The Lost Corners of Suburbia

The Lost Corners of Suburbia

Belk at Four Seasons Mall
IHOP on Hillsborough Street
Two Guys Pizza on Hillsborough Street
Wachovia at Spring Valley Plaza

All these things used to be on the corner of something. All these places are places I made memories in. All of these places are gone or soon to be gone in their current forms. Many of these places are examples of bad architecture, shadinesss of patrons and big conglomerate corporations that increasingly only care about the dollars of these patrons, not their feelings.

Yet, these and many other dead malls and outparcels and big boxes and downtown storefronts are now gone.

As I’ve prepared to move halfway across the country, and as my hometown and college town begin to make major changes, I’ve started documenting what some may think are mundane, ugly parts of physical space. After all, when I come back to Greensboro, Gate City Boulevard will be the official address of so many things, not just changed street signs. That corner of Hobbs and Friendly might be clear-cut. I want to remember things as they were, because change is inevitable.

And about that corner of Hobbs and Friendly. People are mourning the change of that corner for different reasons. What was once five homes, homes that held families and memories, could soon be the Trader Joe’s that we’ve been begging for years. The one that I’m still on the fence about wanting to come to town for this very reason. (Let me add that now that I’ve had the goat cheese and sun-dried tomato ravioli and I swear by the Maple Pecan Granola Cereal they make, I’m sold on them for more than just cookies).

Sadly though, it’s a lost corner. Lost in the sense that the use of it is changing and memories of the corner are gone.

Yet, there will be new memories right? Some new homes are going on the property. I’m sure one will be the first home of a baby, who will grow up to recount their childhood days walking across the street to Trader Joes on one side and to see Santa at Christmas and to pick out their first bike at REI.

Much in the same way I’ll tell stories about my first visits to the carousel at  Carolina Circle Mall, Belk at Four Seasons, the map store at Cotton Mill Square, the toy store with the cool trains at Forum IV, the Chic-fil-A at Holly Hill Mall, Marvin’s on Hillsborough Street, the soon to be old IHOP on Hillsborough Street.

This post owes a debt to all the many suburban retail nostalgia blogs and Facebook pages out there. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, for those of us who grew up in suburbia or a Southern city that mimics what those in other regions consider suburbia, these were our places.

Our corners.

The lost corners.

The Raleigh I Knew

The Raleigh I met yesterday (4/3/20414). Clockwise from left, Sushi Blues Cafe on Glenwood Avenue, Glenwood South looking south from the corner of Peace and Glenwood, Reynolds Coliseum and the partially constructed Talley Student Union on NC State University's Campus.

The Raleigh I met yesterday (4/3/20414). Clockwise from left, Sushi Blues Cafe on Glenwood Avenue, Reynolds Coliseum and the partially constructed Talley Student Union on NC State University’s Campus and Glenwood South looking south from the corner of Peace and Glenwood.

Quite simply, the Raleigh I met when I first went off to college in 2004:

–Had yet to air condition the dorm I lived in and introduce on campus apartments for freshmen.

–Hadn’t introduced downtown apartments (and student housing) on a mass scale. Now, it seems like a new unit pops up daily on every block.

–Didn’t have a way to track its campus buses, nor did those buses connect downtown (or did downtown have it’s connector bus).

–Was sprawling out of control with no plan to fix it.

— Didn’t have bars and restaurants that turned their strip parking lots into decks and connect with street walkability. See Exhibit A above.

— Didn’t use roundabouts to manage traffic flow and make it more friendly to pedestrians

–Had buildings that garnered attention from the world, but had yet to build iconic ones in the modern era.

–Had northern hills, but no midtown.

–Had buses stuck in traffic, instead of zooming down shoulders.

–Had yet to finish educating this bright-eyed, bushy-tailed graduate of its largest university and get her to return back to be a part of this growing community.

The last half of that last bullet is not true. Yet. Oh and check out how Raleigh’s redefining itself on an official (and unofficial) branding level. Be sure to include your own Raleigh’s you’ve come to know (I’ll accept other RTP area cities too) in the comments here, on Facebook and on Twitter.

Then have a great weekend. Read the news first though:

Great to see Durham’s Organic Transit and their ELF vehicle get mentioned in USA Today.

A Charlotte-centered analysis of its recent ranking on Smart Growth America’s sprawl list.

Although he often puts out political signs in front of his establishments, a Greensboro developer is under fire for one particular set of signs for one candidate.

High Point honors its Winter Olympian.

The agenda for last night’s Guilford commissioners meeting. What was actually discussed.

The CFO of the International Civil Rights Museum and Center reaches out to black professional groups for help promoting the museum, but also blames Greensboro City Council members by name for not supporting them.

