Monday, May 5, 2008

Go, Greenway, Go

I'm going to vote tomorrow for the Greensboro Parks and Recreation bond, which includes $4 $2 million for the Center City Greenway. It's the only bond item the News & Record didn't endorse. A good friend told me last night that he was "looking for a reason" to vote for it, and I told him I'd offer mine.

I live only a block from the Greenway's proposed path, so you could say that I'm for it out of pure self-interest, and that wouldn't be totally wrong. The Greenway would improve my quality of life tremendously by letting me walk and bike in a nice environment to places where I have to drive now because current roads are dangerous for bikers and nasty for walkers.

But what benefits me also benefits thousands who live in Greensboro's "ring" neighborhoods: Fisher Park, Westerwood, Latham Park, Southside, East Market St. These are neighborhoods that have mostly received the short end of the transportation stick for the last half-century. Or I should say, the sharp end of the stick (as in "a sharp stick in the eye"). There are also some neighborhoods not named here because transportation projects that were intended to benefit commuters simply wiped them away. In their place now are low-income housing projects like Cumberland Court that barely function as neighborhoods at all.

A little history: in the mid-20th century, city and transportation planning was all about modernist ideals. Center cities would tower with gleaming skyscrapers, and happy workers would commute briskly to and from the suburbs on efficient superhighways or live in hive-like high-rises. Traditional modes of urban living (called "neighborhoods") and the older buildings that accommodated them were declared "blight" and "slums." Many of them were razed to make way for "urban renewal" and transportation projects, and their hapless denizens were relocated to modern housing projects.

As we all know now, this great civic project was one of the great failures of the 20th century, and the planners made an urban wasteland of many of America's great cities.

Greensboro's Murrow Boulevard is a good example of this. Its six mostly empty lanes ripped though the urban fabric on the east side of downtown Greensboro, leaving almost nothing intact from Lee St. to Summit Avenue.

However, suburbanites were mostly happy with these projects, because they were effective at moving cars to and from the city. When center cities collapsed and crime skyrocketed in the 60's, suburbanites responded by moving further and further from the cities, and transportation dollars followed them.

Only in the past couple of decades have planners embraced the idea of reinvesting in neighborhood-friendly urban transportation infrastructure. In Greensboro, bonds supported the Southside and East Market transportation projects. Both of them have been very successful.

The Greenway is another such project that will continue to re-weave the urban fabric that was so ripped and tattered by mid century misunderstandings of how good cities work, and make Murrow Boulevard (among other streets) work for the city dwellers who live there rather than for commuters who just want to drive through as quickly as possible.

The future of transportation in America and in Greensboro will not be like the past. It seems undeniable now that we will be facing higher gas prices for a long time -- maybe forever. And the new generation of Americans seems more interested in living in cities than their boomer parents and grandparents were. Making the city a nicer place to live will attract more urban dwellers to Greensboro, meaning that less countryside will be devoted to suburban development, and fewer transportation dollars will have to follow commuters out to the exurbs.

So I'm voting for the Parks and Rec bond.


Shaw Rez said...

Well reasoned and insightful post.

I think the Greenway is a an exciting and ambitious project that would add so much to the city of Greensboro. As a native and former Greensborian (sp?), I lament that I can't vote for this bond issue myself.

When I visit my parents (as I did this past weekend), I marvel at what's happened in the just two years since I myself lived in an apartment downtown. Greensboro really has seen a unique rebirth of its urban core that many city have sought but not achieved. The greenway would be another unique Greensboro gem for downtown, but would further, as you highlight, incorporate other neighborhoods into the urban fabric. Additionally, it directly combats the reputation for sprawl Greensboro has earned, adds to the health and well being of citizens, builds symbolic, social bridges and so on and so forth.

All to say, my fingers are crossed that the bond passes! Good luck!

Roch101 said...


I'm still confused about some things. You say that the bond includes $4M for the greenway. The N&R says it's $2M. Which is it?

Either way, I've read that the price tag is actually $26M. Where would this money we are being asked to approve go? Set aside until the entire funds are raised or used right away to get started and, if the later, what portion of the greenway gets built with this money?

A final question. I cannot find any definative answer to who would own the greenway. A blogger said that an un-named person with the bicentenial commision told him it would be publicly owned, but, as I said, I cannot find that documented anywhere. Do you know?

David Wharton said...

Roch, I think the $2 million figure is correct. (I'll correct the post to reflec this).

Since the project is all in the public right-of-way, I assume that it would be public property -- at least I've never heard anything different.

Anonymous said...

my friends and i love walking the old tracks downtown that will be part of the new greenway. it's quiet and rustic and peaceful. although i like the idea of a walking path around the city, i don't like that it will change the character of the rail paths. i love them as they are. and they're part of history. the greenway project will civilize and sophisticate and "city-fy" them. not looking forward to it all that much...

Roch101 said...

"Since the project is all in the public right-of-way..."

Huh? Then why the need for money for land acquisition?

Anonymous said...

Persuasive comments --- thanks. I voted for these bonds and I'm glad I did, and I regret that they failed. Greensboro doesn't have a river (like San Antonio or Milwaukee) or a harbor (like Baltimore) or a lakefront (like Chicago). A greenway would begin to take the place of these natural elements that are missing. Too bad -- only a few more votes could have made a difference.