Monday, July 30, 2007

Bedroom Renovation Day 9 Part Deux (Video)

Destruction! And hidden treasures discovered behind my old mantel.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Bedroom Renovation Day 9 (Video)

More window stuff. But get ready. Part II exposes some sights not seen for a century! Coming soon.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Bedroom Renovation Day 8 (Video)

In which I learn the wonders of epoxy.

99 Blocks Rocks

99 Blocks, Greensboro's magazine devoted to all things downtown, this week honors my neighbor Laura Wall, who spearheaded the effort to win a Neighborwoods grant for Aycock.

It also has a good story about one of the most popular house styles in Greensboro's historic neighborhoods, the American Foursquare.

99 Blocks is making me feel better. I wish it had a web presence.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Carolina Bank Site Plan -- Update II

Greensboro Architect Ken Mayer has emailed me a revised version of the new Carolina Bank building site plan, along with this message:

Over the past two weeks, the City’s Planning and Transportation Departments have worked intensively with Moser Mayer Phoenix Associates and Carolina Bank to modify the Bank Headquarters’ site plan to be more accommodating to the future downtown design guidelines. The resulting final site plan is attached. Readers of this blog should know the collaborative effort put into this by both Planning and Transportation staff was significant and I believe the end result accomplishes everyone’s objectives.
Here's the new site plan:

From a pedestrian's point of view, this plan is a big improvement over the previous one, which I last wrote about here. The Spring Street side has a main entrance that isn't divided from the sidewalk by parking, and the parking lot is broken up by what looks like a significant amount of landscaping.

Here is the earlier plan:

I can't tell from the PDF exactly what kind of trees are planned, but the addition of significant tree canopy in this area of downtown will also be a very welcome development.

Kudos to MMPA, Carolina Bank, and city planning and transportation staff for their efforts. I know they will be very much appreciated by future generations.

Let me also add that Ken Mayer is a man of grace and civility, who treated me politely when I criticized his work.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Bedroom Renovation Day 7 (Video)

Got some window work done. Bob hollers.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Day Seven Video Delay

Sorry, no DIY video today. After doing more window work today, I spent four hours in a marathon Historic Preservation Meeting, and I'm just too pooped to produce a mini-vid tonight.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Bedroom Renovation Day 6 (Video)

An abbreviated lesson in double-hung window repair. But I didn't acutally get to the "repair" part -- I just took them apart. A later episode will show them put back together (I hope).

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Bedroom Renovation Day 5 (Video)

Wallpaper removal, with secret message and dogs.

Ganging On

This morning the N&R ran a front-page article about gangs in Greensboro.

And the N&R's lead editorial is about gangs.

I wonder if the paper's new focus on gangs has anything to do with these posts by Cara Michele.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Bedroom Renovation: Day 4 (Video)

I was delayed from my DIY work for a day because my refrigerator and my car both broke down yesterday.

After dealing with those unpleasant details, I got back to the real fun: caulking a 100-year-old beadboard ceiling. Our house was originally heated with coal-burning stoves and fireplaces, which means that our attic is full of soot.

Having exposed the original wood ceiling (see days one, two, and three), I needed to seal up all the cracks to keep the soot contained. Enjoy Duke Ellington and McKnight's cool fox:

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Bedroom Renovation Day 3 (Video)

Another day's work.

Let's Do It Again

Via Cone, a review of Greensboro's Southside neighborhood:

Before redevelopment in 1995, Southside produced $400,000 in tax revenues. Now that redevelopment is complete, the total tax revenue generated from the neighborhood is estimated at over $10 million.

Though the planning process was collaborative, the design itself had some initial detractors. During the course of design and implementation, when Tom Low and Bowman Development Group first proposed different approaches that went against convention, the project was greeted with skepticism and, according to DPZ director of town planning Tom Low, "in some cases laughed at, ignored, or considered counterproductive."

"We knew Southside was going to be a successful project," he continues, "and due to those who kept moving the implementation forward—the city staff, builders, and local officials—Southside has greatly exceeded its potential. Southside sold out in 2004. Now with a growing number of additional redevelopment initiatives expanding into adjacent neighborhoods and downtown housing and mixed-use projects underway, the design ideals pioneered in Southside can be heard and seen echoing across Greensboro."
The $5 million bond that was approved in 1990 for Southside turned out to be a great investment for the city. There are more neighborhoods in Greensboro ripe for this kind of redevelopment. Let's do it again.

