from Phil Melton:

Sadly, [the destruction of historic buildings is] all too typical of Greensboro. Over the years there has been remarkably little preservation or interest in history or in historically significant structures. When I moved to Raleigh in 1985, I commented to someone that I felt like I was actually living in the South, in a place with a sense of tradition. Greensboro had then, and continues to have to me, the feeling of a stereotypical suburbia, which could exist in almost any section of the country, with little sense of tradition or true local character.

STILL MORE: Chewie has more comments and links to photos of the Burlington building when it was under construction. Lenslinger was there, too. I guess I was in the wrong spot -- next to the Sears parking lot.

AND STILL MORE: Lenslinger has great first-hand coverage of implosion-as-media-event.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Reedy Fork Renegade

This nice letter from Kim was in my inbox when I arrived home from my brother's wedding this evening:

I read the article about your design for your ideal place to live in the paper this morning. I have to say - THANK YOU!!! Your design is identical to my design, and is, in fact, a perfect description of my hometown.

I grew up in a small town in Upstate New York that is almost exactly as you'd like your ideal place to live. You don't know how much I miss that place! From my parents' house it takes just minutes to walk to anything you might want to walk to. Restaurants, bars, the school, grocery store, pharmacy, and until recently, a movie theater. There is a beautiful village park that plays host to band concerts and a Farmer's Market weekly during the summer. The entire community comes out to enjoy those.

Grades K - 12 are all housed on the same campus right in the middle of town. If a student forgets their homework, chances are the teacher will send them home to get it, since for most of the kids it's just a short walk. I am a big supporter of community schools.

Anyway, I was very happy to read about your design. I've been saying that for years and people seem to think I'm nuts. It's great to know that I'm not the only person who is thinking along those lines!

Also, I read your blog post about Reedy Fork. Hehe. I live in Reedy Fork. . . . You're right, it is just a housing development. I had high hopes that it would turn into a small town environment, but my hopes are eroding. I hope it does, though. I mean, yes, we have sidewalks, but they lead to nowhere. I want a destination when I walk.

I hadn't thought about it, but Reedy Fork is still in its beginning stages -- it might be possible to integrate more services into the development itself, if the developers are so inclined.

It turns out that Kim is a blogger, too. Her blog is called Poppins' Ponderings. Always nice to meet a new Greensblogger!

Cheap Personal Publicity

"Cheap personal publicity" is how my grandfather George Owen Bradford used to refer to any mention of himself in the local newspaper.

I got a lot of that -- even more than I was expecting -- in this morning's News & Record. I had sent this column to N&R editorial page editor Allen Johnson, but editor Elma Sabo really took the bit in her teeth and ran with it. So I got a splashy, front-of-the-Ideas-section feature, entitled, "Mr. Wharton's Neighborhood," with some artwork from my favorite local cartoonist, Tim Rickard.

I won't be coy. I've never met a blogger with a small ego, and I'm no exception. We write because we want lots of people to read us. I started blogging because I wanted people in Greensboro to start thinking and talking more about urban (and suburban) planning, design, and architecture -- and, of course, because I wanted to say a few things myself on those subjects. So I really got my wish this morning.

It will be interesting to see whether Greensboro's real estate and development industry has anything to say in response.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Holding Down the Fort

I spent a long afternoon with the citizens' advisory team working on the rewrite of Greensboro's land development ordinance. We got an overview of Greensboro's Comprehensive Plan, then an overview of Greensboro's current development ordinance. Fascinating. No, really! Hey, you should be interested in this stuff, because some time in the next two years the new land development (i.e. zoning) ordinance is going to apply to your property. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Then I spent another two hours getting certified as a stroke-and-turn judge (no jokes, Mr. Sun) for the Community Swim Association. Expect some state-of-the-art swim-blogging from me later this summer. Go Frogs!

I'm going to be away at my brother's wedding this weekend, so I won't be blogging for a few days. Trajan and Hero will be here holding down the fort, however.

