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.


John Rouse said...

Now I dislike almost everything about old continental Europe: the high taxes, the pervading socialism and nanny state, the pacifism, the anti-religiousness, and most especially the lack of national grandeur.

But you really have to give it to them on the design of their cities. I had the chance to visit Vienna and Salzburg during college and the entire feel of the cities was wonderful. The brick streets, the public art, the old buildings, the lack of traffic and the smallness of the shops were nice. Even the countryside was well kept and colorful. We should conquer Austria and appropriate their city planners.

Could you recommend a good book or two on city planning?

Anonymous said...

David, I must admit your thoughts are dead on. I made my first trip to the Shops At Friendly just one week ago and if not for the local blogger meeting at Jason's Deli I would never set foot there again. I walked that entire shopping center and have never been so unimpressed.

As for New Garden Road-- a slap in the face to our entire city that such a once beautiful place could become what it is today.

And while you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear our developers have once again proved you can make a sow's ear out of a silk purse.

David Wharton said...

Glad we agree, Billy.

JR, Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities seems to be the one book that nearly everyone agrees has inspired the rebirth of good planning.

Anonymous said...

And what about the train wreck at 220 and Horsepen Creek Road? I have lived here for 35 years and the changes for the most part make me sick. Not the change process itself but the change for profit, the change inspite of what is obviously needed or what people want. Greensboro is now a fascade of the community it once was. The traffic, the faux neighborhoods, the aggressive gridlock, the loss of real community. I'm planning to leave as soon as the kids finish school and will not be back except to bury the parents. Greensboro, Bite me.

Bob Grenier said...

"And what about the train wreck at 220 and Horsepen Creek Road?"

Thank Robbie Perkins for most of that.

The fact that I can walk to the new H/T at the corner from my home foesn't really make me feel better about the intrusion.

David Wharton said...

Bubba, I guess that HT is within walking distance from you -- but can you actually walk there comfortably to shop?

I mean, did they build sidewalks etc.?

Anonymous said...


Check out these three books:

1. Carfree Cities by J.H. Crawford
2. Suburban Nation by Andres Duany
3. A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander

If you're still juiced after reading these three, check out Don Shoup's The high Cost of Free Parking. Shoup explains how American (sub)urban planning is essentially socialism for cars. "To every car according to its need"- providing 3 parking spaces for every vehicle in the US that are available, for free, at all times.

Roch101 said...

What happened to the historic district quiz?

Anonymous said...

You know, I don't like, nor do I dislike any of the shopping areas mentioned. They're just shopping areas, they look like pretty much any other shopping area in any other city anywhere else in the country. Eh. It's kinda like fast food...the burgers always taste the same. Not very imaginative, but at least we know what to expect. I've heard rumors that a shopping area will be built in Reedy Fork. I'm hoping they do it soon so I can start walking places instead of being forced to drive everywhere. I wonder, though, what the shopping area will be like...if it will be like the Shops at Friendly, or like Walmart. I guess time shall tell.

Since I live in Reedy Fork, which is near that new WalMart on 29 and Cone, I shop there as well, which I almost hate to admit. But really - they do have some nice stuff. I tend to get my fruits and veggies at the Harris Teeter on Pisgah Chuch and Elm, though. Quality seems better.

Anonymous said...

But aren't you just diggin' the $400,000+ condo project for the ugly assed strip mall at Friendly??? Maybe Lomax or Starwhatevertheirnames are will build some McCondos or WalPartments over in your preferred shopping area-


I personally am laughing my ass off; I am not sure if I even want to MEET someone that wants to live at a strip mall!

Enjoying your blog....

supertaster said...

You convinced me to try shopping at Wal-Mart for groceries. The prices really were 25% less than Teeter. Now tell me why I shouldn't feel bad about shopping at the evil empire. Please?

Bob Grenier said...

"I mean, did they build sidewalks etc.?"

HT is not yet open.

Sidewalks went in last week, running from Old Battleground down the west side of Michaux Rd.....and stop at the property line!

With the additional homes built behind my neighborhood (White Horse Farms), the traffic on Michaux Road has greatly increased at all hours of the day and evening, making a walk to the new center dodgey until you get to the place the sidewalk begins.

I don't yet know what the pedestrian situation is like going north along 220, fronting the commercial part of the development. I would hope sidewalks will be in place to allow the future residents of the townhouse development a chance to get to the shopping area safely.