Sunday, October 14, 2007

Good Charlotte

"Greensboro is by and large a nice, well-run place to live," wrote a local blogger recently, and I was inclined to agree until I rode around looking for houses that Project Homestead had built.

Yesterday's tour gave me a very biased sample, but I saw that Greensboro has a lot of stressed neighborhoods with boarded-up houses like these. I was afraid to get out of my car to take these pictures. [NB: these houses were not built by Project Homestead. Read the link above to find out about the condition of PH houses.]



The city does a lot to provide basic housing in these neighborhoods, and has done some great infrastructure and planning projects like the East Market Street corridor.

But what does the city do to promote the community health of existing neighborhoods that don't need infrastructure repairs as much as help to make sure that lots are not overgrown, trash is picked up, and their streets are reasonably safe? With all the recent publicity about gangs in the city and the need for a comprehensive approach to them, this would seem to be a pressing issue.

What we have here in Greensboro is a single part-time employee who runs the Neighborhood Information Center out of the Glenwood Library. That person, Donna Newton, has been indefatigable in working with neighborhoods and the Greensboro Neighborhood Congress (an all-volunteer organization) to help with basic problems like crime, housing inspections, and getting appropriate city services.

But there's only one of Donna, and she works more than full time at her half-time position. We need much more.

In this respect, Charlotte has our butt kicked. For 12 years, Charlotte has run an annual neighborhood symposium. It provides leadership training for neighborhood organizations. It offers matching grants of up to $25,000 for neighborhood improvement projects, including planning. It works with neighborhood organizations to help enforce basic quality of life ordinances. It has a vision of what a model neighborhood is.

Greensboro needs a central clearinghouse and dedicated staff for neighborhood services, backed up by a firm commitment from all departments to enforce housing, zoning, trash, and transportation ordinances. It also needs a firm commitment from city council to provide the staff to enforce basic ordinances.

I propose selling off the Bryan Park golf course and transferring its annual budget to pay for these needed services. Seriously.

[Special note to RGW: I don't hate golf or golfers! I just think that this course belongs in the private sector.]

9 comments:

cara michele said...

"I propose selling off the Bryan Park golf course and transferring its annual budget to pay for these needed services. Seriously."


Dude, you rock. So completely.

Amen.

Don said...

The Knight Foundation is offering grants (deadline is tomorrow) - http://www.newschallenge.org

When you look at last year's winners - this cause could easily win.

Kim said...

The Charlotte plan sounds really good. I've always liked Charlotte...really nice city in every way. Greensboro is a really nice city as well, but in regards to that, it should really follow the lead of Charlotte.

My hometown has a lot of boarded up, scary buildings. What's even worse is that it also has a large arson problem. People tend to torch the boarded up scary buildings, which is not a good way to solve the problem. :-/ I am not kidding when I say that just before I moved down here in 1997 I would sit on the balcony of of my apartment and watch the city burn. Really. Every day it seemed at least one building would go down due to arson. And I didn't live in a bad area! I was only a block away from a public housing project, but it was a well kept up public housing project. Just over the bridge, though, was really bad and where all the fires were.

Btw, nice layout change. :-)

Patrick Eakes said...

If the Bryan Park golf courses (yes, there are two) are sold, would you also support selling the soccer fields at Bryan Park?

David Wharton said...

Kim and CM, thanks!

Patrick: If I were on the city council,I ask for an assessment from parks and rec about who uses the soccer fields, etc. I think there's a good argument related to public health for the city maintaining soccer & baseball fields.

But I don't think those same arguments apply to championship golf courses.

My understadning of the Bryan Park courses is that the city pays a private company to maintain and run them, and that company gets to pocket the profit it makes in addition to what the city pays. I think that's a very bad deal for the city.

Billy The Blogging Poet said...

"My understadning of the Bryan Park courses is that the city pays a private company to maintain and run them, and that company gets to pocket the profit it makes in addition to what the city pays. I think that's a very bad deal for the city."

When I'm elected Mayor we'll do things differently. For example: instead of paying a company to run the golf course we'll lease the golf course to a company that pays the City for it's use.

That way the City gets to eat its cake and have it too.

Anonymous said...

David,

You might be interested to see what the Greensboro Department of Housing & Community Development has been doing "to promote the community health of existing neighborhoods that don't need infrastructure repairs as much as help to make sure that lots are not overgrown, trash is picked up, and their streets are reasonably safe." Previous efforts have focused on Lindley Park, the Charles B. Aycock neighborhood, and the Cedar Street area:

http://www.greensboro-nc.gov/departments/hcd/planning/neighplan/

And most recently HCD's focus has been on the Greater Glenwood Neighborhood:

http://www.greensboro-nc.gov/departments/hcd/planning/neighplan/glenwood.htm

David Wharton said...

Anonymous, thanks for the links.

I was intimately involved in producing the Aycock neighborhood plan, and have nothing but praise for the people in HCD, especially Stefan-Leih Geary, Sue Schwartz, and Dan Curry. I think their work is world-class.

But my post is really about neighborhood maintenance, not planning, and it is in that area that I think Greensboro lags.

My experience is that there is very poor coordination among city departments for fixing simple neighborhood problems, and because some problems often involve overlapping responsibilities between departments (for example, between inspections and zoning), many problems simply fall through the cracks and never get effectively addressed.

And some departments are far better than others in terms of working consistently with neighborhoods.

I think the city needs dedicated staff, who report directly to the city manager, in charge of coordinating efforts and keeping neighborhoods in the loop.

Patrick Eakes said...

David, I agree that the soccer and baseball fields are an important part of our community and easily justifiable as a shared community expense.

The reason for my question is that the last I checked, the soccer fields at Bryan Park were maintained by the staff at the golf course. At that time, the money paid by the city to the private golf course operator was to maintain the soccer fields.