Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Neighborly Jazz

Our neighborhood association held its monthly meeting at our neighborhood café, Coffee at the Summit, this evening.

After the committee reports were done, Tuesday night jazz got started:

Piano, bass, and drums are by the Bob Sanger Trio. I didn't get the sax and trumpet players' names, but they both go to UNCG and are very good young players (trumpet solo starts about halfway through).

Sorry about the poor video quality. Just close your eyes.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Take the Greensboro Historic District Quiz!

People react in different ways when I tell them I live in a historic district. They often say, "I love old houses," or "I hate old houses." One nice lady, when I told her I served on the Historic District Commission, kindly shared her opinion that "you people are crazy." And she is a homeowner in one of the districts.

A lot of people object to the degree of regulation in the districts. But when I ask which regulations they don't like, it often turns out that they don't actually know what the regulations are.

So I thought it would be fun to offer a little online quiz about what actually is permitted -- and what's not -- in Greensboro's locally-designated historic districts. If you're a historic district hater, or just a skeptic, take the quiz to see how much you actually know. If you like, post your answers in the comments. (No fair peeking at the Historic District Guidelines!)

UPDATE: Answers are now posted!


1 All of Greensboro's historic districts are regulated by the Greensboro Historic District Commission (HDC).
False. Greensboro has a lot of neighborhoods that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, such as the A&T College Historic District, the Bennett College Historic District, Irving Park, Guilford College, and the White Oak New Town historic district (to name just a few), none of which are regulated at all. Only Fisher Park, College Hill, and the Aycock Historic District are locally-designated districts which fall under the jurisdiction of the HDC.

2 If you live in one of the locally-designated historic districts, your house colors must be approved by the HDC.
False. Although the Historic District Program Manual and Design Guidelines contain some helpful advice for those wishing to paint their houses in an historically-accurate way, owners are free to paint their houses any way they like.

3 It is not permitted to cover original wood siding with vinyl or aluminum siding in the locally-designated historic districts.

4 New construction in the locally-designated districts must use historically appropriate materials; new products such as fiber-cement siding are not permitted.
False. Many new materials such as fiber-cement siding (also called hardi-plank) are permitted in new construction, although they are not considered appropriate as replacement materials for original historic materials such as wood, brick, or stone.

5 New houses in the locally-designated districts must be designed and built to look like the houses surrounding them.
False. Although new construction in the historic districts is required to be compatible with surrounding buildings in terms of size, setbacks, and roof forms, most new houses built there would never be mistaken for old houses; in fact, it's considered desirable by many preservationists that new houses shouldn't "fool" the public by looking too much like old ones.

6 It is not considered appropriate to paint previously unpainted brick or masonry in the locally-designated districts.
True. One reason for this is that once brick is painted, it can never really be unpainted again, and thus never restored to its original condition.

7 Prefabricated outbuildings such as sheds are not permitted in the locally-designated districts.

False. Many prefabricated sheds are considered appropriate and can be used, although metal sheds and those with gambrel roofs ("dutch barn" style) are not.

8 Large trees may not be cut down in the locally-designated districts without permission from the HDC.

True. The tree canopies in the historic districts are an important character-defining feature of the neighborhoods. When the HDC grants permission to take down a mature tree, it often requires the homeowner to plant another one like it.

9 Major interior renovations require permission from the HDC to insure historical appropriateness.

False. Interior renovations are not regulated by HDC.

10 Chain-link fences are prohibited in the locally-designated districts.

False. Chain-link fences are permitted at the rear of houses, but not in front or side yards.

11 You must receive permission from the HDC when planting trees, shrubs, or hedges.

False. Plant away freely.

12 Historic buildings in the historic districts are protected from demolition.

False. If a property owner wishes to demolish a building, the HCD only has power to delay the demolition for 365 days.

13 The tight regulation in the locally-designated districts drives away investment.

False. Several studies have shown that property values in Greensboro's historic districts have risen at a faster rate than that of the city as a whole over the past 20 years.

14 The zoning restrictions in the locally-designated districts are more stringent than those in modern suburban developments.

