Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Brutal Preservation

Charles Paul Freund writes about the preservation paradoxes swirling around an architecturally-unloved 1970s-era Christian Science church in Washington, DC:

So why has the city's Historic Preservation Review Board unanimously declared the Third Church of Christ, Scientist to be an official D.C. landmark, preventing not only its demolition, but even its unauthorized alteration? Because, it turns out, it is a sterling example of the mid-century school of design known as Brutalism.

... Brutalism's preservers remain vulnerable to the ironists. That's because the church is question is exactly the kind of building that energized the city's grassroots preservation efforts in the first place. Of course, the activist preservationists of decades ago were hardly seeking to save such buildings as this church; many were seeking to prevent them from being built at all (at least in an urban context).
Our fair city has quite a bit of Brutalist architecture, including the Melvin Municipal Office Building, aka City Hall. Sometime in the next generation, people are going to start talking about tearing it down, and we're going to have to decide whether to keep it.

Via Instapundit.

DIY Downtown Design Coming to Greensboro

At the last meeting for the Downtown Design compatibility manual, the steering committee agreed that we should fire the consulting firm that was supposed to be writing up our new downtown design guidelines.

Everyone in the group was a little surprised to hear from our city staff leader, Mary Sertell, that Cooper Carry, a prestigious Atlanta design firm, had failed to produce acceptable draft guidelines out of the materials we had sent them last summer. Cooper Carry had previously done good work here in producing Action Greensboro's conceptual plan for downtown. The city sent a termination notice on December 13, and Cooper Carry's contract will end on January 17, 2008.

The downtown design committee, which is composed of city staff and volunteers from the development community, Action Greensboro, Downtown Greensboro, Inc., and regular citizens like me, earlier had agreed on a "geographical" approach to downtown design. We mapped out zones in the central city with distinctive features and building types, and turned our findings over to Cooper Carry. They were supposed to develop design guidelines for each zone.

Firing Cooper Carry will save the city, Downtown Greensboro, Inc., and Action Greensboro somewhere in the neighborhood of $90,000 dollars, but the group and city staff are going to have to roll up our sleeves and do a lot more work.

Some prominent downtown developers suggested we look at the successful design manuals of cities like Charlotte and Durham, and adapt the ideas that we think work best. And that's where we're going to start.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sauce for the Gander

Mike Clark, the N&R columnist on language, writes today about how "language sticklers" like him tend to drive friends and family nuts with their linguistic policing. Mike also drives me a bit nuts, because I believe that such policing has little to do with a love of language and much to do with a desire to control others.

Besides, the notions of "correctness" that get used in these exercises are quite arbitrary, and are often just a matter of imposing past conventions -- real or imagined -- on present speech. I find that policers of language impose their standards inconsistently, or, worse, are guilty of the same crimes that they accuse others of.*

(*No, it is not incorrect to end a sentence with a preposition, and if you don't like it, it's just something you have to put up with.)

In fact, Clark's column today is full of the kinds of little errors that he likes to find in others.

For example, he writes,

However, at home it seems to go differently.
Passing over the vague reference of "it," which doesn't refer clearly to anything in the preceding context, I'll ask why Clark doesn't know that "however" should be postpositive. According to Strunk's Elements of Style, "In the meaning nevertheless, ["however" is] not to come first in its sentence or clause ... When however comes first, it means in whatever way or to whatever extent."

Clark also writes,

Evidently, there was an infinitesimal catch in my voice. A teeny tone thing that gave me away.
In proper usage, "infinitesimal" means "an infinitely small amount, too small to be measured or reckoned." How could something so small be evident? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Clark's usage, meaning "very small," is only found in "loose or hyperbolic" speech. Tsk.

Furthermore, "tone thing" is redundant. A tone is of necessity a thing; the word "thing" adds no meaning to the phrase. Why not just say "a teeny tone"? Even worse, "A teeny tone thing that gave me away" is not a complete sentence; it's a mere fragment.

Clark continues,

Then I explained that when you write a check, you want to hyphenate numbers with "ty" in the first part ...
Hmmm. "You want"? I think he means, "you ought." "Want" as a modal verb showing obligation or necessity is not listed at all in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Clark goes on,

We know that our desire for correct punctuation, spelling and usage is based on the fact that language is the building block of thought, of communication.
"[T]he building block"? Really? How can you build something with just one block? That's a failed metaphor, and it's factually incorrect to boot. We have many non-linguistic thoughts, for example when we compose, play, or listen to music. And we communicate with gesture, posture, and facial expressions as well as with language.