More name calling amongst local elected officials, this time in Asheville and Buncombe County.

WRAL’s report on the VMT issue.

Canton’s Evergreen Packaging is working with the EPA to switch its boilers to natural gas and reduce air pollution in the area.

Charlotte’s Students First charter school to close next week, leaving 3oo K-8 students without a school in the middle of the spring semester.

Part of the newly widened I-85 in the Charlotte area will open in phases this weekend.

Now hints of bribery are surfacing around the Charlotte Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

Charlotte residents are engaging with their own battle over trees with Duke Energy. More on this new “growth regulator,” which will also be used in Greensboro.

The Triad office of CRBE is purchasing Hagan Properties.

Forsyth County’s teen drug court has its first graduates.

Cumberland County officials have changed their guidelines for potential county health services operators.

UNC Wilmington is using renderings of athletic facilities to increase giving to that department, while the academic side is searching for ideas to increase giving.

The small businesses on Wilmington’s Castle Street gathered to celebrate their success.

Downtown Durham’s Pleiades Gallery celebrates its first year.

How Raleigh’s always loved entertainment venues, and is currently making its Pullen Park more popular.

And finally, a first look at the bill to make the state’s first public-private economic development agency.

What Should You Do When Weird Weather Shows Up?


Sometimes, all you can do is make sure you buy enough food at Harris Teeter to get ready for weird weather.

Sometimes, all you can do is make sure you buy enough food at Harris Teeter to get ready for weird weather.

So we’ve had another situation of weather causing bizarre things to happen. Whether it’s snow in Atlanta or a major hurricane in New York, Americans seem to never tire of comparisons to the zombie apocalypse or The Day After Tomorrow. Never mind that in a few weeks we’ll forget this never happened, while those affected may still not have their old house back almost 10 years later.

So this all leads me to what we should and shouldn’t do, at least when it comes to community-building and placemaking and management, when a natural disaster happens.

Take those personal natural disaster plans seriously.

Don’t be the person who giggles when it’s time to stop, drop and roll. You’ll want to roll into a ball if you didn’t remember to pack a blanket, clothes and everything else that goes into a roadside disaster emergency kit. So you’re a bike or subway kid, throw an extra shirt and your meds into your bag. Even planes will let you carry those on. Let your pipes drip. Sprinkle the ice melt. Make sure you can fit in the bathtub. Drink enough water and put on sunscreen.  Drive slow, but not too slow. Sometimes we need to admit that there are some effects of natural disasters we can prevent.

Act as a region or have a plan for regional disaster preparedness

As we saw in Atlanta with #snowgridlock, and of course famously with Katrina in New Orleans, the powers-to-be were not even ready for what they saw. Yes, you may salt the roads. Yes, the weatherman on TV may move the eye of the storm further south. But that doesn’t excuse why you don’t have enough money for the right amount of disaster preparedness.  It doesn’t allow you to blame the municipality next door that you don’t like and claim as a blight on society. Anyone who wants and needs to go to a shelter should be able to. If people want to guard their homes or stay outside, let them (I just warned them about their safety). However, if you as a municipality have no real plan for the weather, then yes, you deserve the shame that you get. Side note to all the issues involved with no transit in Atlanta. Yes having more MARTA trains could have helped.  Still,  the night this was all happening, I saw two trains come into the Greensboro station and sit there for 30 minutes to an hour longer than they should have. Remember when half of Manhattan’s tunnels flooded during Hurricane Sandy? Transportation breaks down sometimes. Sometimes.

Don’t laugh at or perpetrate problematic stereotypes of people in trouble.

We love to use weather events that are abnormal to bring up stereotypes, right? The only exception would probably be with earthquakes and tornadoes. I was quite disturbed with the coverage of the Southern #snowgridlock that was making fun of people sleeping and staying wherever they could for upwards of 24-48 hours, which in some cases meant Whole Foods, Home Depot, The Waffle House  and at worse their car claiming that this is why we as Southerners were so backwards. So all the folks that get stranded at Logan and JFK during northern storms are funny too? Oh and don’t get me started on the “refugees” of New Orléans from Hurricane Katrina.

Keep the Home Depot or _______________(business/school/church) Open To Make Sure People Are Ok

There’s a reason schools are routinely used as disaster shelters when people know that something big and bad is coming. They have room for tons of cots, they have massive cafeterias, many have locker rooms with lots of showers. Hence why the kids that were stuck at them were better off than the rest of us. What I loved about what happened in the 2014 Atlanta and Birmingham situation is that I was that so many of these non-traditional shelters stayed open and did what they could to keep people entertained and fed and the like. Southern hospitality is the one stereotype I love and I love it because that’s community and placemaking at its highest point.