And while I'm gone, you might want to have a look at Sunday's Ideas section in the News & Record. I'll have a piece there about neighborhoods.

Begun, the Marathon Training Has

Well, then. I was trying on some summer shirts at Eddie Bauer, since all my old polos were so faded and shapeless that I threw them out at the end of last summer.

What is it about the mirrors and lighting in clothing store changing rooms? They say to me, put that shirt back on right now! Ugh. I'll be hitting the half century mark in about 18 months, in commemoration of which Chronos has decided to gift me with some nasty, lumpy bits over my iliac crest and the abdominal skin tone of a flaccid . . . um, well, it's flaccid. Let's just leave it at that.

So I'll be taking up a friend's offer to begin training for a fall marathon in the Triad. Greensboro's got some great parks for summer running. Country Park and the adjoining Guilford Courthouse Military Park have miles of shaded trails, and Hamilton Lakes and Irving Park are beautiful, wooded neighborhoods to run through. I've even got a 4-mile route that takes me through Aycock, downtown Greensboro, Southside, and Fisher Park -- my architectural run.

Of course all this running is just about vanity. Because I'm vain: I want to stay thin, and I don't want to get old.

I'll lose in the end. But I'm not going down without a fight.

(Sorry for the clichéd Yoda title, but with Revenge of the Sith opening today -- see also Mr. Sun! -- I couldn't help myself.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Young Preservationist Award

I'm happy to announce A Little Urbanity's first ever Young Preservationist Award.

The award goes to John Scott, a 9-year-old third grader in Greensboro, who submitted this rendering of Greensboro's World War Memorial Stadium, which was built in 1926 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places:

Congratulations, John!!!

John's dad Andy sent me a photo of John's work, and wrote,
The entire third grade does “Greensboro module” that includes various field trips to points of interest in Greensboro. They are asked to prepare a report and as part of the report they are to replicate their favorite “point of interest” on the cover. . . . this was done with out any parental involvement – I saw it for the fist time after it had been returned to him at the end of the project.
I especially like the baseball knocking a hole in the cloud as it soars out of the stadium.

Andy also wrote that his sons, who used to have a babysitter from the Aycock neighborhood, "spent a whole lot more time in Aycock . . . than their mother or I knew." That would explain a lot (since, as Greensboroans know, the Aycock neighborhood has been deeply involved in encouraging renovations to the stadium).

Thank you, John, for your excellent work. You'll be happy to know that the War Memorial Stadium Task Force hopes soon to have a contract with a firm to design the renovations to the stadium.

We'll need more people like you to build public support for the renovations when the time comes to actually pay for them.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Motor Scooter Experiment

We spent a couple of weeks in Italy last summer, and I became fascinated with the Italians' culture of motor scooters and urban motorcycles.

Driving through Florence with scooters zooming alongside of us was thrilling and a little frightening -- except that I was more scared for the cyclists than for myself. They're incredibly daring.

All those scooters help to make Florence and Rome's dense urban culture possible, what with all their narrow streets and open squares. It's remarkable, from an American point of view, how Italian streets are shared equally by pedestrians, scooters, and cars.

I was also amazed at what the Italians could (or would) do while driving their scooters, such as smoke cigarettes or talk on cell phones. I even saw one old lady take her little dog along for the ride on her scooter's deck.

When I got back home, I kept talking about scooters so much that Laurette said, "Why don't you just get one? It's a much cheaper mid-life crisis than a convertible." So I did.

I bought a Kymco ZX50, which is made in Taiwan. You don't need a license to drive it; you don't have to shift any gears; you do have to wear a helmet; and you do need some kind of protective eyewear. Driving it is so much fun it will make you giddy. (That's me and my daughter Claudia being giddy at left.)

I used it as a commuter vehicle for most of the school year, even in winter. It wasn't really uncomfortable in cold weather as I feared it might be, though in the rain, as you might expect, you get wet.