False. Many things are permitted in the historic districts, such as chain-link fences, prefabricated outbuildings, and unregulated landscaping, which are prohibited or controlled by restrictive covenants in many new neighborhoods. In fact, in some new developments, the neighborhood association has the right to remove items from your property which the association considers unsightly or inappropriate; this is not true in the historic districts.

Furthermore, Greensboro's historic districts all contain a variety of zoning types, including single and multifamily residential, office, business, and retail. Most new developments are restricted to single-family housing, often with minimum square-footage requirements.

15 The people who live in the locally-designated districts are a little bit nutty.

True. But so are the people who don't.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Digging the Infra Dig

Northeast Greensboro residents had hoped that the new Wal-Mart Supercenter at Cone Boulevard and US 29 would ignite some investment in that area, and it seems to be happening. A lot more retail space is popping up there, and business at the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness (as some would have it) is very brisk.

Yes, it's an ugly-ass shopping center, but at least it's honest in its ugly-assed-ness, and that's why I like it better than the new retail developments along New Garden Road, which are essentially big strip malls sporting brick facades and a few more landscaped islands in the parking lots, which make parking harder but walking no easier or more pleasant. What's that saying about a pig and lipstick?

The same goes for the new Shops at Friendly, which is a set of strip malls, but with shops on both sides of the strips. David Brooks once called such places "Pseudo-New Urban," and the name fits.

Its phoniness increasingly irritates me. If you want to do the New Urban thing, bring the storefronts up to the sidewalk of the main thoroughfare (Friendly Ave.), mix uses vertically, include residential, and give priority to pedestrian traffic by putting parking in the rear.

But don't -- as Starmount did -- build fake two-story facades on your one-story stores; don't separate the stores from their main street frontage with parking lots and free-standing chain restaurants; and don't neglect to build sidewalks into the main entrance of your lifestyle center. The whole thing gives the impression of an ambitious project that got dumbed down, either because the planners got cold feet about how much urban-style design Greensboro shoppers would tolerate, or because they wanted to cut costs.

Anyhow, I've abandoned the upscale (but not well-liked) Harris Teeter+Starbucks in the Shops at Friendly for the Wal-Mart+McDonald's on Cone, and not just because the McDonald's coffee is better than Starbucks (and it really is).

The food prices at Wal-Mart are about 25% lower than at HT, and with a family of 5, that's a lot of money saved every month.

Unfortunately, Wal-Mart's meat and produce are often (to use my daughter's favorite word) heinous, so we buy most of our meat, fish, and produce from the Greensboro Farmers' Curb Market.

Kinda schizophrenic, I know. But fun.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Wait, Stop!

I've been trying to get some serious work done on an article (on the lexical semantics of Latin horror), so, no blogging for the last couple of weeks.

I turned 50 yesterday (hence the headline), but I actually feel pretty good about it. My sister-in-law tells me "50 is the new 30!" I don't know about that, but I do know a lot of people who've told me that their 50's were some of their best years.

So far the best thing has been receiving the good wishes of friends and family, and that has been very good indeed. For a present, Laurette arranged for neighbor Bert Vanderveen to take photos of our kids and surprised me with them yesterday. I was just floored -- it was the best present I ever got.

More updates: I got around to buying that Prius on Saturday, so we are mini-van-less for the first time in about 13 years. The car is cute and fun, even though we didn't get a heavily-loaded model. My favorite feature is the smart-key entry, which allows you to enter the locked car and start it without taking the "key" (really a transponder) out of your pocket. Laurette likes the fact that the car has an aux port that you can plug an mp3 player into, which gives really great sound.

I also felt like I got a pretty good deal on the car: I talked the dealer up $1500 from his initial offer on my trade-in, plus they were offering a $1500 incentive and very low interest on the financing. All that, plus a $1500 federal tax credit, helped to stave off buyer's remorse.

But I had another "Wait, Stop!" moment this morning when I let Sam, who got his driver's license on Friday, drive off to school with his sister in the new car. Ack! Can't believe I did that. But what are you gonna do?

I may have been worried (more about them than about the car), but let me tell you they were pretty pumped. Yes, I know that a Toyota Prius is not exactly every kid's dream car. But if you had been thinking you'd be arriving in the school parking lot in a minivan, well, it's pretty darn good.