Question for city council candidates at some future candidate forum: Will you support and promote more redevelopment projects like Southside?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Bedroom Demolition (With Video!)

I finished two research projects at work yesterday, so today I got down to business with renovating our bedroom. Stage one is demolition -- removal of Celotex tiles that had been put on the ceiling sometime between 1930 and 1970, I think.

They were applied over wallpaper (ceiling paper), which was itself attached to muslin cloth, which covered the original beaded board ceiling. Our aim is to get down to the beaded board and restore it.

I decided to record the whole process for posterity. Here's the first day.

Hogg Does Bath, I Do Bedroom

While neighbor David Hoggard does great window work in historic Bath, NC, I'm taking a few weeks to do a thorough restoration of my historic bedroom.

The room was not pretty when we bought our 100-year-old old house, and we haven't touched it since then. Bathrooms, kids' bedrooms, kitchen, and living room came first. Now, thirteen years later, here we go! Handyman culture is not dead yet.

Youngest daughter Claudia (13) will be my helper. Photos and maybe video of the project will follow. Right now I've got to move the furniture out of the room.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Teenaged Girls Talk Like That, Like, For A Reason

Mike Clark, the N&R's language columnist, today takes on two features of teenaged girl talk that seem to bug adults the most: the profligate use of like, and rising intonation at the end of declarative sentences. He transcribes a girl's cellphone conversation which he overheard at the Smithsonian:

"Waitwaitwait listen. Like my cousin? Rachel? Like she was here last year? And, like, she got so bored? That they, like, had to practically put her in an institution?"

[Mike continues] ... My wife insists that all generations after ours will speak with the question inflection ... the problem seems to be spreading.

He's right that "the problem" of rising intonation is widespread. Two scholars published a study in 2005 of the rising intonation in teenaged girls in Finland. It's also an established feature of many dialects in the UK, including Australia and New Zealand, and its prevalence in some speech patterns in Canada and the upper midwest in the US have led some to believe it's an artifact of Norwegian influence.

Most studies indicate it's commonest among adolescent girls and has been since the 1980s. Since I don't notice many adult women in their 30's talking that way, I'm guessing it's a speech pattern most of them outgrow.

And the rising intonation (which, by the way, is not the same as "question" intonation, which usually has a rise-and-fall unless it's a yes-or-no question) has a discourse function.

Most researchers seem to agree that the rising intonation is used (1) to provide the listener with an opportunity to give indications that she's still listening ("uh huh"), and (2) to signal that the speaker isn't done yet, that there's still more to come.

That may be why the girl on the cellphone used the rising inflection so often. When people don't have access to visual cues that their listener is still listening, it seems natural that they would use vocal ones more often.

As to the use of "like," that's another interesting phenomenon that has been studied pretty intensively among US and UK speakers. Far from being just a verbal tic or a filler, it's been shown to have a number of specific functions, such as marking a new, focused informational element in the utterance, as opposed to an established topic. One recent study shows,
In the vast majority of the children’s data like focuses on constituents which occur to the right of it including not only phrasal constituents, but also whole clauses and, arguably, entire discourse topics. --Stephen Levey, "He's like ‘Do it now!’ and I'm like ‘No!’" English Today (2003), 19: 24-32.
The irritating girl on the cellphone was telling her listener every time she said like, "this is new and important information that hasn't been previously established in our mutual discourse and that isn't a part of our set of shared assumptions." Her repeated use of "like" isn't meaningless; it just tells us that, like a lot of teenaged girls, she tends to place too much importance on trivial things. She's irritating because she repeatedly communicates that her every phrase is important.

Like actually does a lot more than that, however, and the literature on it is fascinating. It can be found without a great deal of effort, both in libraries and even on the internet. The same is true of studies of rising intonation.

I'll bet readers of a language column in a newspaper would like to know some of that stuff.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Two Dozen Reasons To Drive A Prius

I agree with Richard Miniter:

Every time you squeeze the trigger on the gas pump, you are putting money into the pockets of terrorists.

Trace back the snaking hose, past the pump and the oil refinery, and you will find nearly two dozen oil kingdoms — all of which, to some degree or another, fund al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas and other jihadi groups.
And here's one more reason: I drove mine to Williamsburg, VA and back (540 mi.) last Sunday on a single 11-gallon tank of gas.

