Monday, March 26, 2007

Googly Ides

I'm not great at keeping track of my own schedule, much less anyone else's. This is a problem in a two-career household with three teenagers.

My employer requires me to use Lotus Notes for e-mail, and it also has a built-in calendar that I've been using for a year, but the interface is really ugly and kind of cumbersome to use. I've never liked it. (In fact, I don't know anyone who does.)

So last week I started experimenting with Google Calendar, and it's a big improvement. You can enter appointments using natural language like "Meeting with the Dean, 1-2 p.m." and it will figure out how to fill up the right time slots. If you enter an address, it will map it for you.

Best of all, you can share your calendar with other users, though you still have the option of keeping as much information hidden from them as you like. This is proving invaluable for us. When I pull up my own calendar, Laurette's is merged with it, so when she adds an appointment or a school event, I can see it on my calendar page, and vice-versa.

Don't really want to give more of my life over to Google, but the thing works very well.

Let's Not Put A Park There

The city of Greensboro is negotiating with Southern Railway to acquire or lease some prime property that borders the downtown business district and GSO's prize-winning neo-traditional neighborhood, Southside, and put a park on it.

At the moment, the property in question is a disused expanse of gravel, weeds, and railroad sidings. It certainly ought to be used for something, and in situations like this, people are apt to look at an empty lot and think "hey, that would be a great park!"

Because Parks are Good, right?

Well, no, not always. When it comes to thinking about parks, one ought to ask oneself, WWJJD? ("What Would Jane Jacobs Do?")

(Jacobs is the woman who, in the early 60's, had the courage to stand athwart city planning conventional wisdom shouting "Stop!" Nearly 50 years later, many of her ideas have been adopted by planners. It's fair to say that Southside -- a medium-density, mixed-use, urban neighborhood -- in some degree owes its existence to Ms. Jacobs.)

Here are some choice Jacobs-isms regarding parks (all emphasis added by me)

The main problem of neighborhood park planning boils down to the problem of nurturing diversified neighborhoods capable of using and supporting parks . . . . Neighborhood parks fail to substitute in any way for plentiful city diversity . . . . American cities today, under the illusions that open land is an automatic good and that quantity is equivalent to quality are ... frittering away money on parks, playgrounds and project land-oozes too large, too frequent, too perfunctory, too ill-located, and hence too dull or too inconvenient to be used. City parks are not abstractions, or automatic repositories of virtue or uplift . . . . They mean nothing divorced from their practical tangible uses . . . . The more successfully a city mingles everyday diversity of uses and users in its everyday streets, the more successfully, casually (and economically) its people thereby enliven and support well-located parks that can thus give back grace and delight to the neighborhoods instead of vacuity. (From The Death and Life of Great American Cities, chapter 5, "The Uses of Neighborhood Parks.")

It seems doubtful to me that the south end of downtown and the Southside neighborhood have enough population or diversity of activities to make a large park successful at that location, especially since there's a beautiful, brand-new downtown park only four blocks away.

Downtown Greensboro has plenty of park, but not enough people. Even during business hours (except at lunch) the sidewalks there do not really bustle, and in the mornings and evenings (except for night-life hours) it just doesn't have much real street life ... yet. And it never will if we keep using its small amount of available real estate for parks.

A park at that location will be a disincentive for Southside and other southern-downtown residents to make the 5-minute stroll to the Center City Park, and if those people aren't walking back and forth down Elm Street, they won't be stopping at any businesses for casual purchases.

A park at that location will suck users away from the Center City Park, probably causing both parks to be under-used.

A park at that location will be expensive to buy, build, and maintain, and the city is already contributing significantly to the maintenance of the Center City Park.

A general-use park at that location is as likely to be a magnet for crime as it is to enhance the neighborhood, and this could mar the success of the Southside neighborhood and of downtown development. Even if it just becomes a favored resting place for the harmless homeless (as seems likely to me), it will scare the suburbanites who visit the area and make the residents uncomfortable.

However, a mid-rise, mixed-use apartment/retail development at that spot would help to boost downtown Greensboro's currently meager population. It could easily pick up the architectural theme of Southside's 3-story live-work units (pictured here), with small retail or office units fronting the sidewalk, but with three or more stories of residential above.

Downtown Greensboro currently doesn't have much housing for middle-class people, and if the city bought this property, they could arrange to have it developed to fill this gap in the downtown housing market, as Raleigh has recently done.

So far I haven't heard anything about this proposal from any of GSO's planning or parks and recreation staff; it seems to be coming from the transportation department and the mayor. But shouldn't the Planning, Housing and Community Development, and Parks and Rec staff be driving this project?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Good Points, Bad Points

The upside of living in a downtown neighborhood: Chris Daughtry is giving a downtown free concert, and I can hear every note!

The downside of living in a downtown neighborhood: Chris Daughtry is giving a downtown free concert, and I can hear every note!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Political Quote For The Day

This is what generally ruins great states -- when each party will stick at nothing to overcome its opponents, and having done so, takes vengeance on them without mercy.
This comes from Gaius Sallustius Crispus, writing in the late Roman Republic, as he was watching his own state fall apart.

Your application of the quote to current events will probably serve as a kind of political Rorschach test of your political leanings.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Primo's Not So Primo

I received this "restaurant review" from a neighbor, who has also sent it to WFMY:

... Last night, I placed an order [from Primo's Pizza and Subs, Spring Garden St., Greensboro] for delivery at 7:04pm. Twice the restaurant called to ask where my home was located, even though they've delivered here numerous times. By 8:15pm, the food still had not arrived, and I called and asked them just to cancel the order. Please note that I paid for the food via debit card over the phone.