Don’t Share Information That’s Not True

If you don’t listen to anything I say on this post, please listen to this, be careful what you tweet or share on social networks, especially when it comes to a major storm system or something else that is happening in real time. Hence why I shared multiple views of the Atlanta storm and emphasized the ground coverage being done in Atlanta by news outlets and Instagrams and Twitters from actual residents of the cities that were affected. Also, make sure your information on relief efforts is coming from the right area nonprofit. All Red Crosses are not the same and able to do the same things. Also, tweeting something like the name of someone who died before the family can get the phone call is also insensitive.

Feel Guilty When You Can’t Keep Something Bad from Happening

Some of us chatting about the Atlanta storm response were reminded of 2005 in Raleigh. I thought I was going to take the campus Wolfline bus back to my dorm , but instead all the buses stopped running and Hillsborough Street was gridlocked, along with much of the Triangle. All that kept me from doing is getting a ride home versus walking like I normally do. Other people were stranded at schools and offices too. Yet, this time Raleigh closed school early, preventing any surprises as far as weather from affecting the students and parents throughout the county. Yet, the folks who get hit by freakish tornadoes and 100 year floods can’t always be ready for the worst. That’s ok, just do your best as individuals and as a community to be ready.

So this ends my PSA on disaster preparedness and coping. Hopefully this reminder will help us continue to grow stronger communities, especially when we and the weather are at our worst.

Placebook: The Little Blue Walking Dot

U.S. Cities that walk the most. Image via Governing and Fast Company.

Hey Hey, it’s Friday! And with that, I’m looking forward to a quiet evening of sewing at home with my mom and a Saturday and Sunday filled with who knows what else? In the meantime, I know at least one day of this weekend I’ll be a part of Greensboro’s blue dot from the map above. But before that, here are some articles to take you through the weekend:

The polar vortex is not keeping folks from riding bike share bikes, at least not in DC. Meanwhile, Downtown Miami will finally see the DecoBike stations that have been operating in Miami Beach.

More affordable housing struggles, also in DC. Evictions are still hurting communities of color and poverty nationwide.

The Project for Public Spaces has great thoughts on how folk art influences placemaking. I saw this first hand while I was on the trip that made me a placeist back in 2012.

The fallacy of having too many municipalities in a small land area, illustrated by Cincinnati and surrounding Hamilton County, Ohio. Meanwhile, Cleveland is touting itself as the next Brooklyn.

It’s always sad when a beautiful building falls into disrepair and is then threatened with demolition, this time in the Bronx. More modern buildings in good shape that have won awards are also not safe from demo in NYC.

The RTP region is growing period. Greensboro has potential growth in HondaJet, a new microbrewery,plus a new ordinance that could allow more microbreweries.

New BART cars in the Bay Area and a slew of new transportation projects in DC.  2.7 million trips were taken on transit in the U.S. in the third quarter of 2013.

Get to know the Metro Atlanta Equity Atlas, the first equity-based data-cruncher and map maker in the Southeast that’s user-friendly and free and open to the public.

And finally, a post-mortem on Bridgegate and why calling the police is not always the best step when dealing with mentally ill family and friends.

And because it’s the weekend, sit back and enjoy DC-based short fiction from the Washington City Paper‘s 2nd annual fiction issue.

Placebook: Snow, Maybe?

Good Friday morning folks! Some of you are snowed in. Some of you are just cold. Count me in the cold bunch. If you want a good laugh, take a look at my account of what happens when we actually do get snow down South.

Greensboro Skyline covered in snow, January 19, 2013. Photo Credit: Kristen Jeffers

Greensboro Skyline covered in snow, January 19, 2013. Photo Credit: Kristen Jeffers

Whatever is going on outside, be safe, have fun and check out the articles below:

Harlem is on the one hand the home of the graffiti hall of fame and  the other a hotbed of gentrification.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles continues its march towards more transit, more parks and civic engagement.

Speaking of civic engagement, with the performing arts center funded, Greensboro leaders are moving towards deciding who’s going to operate it. Oh, and mark your calendars for all the known street festivals in Greensboro this year.

A sign in Miami tells pedestrians to thank drivers for not hitting them.

Terry Kerns(@terrykerns) documents significant demolitions in Atlanta, some nice, some ugly.

Jim Russell(@burghdiaspora) hasn’t slammed suburbia as much as he’s encouraged and documented the need for people to #makeyourcity and how young people are doing just that.

