Monday, January 30, 2006

Letter to the Rhinoceros Times

A note of explanation: I've posted here a letter I sent to the Rhinoceros Times this morning. Much as I miss and love blogging -- and am grateful for all the very kind comments many of you have left here -- I won't be posting on a regular basis. But I hope you won't mind me putting something up here very occasionally, and thanks for stopping by!

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January 30, 2006

Dear Editor:

The Rhinoceros Times story, "War Memorial to be Shell of Its Former Self," (Jan. 26, 2006, p. 4) contained many factual errors.

Rhino editor John Hammer wrote that the War Memorial Stadium taskforce meets "in secret – in violation of the North Carolina Open Meetings Law." But in fact the taskforce has complied fully with the open meetings law. Its schedule of meetings is kept on file with the taskforce's secretary, Richard Wagner, pursuant to section 143-318.12.(4) of the law. Furthermore, the time and place of the meetings is always on public display at the place of the meeting (though this is not required by law), and is freely available to any citizen who inquires. The openness of the meeting is further attested by the fact that Mr. Hammer has chosen to attend two of them, and by the fact that at the last one he attended, on January 17, 2006, he was actually invited to participate in the discussion and voting of the taskforce, though he declined to do so.

Mr. Hammer's recounting of the history of War Memorial Stadium is also muddled. He writes that the stadium was built in 1922, although it was actually built in 1926, and that "the city" built the stadium, although it was built with private donations and only later was turned over to the City of Greensboro.

Mr. Hammer reported that in 2003 "a study was done that said that the stadium was unsafe and needed to be torn down." But the study, conducted by the local firm Sutton-Kennerly and Associates, said only that "the stadium is undergoing widespread deterioration that is not easily repaired," and identified two areas that needed immediate attention. Those problems were addressed by the City of Greensboro to keep the stadium in safe operating condition.

Mr. Hammer reported that Assistant City Manager Bob Morgan "got on the phone and found out" during the meeting that a FEMA regulation doesn't apply to the stadium, which says that no more than 50% of a structure's assessed value can be spent on its renovation if it stands in a 100-year floodplain. But it has yet to be determined whether the regulation actually applies to the stadium, and investigations are ongoing, as was made clear at the meeting that Mr. Hammer attended.

Mr. Hammer's story attributes nefarious motives to members of the taskforce, though it doesn't appear that Mr. Hammer has actually interviewed any of them. He says that "obeying state law is of very little concern to this committee, and obeying the dictates of the people who run the city is of major concern." Given that the task force has fully complied with state law, his first assertion would appear to have no foundation. As to the second assertion, if by "the people who run the city" Mr. Hammer means the citizens who will eventually pay for the stadium renovations (or not – the choice will be up to them), then his assertion must be granted. All members of the task force are very concerned that any future renovation of War Memorial Stadium must provide the taxpayers of Greensboro with a beautiful, viable stadium that will provide a maximum bang for the taxpayer buck.

But I do not think that Mr. Hammer means "ordinary citizens" when he refers to "the people who run the city." He insinuates throughout his article that the members of the task force and the Winston-Salem architectural firm which is leading the taskforce's current deliberations are somehow under the influence of Jim Melvin. If this is so, it has been completely unnoticed by me or any members of the task force that I know. If Mr. Hammer has specific knowledge of Mr. Melvin contacting and subverting the members of the task force or the consultants,Walter Robbs Calahan and Pierce (WRCP), who are currently leading our discussions, I hope he will report that information in detail. If not, I believe it would be better that he not put mere speculation in his newspaper as if it were backed up by his investigations.
What is most remarkable about Mr. Hammer's reporting, however, is how little of what actually has transpired at the taskforce's meetings has made it into the pages of the Rhinoceros Times.
  • that the National Register of Historic Places has said that its two main concerns for the stadium are that it retain its historic function as a venue for baseball and that it remain a war memorial, and that the taskforce is fully committed to those ends;
  • that the National Register is a little uncertain about how to guide this project because it is so unusual: Greensboro is apparently a national leader in pursuing a renovation of this kind;
  • that the taskforce is working with the Greensboro Historical Museum to develop an on-site baseball museum at the stadium;
  • that the taskforce is contemplating proposing that the stadium be the focal point of a new city park, which would include the area surrounding the stadium, the Greensboro Farmers' Curb Market, and the former VFW post across Yanceyville Street from the stadium;
  • and that the taskforce has been coordinating its efforts with that of the Summit Avenue corridor study, currently underway, which will soon be proposing major improvements to Yanceyville Street as it meshes with the stadium.
Mr. Hammer often sets himself up as a spokesman for ordinary taxpayers in Greensboro, and many of us are grateful for that. If, then, he can explain why it is in the taxypayers' interest to spend millions of dollars on renovating or reconstructing thousands of seats in War Memorial Stadium which will almost certainly remain empty, rather than spending that money on upgrading an appropriate number of seats, locker rooms, restrooms, concession areas, museum, and park amenities in and around the stadium that are likely to be used by Greensboro's citizens and amateur athletes, then I look forward to his explanation.
David Wharton
War Memorial Stadium Taskforce member

