Thursday, May 17, 2007

Another Bad Park?

Michelle Jarboe writes today that Starmount Co. has abandoned plans to develop 5 acres of underused property across from Friendly Center, and will instead donate it to the city for use as a park.

Oh, boy.

Starmount had wanted to develop the property for offices, which would have been a very sensible use for that location. It's near a busy retail center, and some of the office workers could have lived nearby in Starmount Forest, giving them short or non-existent commutes. The office workers could have taken advantage of nearby retail and grocery stores. Efficiency and convenience all around.

But the neighbors were gearing up for a rezoning battle, and I think their attitude toward non-residential development in the area is best summed up by the tall brick wall that was built between them and the Shops at Friendly along Friendly Avenue.

Starmount Co. had also considered townhouses at that location, but spokesman Ron Wilson said that the idea didn't "trip his trigger." Since Greensboro's single-family homeowners tend to treat new townhouse developments as if they were invading Huns, I can understand his attitude.

However, the neighbors' hostility to commercial development isn't entirely unjustified. Car-oriented office and retail as it has been practiced in Greensboro -- that is, strip development -- is typically ugly and neighborhood-unfriendly. Only a few places so far have mixed uses successfully, namely Southside, the Village at North Elm, and soon Willow Oaks, and Starmount Co. was not involved in any of these.

Still, before the city accepts this "gift" from Starmount Co., it should take into consideration that good parks are expensive to maintain, some in Greensboro costing several hundred thousand dollars per year.

And bad parks, which cost less, are often underused, or worse, attractors of neighborhood problems. Do the Starmount Forest neighbors want the city to pay for the upkeep of a convenient gathering spot for the many petty criminals that naturally gravitate to Friendly Center? A quick and incomplete search of police records returned 19 arrests or incidents there in the last month. Does Greensboro have the police and Parks & Recreation resources to keep this park crime free? I don't think it does.

This part of town is already rich in parks and open space. Within a 1-mile radius of this location are the Lake Daniel Greenway, the long park between East and West Greenway Drives, the Arboretum Trail, the Market Street Park, the Starmount Natural Area, the Bicentennial Garden, the Bog Garden, and the Guilford Hills Natural Area.

Finally, would this park have the features for success that the Project for Public Spaces identifies, such as good pedestrian connectivity, an image and identity, a seasonal strategy, and good management?

In a word, no.

Greensboro needs to grow up, both literally and figuratively. It has hundreds of acres of underused land that should be usefully developed --vertically -- to make efficient use of our existing infrastructure and increase our tax base.

And its developers and neighborhoods need to stop bickering like children over their narrow interests, and start negotiating toward the kind of infill development that will serve future generations.


StarmountForestDweller said...

"Underused" is a good thing in this case. What's wrong with leaving some trees in place in Greensboro? It's a very small plot that buffers a beautiful, old, treed neighborhood from noise and commercial development.

Parks are bad because they invite criminals???

"Smart growth" means including elements that will make future generations want to live here. Greensboro needs as many parks and natural areas as it can get.

We must shelter our beautiful older neighborhoods from unsightly development. We mustn't pave over everything for the sake of "progress," or "usefulness." Our air quality depends on it too.

Maybe future generations will choose to remain in the 'boro instead of moving to exurbia if we have a care.

David Wharton said...

SFD, I agree that we need to "have a care," that we shoudn't allow "unsightly development," that trees are good, and that we need to protect neighborhoods

I don't agree that all development is unsightly (I love good architecture) or that commercial development is necessarily harmful to neighborhoods. It matters a lot how it's done, and I linked to some places where it's been done fairly well.

I also don't agree that Greensboro "needs as many parks and natural areas as it can get."

If you love open space, then let city be city, and country be country: that will preserve more open space and be better for the environment.

Low-density development causes far more pollution, prorduces more traffic, instigates the building or more roads, and encroaches upon far more natural areas, than does higher-intensity urban development.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with all you say David, but one can certainly not blame Starmount for not wanting the fight and all the expences of re-doing building plans to satisfy local neighborhoods as we have seen other developers having to do. To them it is a useless piece of property that is best passed off to the city to deal with. Of course a lot of these problems would not occur if the city council would simply stick to the very expensive master plan that they ordered and then ignored and thus giving the residential neighbors the go ahead to fight every little change to the neighborhood.Greensboro is such a lovely city with so much going for it, but years of bad governing has finally caught up. Brenda Bowers

David Wharton said...

Brenda, I agree with you about Starmount, and heard through the grapevine yesterday that your assessment of how they felt about this piece of property is exactly on target. It just wasn't worth the trouble.

I also agree that the council did a poor job of vetting and understanding their role in implementing the Comp Plan, which has led to lots of confusion and frustration on the part of neighborhoods and developers.

Diane Grey Davis said...

All growth is not smart growth. All development is not bad development.

The problem is that here in Greensboro we have leaders who don't seem to know how to tell the good development from the bad development - or don't have the backbone to stand up and say so.

Anonymous said...

Build an easily-accessible dog park in that area. Nice people would attend, events could take place, it'd be a different sort of park than simply swings & ball fields and maybe neighbors would get to know each other.

It fits into the "retaining young (and old) professionals meme."

New parks aren't bad; parks with a purpose, a twist and an opportunity for related services can be a people-spot.

Anonymous said...

I do not see any need to develop this land. Just across the street there are already too many empty storefronts and empty offices. The new shops at Friendly are not even two-thirds full/leased yet another stripmall is being built on the property. The concept of "if you build it, they will come" has been maxed out there. The "leaders" of Greensboro should concentrate on developing what has already been built and forgotten about. Much of the development downtown has been abandoned because there is no more need for any more condos. Again, maxed out. The development plan for Greensboro has as much focus and sensibility as a toddler on a sugar kick....over here! wait, over there!...let's just put it here.