Greg Woodard Runs For City Council

I haven't made up my mind yet about who to vote for in the upcoming City Council election, but I'm glad to see that Greg Woodard has declared as an at-large candidate. He would bring a fresh perspective and directness to the Council that it needs.

Greg has been involved in civic life in a low-key way for quite some time, and he's very knowledgeable about city issues. He has a no-nonsense approach to problem-solving and, as a retired military officer, he is not beholden to any special interests.

Greg would not be a "go along to get along" council member, but he wouldn't be a grandstander, either. I think he would ask hard questions when they needed to be asked, and would have the political courage to make hard choices.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Benjamin's Got A Brand New Blog


Benjamin Briggs, the executive director of Preservation Greensboro, Inc. has started a new blog: Greensboro's Treasured Places.

Benjamin has a tremendous store of knowledge about Greensboro's architecture and history. I'm thrilled that he's going to share it with the rest of the community!

Squirrel Dreams

My aged cat Bito was napping

while this squirrel was literally eating his lunch.

I hope he was dreaming of his glory days. Lucky squirrel.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Pick Up Your Trash

Last Saturday some people got together to clean up a sliver of city property bordering Fisher Avenue that is off the city's radar screen for maintenance. It's kind of hidden away and it gets used a lot by transients.

16 bags of trash were collected, and the city promptly answered a request to pick them up from the curb.

Neighbors also put a trash can at the spot in hopes that the people using the area would be willing to clean up after themselves.

Fond hope!

I don't care how down on your luck you are -- you can still pick up your trash.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Carolina Bank Update -- A Message From The Architect

I received a very nice e-mail from Kenneth Mayer, the architect of the proposed new Carolina Bank building, which I criticized strenuously in a previous post. Mr. Mayer forwarded me an updated site plan,

and these words, which I quote in full with his permission:

David—I have read with interest the blog postings on the Carolina Bank site plan. As the architect for this project, I would like to add to the discussion with the following comments and background. Because of the length, I was not able to post these, but perhaps you could do so.

First, the site plan shown is not the most current. I have attached the plan that has been tentatively approved by the Planning Department and the Transportation Department (GDOT). As you review the comments below, refer to this plan.

Downtown Design Guidelines: as you know these guidelines are still under development and are not yet in a form to be adopted or properly used in site planning. However, at the request of the Planning staff, we reviewed our site plan against the principles they were seeking to incorporate into the guidelines.

We developed an alternative plan that pushed the building to the street facing Spring, removed on-site parking on the Spring side of the building, and showed how on-street parking similar to that in front of the Carolina Theatre could be incorporated. This made the building’s siting more urban and pedestrian-friendly.

This positioning, however, required a direct exit onto Spring Street for customers exiting the drive-up lanes. GDOT would not allow this exit due to traffic volume on Spring. We therefore, had to move the building back to the center of the site to allow customers to leave the drive up lanes, circulate in front of the building and exit onto either Market or Friendly.

Building size: the building is 44,000 SF and four floors high—plus a gabled roof that adds to its height. We used a small floor plate to increase the building height on the site.

Parking: A building this size would normally have around 145 parking spaces—we are only providing 119. Bear in mind that there are no public decks near this site and on-street parking is limited on the three one way streets Spring, Market and Friendly. Developing underground parking is prohibitively expensive for a project this size.

Drive up lanes: Like it or not, customers prefer to have drive up lanes at full service branches such as will be included in this building.

Fencing: there is no fence around this site. The perimeter will be appropriately landscaped per our discussions with the Planning Department.

Traffic: keep in mind that this site is surrounded on three sides by multi-lane one-way thoroughfares which by themselves promote fast vehicular movement through downtown and are a detriment to pedestrian-friendly planning. [emphasis mine -- ed.] This site has to react to this situation to provide proper means of access and egress for Bank customers.

In closing, while I certainly respect everyone’s right to their opinion about the design of this project, it is always helpful to have background and facts to relate to. The project was not designed in a vacuum, it was designed with the consultation of the Planning staff and the fledgling guidelines it is developing. It also had to react to the conditions required by GDOT and the traffic patterns in this part of downtown.

Ken Mayer, AIA, LEED AP

Mr. Mayer's response points to what many people have noticed is a huge problem for good downtown design, namely, our current downtown transportation plan.

It may be these kind of streets that finally jinxed the Bellemeade Village plan -- who can conceive living in an "urban village" that's surrounded by what one of the property owners once described to me as a "Daytona 500"?