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Valete O Amici

Which means in Latin, "goodbye, friends."

2006 will be a very busy year for me and my family. I spent a good deal of time over the holidays contemplating my priorities and goals, and I've come to the conclusion that, much as I have enjoyed communicating with you through this blog, I need to focus my limited energies on other projects this year.

It has been a real pleasure to get to know those of you who have read and commented, either on the blog or in person. I learned a lot and had great fun. Hope you did, too.

Wednesday, January 4, 2006


I'm off to Montreal for the 137th annual meeting of the American Philological Association . . . back next week.

Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Big Government "Inurbs" and Exurbs

Fred Barnes, in a Weekly Standard article about Republican efforts to regain the inner suburbs ("inurbs") of Chicago, highlights a point of contention between suburbanites and exurbanites:

. . . one major issue in the exurbs -- reducing traffic congestion -- didn't register favorably in the suburbs. Asked if they wanted privately built toll roads, "voters said they'd rather the highways not be there."
Exurbanites like new road projects, which are big government programs whether they're toll roads or not, because they give commuters easy access to the city. Inner suburbanites don't want them because they inevitably entail the exercise of intrusive government power like eminent domain, taxation, lowered quality of life, and lowered property values around the highways.

Barnes says in the article that exurbanites don't like intrusive government, but it's more accurate to say that, like everyone else, they like government programs that help them, and if they intrude on others . . . oh well.

The article is also interesting in that the Republican programs that are proposed in order to appeal to suburbanites -- federal screening of schoolteachers, federal mandates for blocking online porn in libraries and schools, federal guarantees of health insurance portability -- are also big government programs that intrude into the local or private sphere.

But in a good way, I guess.

Monday, January 2, 2006

Dinner for a Rainy January Evening

"Fine fish chowder" from Jane Brody's Good Food Book, published in 1985.

How food fashions change: the subtitle of Brody's book is Living the High-Carbohydrate Way. The first wave of Adkins low-carb dieting had already come and gone by the mid-80's. Maybe it's time for a high-carb comeback!

Brody's book is still in print.

The Appeal of the Artsy

Richard Florida argues in his new book, The Flight of the Creative Class, that the information workers who increasingly dominate the world's economies often choose their regions and neighborhoods for aesthetic and cultural reasons.

Louis Uchitelle in the New York Times chronicles a bit of this demographic movement to a suburb of NY City:

[The] Stovers and the Hirschfelds, like nearly all of the owners before them, came to Hastings from apartments in New York City, choosing the town in part because it offered a demographic mix greater than many other suburbs, as well as neighbors who were often artists, writers and academics.
Joel Kotkin, in The City: A Global History (which I read about over the weekend) notes the movement and decentralization of knowledge workers, too, though he's critical of Florida's ideas in his final chapters, deriding the notion that making your city "cool" or "hip" will attract these workers.

And yet Kotkin himself writes lovingly of Los Angeles' and New York's urban amenities-- the places where he himself chooses to live and work. To me, Florida's data seemed more detailed, focused, and up-to-date than Kotkin's.

Home Again, Again

We spent the New Year holiday with some of Laurette's family in Wyomissing, PA, and celebrated on New Year's Eve by going to bed at 11:30. Not exciting, but we felt good in the morning.

I also visited my old haunts in Lancaster, PA (that's pronounced LANK-uh-ster by the natives) and the 3-story row house where I lived for a year, across the street from the Whirl-A-Sage Health Club. (One of my roomies used to joke that, judging by the name of the place, the working girls inside spent their time spinning Socrates around. )

Despite the nature of that business, though, it was a nice neighborhood, and I remember fondly walking to Mama Mia's restaurant for a really good, authentic cheese steak. Mmmm.

I took photos, but they were accidentally erased. Darn.