My commute to work is about 2.5 miles, and the scooter saves me about 10 minutes because I can park it at the bike rack right in front of my building instead of parking in a more distant lot or deck. Doing so saves me $370 a year in parking fees.

My scooter gets about 80 mpg, and it saved me about $60 in gas this school year. At this rate, figuring savings in both parking and gas, it will pay for itself in about 3 years.

I've noticed that the sociology of the scooter is different here than it is in Italy. Over there, it's a middle-class utility vehicle, and almost anybody might own one. Here, a scooter is usually either a novelty item (as in my case), or, more commonly, it's a vehicle of last resort for poor people who've had their drivers' licenses revoked.

That's why I always wear a coat and tie while commuting to work.

Free Preservation Tax Credit Seminar

I've complained before that more people in Greensboro don't take advantage of historic preservation tax credits. Maybe they don't know how to do it.

Preservation Greensboro is running a free seminar and workshop: "Historic Preservation Tax Credits Made Easy," on Friday, May 20, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the Blandwood Carriage House, 447 W. Washington St., in Greensboro.

They're asking people to make reservations by Wednesday, May 18, by calling 272-5003, or e-mailing PGI director Benjamin Briggs at

If you know the process (and follow it), you can get up to a third of your renovation investment back from the government. It's an incredibly good deal.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Correction on the Small Projects Fund

I said in an earlier post that a promised increase in the city's Small Projects fund hadn't materialized. I was wrong.

I found out at this morning's Greensboro Neighborhood Congress meeting that city staff has approved $200,000 in small projects grants to neighborhoods. That's great! (City Council will now have to approve that in their next budget.)

This didn't happen without a lot of lobbying. Last year, Patrick Downs and Marsh Prause, representing the GNC, went before city council with a request to increase the funding for this project from $100,000 to $500,000 per year. Council agreed (without a vote) to increase funding incrementally over several years. This spring, Donna Newton of the Center for Neighborhood Information went to bat for neighborhoods to make sure that city staff were administering the approval process effectively.

The great thing about the Small Projects fund is that it gives neighborhoods the power to decide how city money should be spent in their areas. An increase in the fund doesn't necessarily entail an increase in the city budget (or taxes). Ideally, the city can simply reallocate capital improvement funds from other departments' budgets (such as Transportation or Parks and Recreation).

Of course this means that city staff must hand over some of their power to neighborhood associations when it comes to spending on public improvements . I think that's a great idea, though I doubt whether it will be thrilling to many members of city staff.

Still, I think neighborhoods are usually in the best position to know their own needs, and the whole process of applying for the funds and executing the projects can be a great community-building enterprise. Anything that gives neighborhoods a stronger sense of their identity, and at the same time encourages their active participation in city affairs, is a good thing.

Paying Too Much for Sidewalks?

Greensboro has been trying pretty hard to improve its pedestrian connectivity by building more sidewalks in areas that lack them; $5.3 million was allocated for sidewalks and bikeways in a 2000 transportation bond. Everyone who reads my blog knows that I love sidewalks.

But I found out this morning that the city might be paying much more than it needs to in order to accomplish its goals. Apparently, it is paying people for the right to put sidewalks on right-of-ways it already owns.

A rather shocking figure was quoted to me: along Wendover Avenue alone, the city may be paying commercial property owners up to $1 million to put in sidewalks on the city right-of-way -- this is in addition to the actual cost of building the sidewalks.

If this is true, it would amount to a huge giveaway of city funds to the companies that line that prosperous commercial corridor.

Friday, May 13, 2005

"Let's Move"

My miraculously ever-loving wife says that to me every now and then. And after reading Sue's and Nate's descriptions of our county commissioners' latest stupid turf war, it seems like a good idea. (See also Hoggard, Gate, and Cone.)

My wife, having grown up in Seattle, misses both the beauty of the Pacific northwest and Seattle's urban culture, the latter of which tends to appear in a rosy light when contrasted with Guilford County's bumptious, bumpkin politics.