When the Project for Public Spaces came to town several years ago for a consult on the Center City Park, their people said of Friendly Avenue, "you've got to find a way to make Friendly more friendly to pedestrians."

I've no doubt that GDOT would be perfectly happy to completely redo downtown's major thoroughfares if, as their head of engineering once said to me, "someone's got bags of money to shower on us."

Unfortunately, nobody does. And that means inferior designs downtown for the foreseeable future, I think.

Friday, July 6, 2007

99 Blocks Hurts My Feelings

A new local magazine appeared in my mailbox today -- 99 Blocks. According to Bill Hancock, the publisher, "That's the number of square city blocks in the area we've defined as downtown Greensboro, which includes Elm Street, Southside, and Fisher Park."


Fisher Park sits just outside Greensboro's Central Business District, and there are a number of other neighborhoods that also sit on its edge -- Westerwood, East Market, Cedar Street / Bellemeade and (ahem) at least one other -- that don't seem to be included in the 99.

Isn't sending the mag to me, without including my neighborhood in your area of hipness, kind of like telling me you're having a party, but I'm not invited?

Gee, thanks!


Fage 2% Greek yogurt and fresh blueberries. Mmmmmm.

Bus Stopped

Raleigh N&O:

RALEIGH - Shopping centers in Raleigh increasingly advertise themselves as "upscale" or "affluent." In other words, don't come by bus.

Four plazas in Raleigh now forbid city buses from entering the property, even the parking lots. At Brier Creek Commons in northwest Raleigh, that can mean that workers must trek up to a quarter-mile across hot asphalt .... A good walk never killed anyone, but bus riders call the shopping centers' rules another indignity that poor shoppers and workers must endure.

(Via HypePipe.)


Here in GSO, the new Wal-Mart at Cone and US 29 not only allows buses, it has a covered bus stop right in front of it. The site appears to have been designed specifically to accommodate public transportation.

I love Wal-Mart!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

City Slickers and Nature Lovers

The authors of one of my favorite local blogs, Greensboro Birds, are thinking of buying some acreage in the country:

We know we want plenty of space between us and our neighbors, more space than just walls, ceiling, and floor. We also know we want a little acreage ...

[We're considering buying ] over six acres, half of which is covered by this fantastic meadow surrounded by tall old hardwoods, that could be ours—and not in the mitts of a lot-scraping developer.
I know the urge. When L & I were first married, we lived for 4 years on 1100 acres of wooded land on the Haw River in Chatham county, and the experience was idyllic for us and our kids. Wild turkey, deer, foxes, bobcats, owls, hawks -- all were our regular visitors. And a few years ago, back when we thought L's stock options in the dot-com boom were going to make us millionaires (hah!), we started looking at acreage to put a log house on. (Didn't happen.)

But I don't think I'd do that today.

People living far from their places of work on large lots -- that's the essence of low density exurban growth. If we moved there, yes, we'd be protecting some habitat. But when more and more people move there who want the same thing (and they are coming), they'll pressure the county to zone for 5 acre lots, because they love privacy and nature, too.

And they'll bring their cars, so they'll need better roads, and they'll want some lawn, so trees will come down, and they'll use herbicides and pesticides which will get into the watershed, and they'll probably be wanting water and sewer and electricity. All that stuff will degrade habitat.

It might even be the case that a lot-scraping developer, who would certainly develop more densely in order to make a profit, would end up leaving more natural habitat untouched.

My point is that if you're a nature lover, you ought seriously to consider being a city slicker if you don't want to become part of the problem you're trying to solve.

Former Greensboro Mayor Carolyn Allen suggests in today's paper that we engage in statewide planning to set aside natural areas, and that seems like a good idea to me. She provides a hyperlink to Land for Tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Hard Questions

Ben Holder asks hard questions about poverty, race, geography, and violence in Greensboro.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

A Paradox of Local Preservation


What the travel industry calls heritage, or diversity, tourism is one of the most rapidly expanding and maturing segments of the domestic vacation ... "It's a huge, huge growth area in tourism," said Keith Bellows, editor in chief of National Geographic Traveler magazine.
The state of North Carolina has established a program to promote heritage tourism:
"The goal of the Heritage Tourism Program is to work in cooperation with strategic partners to develop and support sustainable efforts that strive to protect, preserve and promote the state’s natural, historic and cultural resources ... "
Guilford County responds by eliminating its only preservation planner position.