Kaid Benfield(@Kaid_at_NRDC)came back and elaborated on his comments on traditional downtowns, highlighting the generational gap in views on revitalization. I left a comment, stating the need for us to remain centralized, even if that means being polycentric. Also notable is the danger of having your content syndicated without its proper headline.

I don’t think manufacturing job losses are the reason Big 10 college football teams aren’t having the best seasons right now.

And finally, help this Alexandria, VA woman #FindBen, if he wants to be found. When Cragslist’s missed connections goes artisanal. http://dcist.com/2014/01/find_ben_alexandria_posters.php

That’s it for links this week. Be sure to look out for my 2014 Wishes for Good Places tomorrow just in time for brunch on the East Coast.

Make Your City

Kristen on Swing


This weekend marks five adult years of residence in my hometown of Greensboro, NC. To say that I moved back here kicking and screaming is an understatement. To say that staying here is what I imagined myself doing at this point in time is also inaccurate.

However, the one thing we all have to learn in our youth is that where we live is what we make of it. We also learn that the big cities can’t shield us from the changes of life. In fact, according to Salon and the Pacific Standard, if you move to one, you may never move again. Not good for a person who loves to travel like myself.

I recently fell upon Justin Alvarez’s account of studying abroad and staying at college in New York to avoid family in Chicago. I used to have similar feelings. Even though I did undergrad just 90 miles away and masters degree while at home, I did all I could at times to not be engaged or active with various family members.  I’m not sure Alvarez learned fully the impact of missing family things, even with the revelation that his grandfather held on to life just for him.  Thankfully, I was around for my father’s passing, but missed some times with my grandfather and some aunts that passed. My mom is retiring, and I’m thankful that I’m only 10 minutes away and that I’m finally taking up sewing, one of her beloved hobbies. Check out my first garment below(it’s the skirt).

Me in my skirt that I made

The point of the above is first and foremost, that family does matter. If they are halfway decent people, then make an effort to be a part of their lives. I don’t know what I would do without my mom, my aunts and uncles, and my sibling-cousins. The family village is alive and well here in Greensboro and I cherish being close enough to take advantage of that.

Moving on to the feeling of ambition and the wanderlust that moving to bigger cities creates and feeds, Goodbye to All That , both the original essay and the new compilation of essays,  all speak to the need to move on from New York and how it’s not the holy grail.  As I begin my 28th year, much like Didon herself when she left New York, I am seeing the merits of a life well lived in a small city. This line is the real kicker:

Of course it might have been some other city, had circumstances been different and the time been different and had I been different, might have been Paris or Chicago or even San Francisco, but because I am talking about myself I am talking here about New York.

And since I am talking about myself, then, I’m talking about my choice, both active and inactive, to remain in my hometown, the small city, the car-dependent, the less diverse, but still full of fun and surprises and family. I had remind myself of words I wrote in the early days of this space, to check my civic inferiority complex. To appreciate the beauty of all places.

The other link also mentions the need to care for everyone in all cities. For some of us, the best way we can do that is to stay in our hometowns and contribute to the civic environment. To not go into debt to prove something, but to save money and be something.

To make YOUR city and no one else’s. So let’s just call it home.




Why Homeless and Homeless-Ally Suppression Has to Stop if We Want Good Places

Prior to my father’s passing, he was in a state that I have come to term “functional homelessness.” He was often a fixture at the local soup kitchens and occasionally popped into the Interactive Resource Center (IRC), our local day center for those who are either homeless or in transition. He still had his home, intermittent work, and a working car.

A similar situation had befallen the young man who was also featured with me in the Sunday News & Record two weeks ago. Once gainfully employed and able to keep himself and his mother under a more stable roof, he’d been forced into a tent city after a stint of unemployment and losing his apartment. His mom eventually found more permanent shelter, but he continues to live in his tent, getting by on a temporary minimum wage job. People have reached out for help as a result of the publicity the article garnered and I hope that will mean that he’s free from living in a tent and intermittent employment.

But there’s no shame if he actually wants to live in a tent. There’s no shame if he wants to participate in an untraditional, but legal, economy such as bartering his skills and services. Why do we create these kinds of spaces and places of shame? Why do we not support simple economies, economies that allow for simple dwellings, bartering, and sharing food, tools, skills and other things in a marketplace as a major economic development strategy? Why must cities chase after luxury apartments, performing arts centers, multinational corporations and “young professionals” to feel successful? Why are we not concerned enough, at least in Greensboro, with the loss of a major health clinic, so much so that we’d pledge money to make sure it stays open, like the sudden pledging of money to ensure we have a major performing arts center and a brand new partially private park?