Add to that our frustrations with living in, and trying to improve, a historic district that has only faint-hearted support from elected officials, a public school system that is often dysfunctional, and our memories of living in Chapel Hill, and what you end up with is a good bit of dissatisfaction. We can't be the only people who feel this way.

Unfortunately, too many of my neigbors are nice; my colleagues are smart, able, and professional; and Greensboro has lots of interesting and creative people, about half of whom are bloggers, it appears.

Otherwise we'd leave.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Back from the Bluebook Mines

Whew. Just finished grading 65 papers and 110 or so essay exams, trying to do so in a non-arbitrary manner (it's harder than you'd think). Lucky for me, some of the best came last. Anyone who does this kind of work knows that a smart and lively essay at the end of finals week is like a spring rain in the desert. I had three such great essays in my Age of Augustus class. Ahhhh. Thank you, Jessica, John, and Redmond!

I noticed something that seemed kind of weird, though, when I was reading all those papers and exams. All the commas were gone. It's as if this generation of students has been zapped with a "comma-lyzer" (like Tommy Lee Jones's neuralyzer in MIB) that erased all consciousness of commas. They just don't use them.

I asked them about it when I handed papers back, and they told me that they either had received no instructions at all in high school about punctuation, or that they had been told to remove commas. Weird.

Some of them were shocked when I told them that I marked down poorly punctuated papers a half letter grade, as if I were being draconian about it. Who cares about punctuation? Hmmm. Don't they know that they might lose out on a job opportunity or a promotion if they can't punctuate?

No, I guess they don't.

Monday, May 9, 2005

Still Here in Spirit . . .

. . . but I'm finishing up finals and will be on hiatus for a few more days.

I've got lots of thoughts about the comments on my previous post, though. Thanks for all the great comments.

Wednesday, May 4, 2005

Me and the Park

Gatecity has a couple of good posts on the new Center City Park that is being built by Action Greensboro.

I'll bet I use that park a lot more than the average Greensboro resident. I normally walk downtown with the dogs and /or other family members at least once a week, and we like to stop there on our way back to sip our drinks from the Green Bean or eat cinnamon rolls we picked up from Simple Kneads.

But the park is almost always completely empty of people. Even on days when they set up a farmers' market, attendance seems thin -- nothing like you'll find at the Greensboro Farmers' Curb Market or the Piedmont Triad Farmers' Market.

So the Greensboro city council's decision this week to spend three quarters of a million dollars to beautify this small park, with an implicit financial commitment to help maintain it, leaves me ambivalent. Want to know my feelings? Good. Because I'm going to tell you. Here they are:

Civic pride. It's about time the city council started paying attention to public amenities downtown. But wait . . . I also feel

Doubt. Our city fathers, mothers, and philanthropists seem to see the park as a recreation destination -- as if suburbanites are going to drive downtown to use a small park. Not going to happen. Few people are ever in the park because no one lives near it and there are no restaurants or shops around it. It's surrounded by office buildings and parking decks. On top of that, I feel

Envy. Action Greensboro is able to persuade the council to commit big dollars to their civic projects with relative ease. But if you're not so well connected, and you have an idea for a public improvement project, well good luck to you. Get in line with the rest of the schmucks.

For example, the city's Small Projects program, which solicits grant proposals from neighborhoods so that they can make improvements to their own public spaces, is funded by the city at $100,000. That's $100,000 a year for all neighborhoods.

Council balked last year at a suggestion by the Greensboro Neighborhood Congress that the fund should be increased to $500,000 -- whoa, don't get greedy, neighborhoods! Though council promised to raise the amount incrementally over several years, this year's increase seems not to have materialized.

$750,000 + up to $300,000 a year in maintenance for one small park provided by Action Greensboro versus $100,000 for all other neighborhood improvement projects. Is it just me?

Because it kind of feels like a kick in the teeth.