Thank you, Julie Curry, for all your excellent work.

Update: Hoggard thinks there may be some pushback coming to get Julie's job reinstated. I'm willing to push, too.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Murrow Opportunity

I was a little surprised to read this yesterday:

If the developers' math ultimately does pass muster with city officials, Murrow Station deserves a fair and even sympathetic hearing.
Allen Johnson & Co. are often wary of endorsing public expenditures for private development.

(But note that the N&R did not actually endorse the idea of spending $2.8 million on Murrow Station -- it endorsed listening to the idea sympathetically.)

I agree with the N&R that Murrow Station presents a good opportunity to promote both downtown development and residential development on the east side of Summit Avenue. Good for Brown Investment Properties and Kavanagh Homes for trying something that's pretty unconventional here in Greensboro.

The public funding aspect of the deal also presents the city with an opportunity to turn what city planning staff have called a "pretty good" plan into a very good plan.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

"I think maybe it had something to do with all that sky."

Elizabeth Gilbert on Mildred Kalish's memoir Little Heathens:

I think maybe it had something to do with all that sky. Having lived a disproportionate sum of her childhood outdoors, Kalish was greatly overexposed to “the high blue sky” of Iowa and all that blue oxygen and soaring heavenly vaulting seems to have made her a little intoxicated. But she was also dosed by more than her share of barefoot expeditions over “the astonishingly thick green grass that carpets the woods in Iowa.” She gets almost woozy remembering the sight and scent of the “giant pink bouquet” that arrived every spring when the farm’s one crab apple tree climaxed into bloom. And Kalish swears that the privilege of inhaling “the sweet fragrance emanating from the clean body of a colt, calf, lamb, puppy or kitten that had been sleeping on the grass and warmed by the sun” is one of life’s great “pagan pleasures.”
Shhh. Don't tell anybody, but Iowa is still a beautiful and wonderful place, and I find its high blue sky landscapes intoxicating to this day. (That's why they're the dominant feature of my recent home movie.)

I've got to read Kalish's book.

Renovation And Ed McMahon's Teeth

The last time I saw Ed McMahon on TV, I couldn't stop looking at his teeth. Like a lot of older TV stars, he seems to have had a lot of dental work done to keep them smooth and white, and they have now become the most prominent feature of his face.

Even though they're smooth and white, they didn't look right to me -- they just didn't fit with the rest of his face.

That's the way I feel about a lot of window replacements on building renovations. UNCG is re-doing the Brown music building and Aycock auditorium (both of them very attractive buildings), and has chosen to replace the original wood windows with new metal or vinyl clad ones (I can't tell which from the street).

I managed to get a comparison photo of the Brown building's last remaining wood window, which has since been removed. Can you tell which one it is?

At first glance, the old window (on the right) looks bad, doesn't it? At Historic Preservation Commission meetings, people who want to replace their windows often describe windows in this condition as "rotted,"

but if you click and enlarge the picture below, you'll be able to see that the only real problems are peeling paint and old glazing compound. The wood is in very good condition. Most of these old windows were made with old-growth yellow pine, which is very decay resistant. With scraping, sanding, repainting, and reglazing, these windows would be good for another 80 years at least.

Another irreplaceable feature of the old windows is the "wavy" glass, which gives them a distinct appearance that's visible even from a distance. It's a small detail, but one that lends a lot of character to old buildings.

Here's a view of the Aycock auditorium, with new windows fully installed. They look like very good-quality replacement windows, but something about them reminds me of Ed McMahon's teeth.

I'm disappointed that the university decided to go this route, not only because of the aesthetics but also because of the sustainability issue, which is becoming increasingly prominent in the school's public discourse.

Those old windows contain a lot of "embodied energy" which is simply being thrown away, and more energy is being used in manufacturing new windows. Although the new windows are probably somewhat more energy-efficient than the old ones, studies I've seen show that efficiency gains from new windows are generally much smaller than most people think.

And the new windows probably won't last nearly as long as the original ones would have, necessitating more expense and energy outlay for their replacement in a generation or so. Manufacturers call these windows "maintenance free," but that really means that you can't maintain them. When they start to fail, you just have to get rid of them. They can't be repaired.

Case in point: the "new" replacement windows in UNCG's Curry building were just replaced again last year. I doubt that the replacement windows that were replaced were even 30 years old.