This morning, my checking account had a deduction from the restaurant for the amount of the food, although I never received it. When I called to talk to the manager/owner, he told me that there's nothing he could do about it, that I wasn't getting my money back, and that it wasn't his problem. I was stunned. He then said,'F**k you.', and hung up on me. I called back, and a woman answered the phone, and when I explained my situation, she said that 'the owner's word is final', and that she couldn't do anything about it. So, I called back again to speak with the owner, and this time advised him I would call the Better Business Bureau (of which, I found, they are not a member). He said go ahead, and then proceded to call me a 'f**king b*tch' and said I would never get my money back.

I believe this information needs to be made public. It's entirely unacceptable, and I cannot believe a business owner would behave in such a manner.
It doesn't sound like my kind of place.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Bread Is Good

Few culinary experiences are more compelling than eating a thick slice of fresh-baked, warm bread that's been slathered with a slab of butter.

No, that's not right: no culinary experiences are more compelling than that.

That's why I've been exploiting its power for a couple of months now, and it's working.

My three children are all in their teens, and, as you might have heard, it's often hard for parents to stay in touch with teenagers.

Verbal communication with them is frequently problematic. They tend to take every question as a challenge and every assertion as dispositive evidence of their parents'

(a) cluelessness
(b) judgemental nature
(c) hypocrisy
(d) all of the above.

But they just can't argue with fresh-baked bread. It's just too good. It's all good. It's completely good. It's mmmm good. It makes them happy. In fact, it makes them love you. They can't help it. It's just too good.

So I've been baking it on Sunday afternoons. Eight loaves, which last us through the week (it freezes well). They give me looks of gratitude on Sunday and are the envy of their classmates when they unpack their thick-sliced sandwiches at lunch the rest of the week.

Who'd a thought that sharing a little bread could be such a powerful experience?

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Greensboro Beautiful's Gateway Gardens Video

Greensboro Beautiful plugs its latest high-profile project with a very well-produced web video.

The City should start producing these things, too, to explain city projects and answer frequently-asked questions.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Bad Landlords Get Only A Little Better

Last September, the Greensboro Housing Coalition released a list of landlords who had racked up the most code violations at their properties. They were

Agapion family: 63
Shannon Enterprises: 51
Skip Alston: 15
Bediz family: 13
Abadallah Abu Hashem: 12
Paul Norman: 11
W. B. Wall heirs: 11
Maxine Jennings: 8
North Carolina Premier Properties: 6
Eugene Burkhart: 6
Total: 196

Now the GHC has released an updated list, dated February 7, 2007:

Agapion family: 58
Shannon Enterprises: 36
Bediz family: 9
W. B. Wall heirs: 9
Paul Norman: 8
Maxine Jennings: 8
North Carolina Premier Properties: 6
Eugene Burkhart: 6
Abadallah Abu Hashem: 4
Skip Alston: 0
Total: 144

What does it say about our code enforcement process that, 6 months after being cited, only about 25% of the violations have been addressed? (15 of those violations were "addressed" by demolishing Skip Alston's St. James apartments.)

Greensboro's RUCO ordinance is intended to clean up substandard properties, though it will not be fully implemented until this coming July. Let's hope it performs better when it's running on all cylinders.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired

I can't think of a cliché tired enough to describe the recent, tiresome go-round between T. Dianne Bellamy Small and Florence Gatten. Aren't they bored by playing out the nth iteration of Greensboro's wonted racial psychodrama?

I'm having trouble believing that each player doesn't know exactly what she's doing. If both aren't just going after the easy votes in the game of district politics , they're acting precisely as they would if they were playing that game.

TDBS won her district by a small margin in the last election. It's difficult for her to deliver any meaningful change to her district, because the kinds of programs that would help it the most -- more police on the streets, better enforcement of code violations in substandard housing, and big infrastructure and renewal projects -- cost a lot of money and would receive support only from at-large councilmember Yvonne Johnson, District 2 representative Goldie Wells, and maybe District 5 rep Sandy Carmany. That's four votes at best, and you need five to win.

It would take an extraordinary politician to land that 5th vote for such projects, and it might just be a fool's errand even to try. Either way, TDBS seems to have decided not to try, and to have fallen back on the vote-getting techniques that always worked well for Earl Jones. That is, irritate and inflame your fellow councilmembers, and when they react predictably, count on feelings of racial resentment to rally the base.


But when Florence Gatten, who is probably the most experienced and savvy politician on the council, rises to TDBS's bait in a planned and calculated way, that's also deeply disappointing. You have to wonder what she's up to.

She surely knew that the African-American community would rally 'round TDBS, probably solidifying her re-election prospects. Florence also surely knows that calling out TBDS will rally white suburban voters to her flag, and Florence needs those voters, whether she runs again for an at-large council seat or for mayor.

So in terms of electoral politics, both Florence and TDBS are playing out a win-win scenario! -- they'll both probably be re-elected.

The only losers are those of us who are sick and tired of being sick and tired of the racially-inspired political knife-fighting that breaks out here every few months, and who would like to see some great-souled leaders find a way for us to all live together in reasonable harmony.

Thanks so much, ladies!

Update: Similar discussion from Jim Rosenberg, Ed Cone, David Hoggard, Doug Clark, Sue Polinsky, and Fec.