Later in the column he writes,

They're more than willing to say, "What's the rule for commas and quotation marks?"
If Clark meant to be precise, he would have written, "What are the rules ..." unless he meant to say that there is a single rule for the use of both commas and quotation marks. Or is he talking about some rule concerning the proper relationship between commas and quotation marks? At any rate, he hasn't made himself very clear.

Still further down, he writes,

Catherine, I am happy to report that "alright" is still considered nonstandard, even though it has become increasingly commonplace since it first appeared (in the 19th century).
Clark should have avoided the passive voice in "is still considered" (see Strunk again), but the passive is convenient for him, because it allows him to avoid saying just who, exactly, considers "alright" to be nonstandard. Furthermore, there is no reason put parentheses around "in the 19th century."

And Clark probably doesn't really mean that "alright" has become more commonplace ("devoid of originality or novelty" -- OED); he just means that it has become more common.

Had enough? Me too. I hope you found this post completely irritating. Because there really isn't much wrong with the style, grammar, or punctuation of Clark's column. My point was to show, by example, the pointlessness of being a language policeman.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Some Suggestions On Where to Find That $500,000

The city council met tonight in an emergency session devoted to Greensboro's recent rash of murders, and instructed city manager Mitch Johnson to find $500,000 in the budget to give to the police department.

In a pinch like this, it's always most tempting to take the money from places where you think you won't rouse much organized opposition, such as in poorer neighborhoods that usually don't have neighborhood associations -- or even very many homeowners. Those places get the bulk of funds from departments like Housing and Community Development.

I think it would be a bad idea to take planning and infrastructure dollars from those neighborhoods, mostly because their already poor civic infrastructure contributes to crime and economic underperformance. Those areas need more money to fight crime, not less.

But we are spending money on some pretty pricey items which -- although they're beautiful -- could take a hit until tax dollars become more plentiful. Here are my picks:

Hagan-Stone Park. It's outside the city limits, where we also maintain a little-used pool. We don't need a city park that's in the county.

Bryan Park golf courses. They're wonderful (I hear), but should a city be paying to maintain championship golf courses when we can't protect our citizens from gang murders? The Gillespie Park course should get us through until crime is under control; the Bryan courses belong in the private sector.

The Botanical Gardens. They're beautiful, expensive, and inessential. Exotic plants or police protection? Hmmmm. I think we can cut back a bit on the plants for a while.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Lingua Latina in Temporibus

The New York Times says, Hooray for Latin:

As much as opening the concertina enlarges your imagination, squeezing it shut — translating English into Latin — sharpens your prose.
Years of reading and writing Latin have had some effect on the way I write, I'm sure -- though whether for good or ill, I can't say. I also liked this bit:
With a little Roman history and Latin under your belt, you end up seeing more everywhere, not only in literature and language, but in the classical roots of Federal architecture; the spread of Christianity throughout Western Europe and, in turn, America; and in the American system of senatorial government.
I've heard classicists quote Cole Sear on this point: "I see dead people." American culture is suffused with classical culture, but few see it.

Learning Latin and Ancient Greek is hard, but I rarely hear anyone who put in the effort to do it well say that it wasn't worth it. For most, it's a source of satisfaction and a path to interesting insights throughout their lives.

Update: Somebody could use a little classical eduction. Sheesh!

"And They're Getting More Organized All The Time."

So said one of Greensboro's prominent real estate developers recently, in a conversation about neighborhood groups, and he wasn't happy when he said it.

Free, new media have empowered neighborhood groups tremendously. A decade ago, anyone wanting to oppose a rezoning or a development had to go door to door or make scores of phone calls to get people to meetings. Time and distance greatly constrained what people could accomplish.

But now an increasing number of neighborhood groups are using tools like Yahoo or Google groups, which allow e-mail messages to go out instantly to group members -- and only to group members -- so quickly that neighborhoods are now as agile as their industry opponents. Neighborhoods are also using free blogs to give them a public face and to archive public documents.

I think this new "Army of Davids" power is very apparent in Greensboro, where developers have lost recent rezoning battles (or given up before they started) in response to neighborhood pressure. It looks like they're going to lose a few more.

The Fairview-Rosecrest-Kirkwood neighborhood group has recently conjured itself into existence and is starting a public campaign to oppose a commercial rezoning in their neighborhood. They've been quietly organizing via e-mail for the past couple of weeks.

And Citizens for Haw River State Park recently won an important ally in opposing the Patriot's Landing development, after months of behind-the-scenes organizing facilitated by an e-mail listserv and website.

In both cases, the developers have asked for continuances, hoping to wait out the "Davids" and strike when their fervor is cooled. But now that the citizen groups have their electronic networks in place, it will be easy to rally the troops again when they're needed.

This is very irritating to developers, but in the long run I think it will hold them to a higher standard, which is good for everybody.