I do want to commend Greensboro for continuing to support initiatives around providing people with stable homes, jobs, and food such as the IRC, the Urban Ministry and Bicycling in Greensboro. Another shout out to the churches, including my home church, who support the homeless and those on the fringes of the traditional economy and middle and working class. Why can’t we be proud of those measures and make sure we support them  as an economic development strategy?

The Corner of Lee and Eugene Streets. A central point for homeless services and a congregation point for those in transition, outside of the IRC, here in Greensboro.

The Corner of Lee and Eugene Streets. A central point for homeless services and a congregation point for those in transition, outside of the IRC, here in Greensboro. Photo Credit: Kristen E. Jeffers

This is especially relevant after this weekend, where in my other hometown of Raleigh, the basic act of feeding the homeless out in the open became illegal. This is on top of Columbia, SC banning their homeless from their downtown and other cities enacting similar restrictions either downtown or in the city limits.

I don’t fault the minister in Raleigh for not wanting a criminal record of his own, since that’s problematic in itself. However, this man was forced to choose between feeding people and giving himself a record that could keep him from employment, therefore, putting himself in the same situation as many he was hoping to help. It makes those who have been arrested at the Moral Mondays even more courageous as many of them are risking respectability on one front to protest injustice on another front. There’s also the other issue of the high cost of obtaining a legal permit to serve food or hold an event in the park in Raleigh. If the park is for the public use, why such high user fees for an official assembly? What constitutes an “official assembly”? I understand helping pay for clean-up and security, but is there not a way to reduce the costs to use our open, completely public in this case, space?

Ultimately, the City of Raleigh has stepped up to apologize and work on a real solution to allow Moore Square to continue to be a place where those on the margins, whether by choice or by necessity, can come together and at least break bread. After all, we encourage those of greater means to eat in the parks during lunch and dinner hours, what’s so different about what this ministry and other ministries are doing for those of lesser means?

There are two major issues here that we need to address if we want to move forward in an inclusive manner. First, we need to continue to find ways to incorporate services and opportunities in centralized areas, namely our traditional main streets, downtowns, uptowns, CBD’s, lifestyle centers or whatever your city chooses to call these areas. Second, the criminalization of those who LOOK undesirable and of those who choose to help those who are “undesirable” has to stop.

The loss of public services like health clinics in centralized areas will push our most vulnerable further and further to the margins. The reason why areas of urban poverty were able to sustain some form of a civil society was due to their proximity to social services. When we shut down or push further out these services, then we create larger and more vast pockets of metro-area poverty. Areas that were built for people of decent to massive means to take care of themselves are now areas where the rent may be cheaper, but the other costs are far higher. If we re-centralize and continue to support centralization of all of our social services, much like we want our entertainment and luxury centralized, it brings up all the members of society, regardless of the level at which they choose to engage the greater economy.

The criminalization of people who LOOK threatening adds to the prison-industrial complex and lowers the morale of those who are on the margins of the city. The greater issue I’ve had with our youth curfew here in Greensboro has not been safety and positive activity of our youth, but of the idea that one bad apple spoils the whole lot. So you may have had one or two panhandlers that harass. What about the others that quietly beg or even better, are singing on the streets? So the singers can stay, as we have made provision for here in Greensboro with our new street busker program, but the person whose need we really can’t determine can’t? I’ve been victimized by people claiming to need help on the streets, but does that mean all people living on the streets are bad? I feel like my own black peers, from my teen years until now, don’t always respect or understand who I am, but does that mean I write them completely off, to the point where they could go to jail just because I THINK they are a threat? Absolutely not.

Cities really need to check their privilege and methods of advancing their cities, if they think criminalization of certain populations or the inhibition of servicing certain populations is going to aid in the continued economic growth or re-start economic growth in their cities.

I know we can all do better. Let’s keep doing better and keep making sure that just like I said in my last post, placemaking remains democratic and not a privilege. And even though there is evidence that homelessness has decreased, it doesn’t mean that it’s over or that a tent is less valuable than a house.

UPDATE 8/27 9:35 a.m.: Some community officials and advocates are speaking out against the closing of the Healthserve clinics here in Greensboro. H/T to the News and Record. Missed this before I went live this morning.

Reconciling Education Reform and New Urbanism

Schools may not be the urbanist anchors we want, but the community can serve as a school, as well as push for transit that connects other educational needs.

I once read an article in the News and Observer that illustrates the true effect of the modern neighborhood school. In this article, schools in wealthy neighborhoods had established private foundations, some that were able to pay teachers outside of state funding. This is on top of the money raised by their Parent Teacher Associations (PTA). However, schools in poorer neighborhoods were dependent completely on government funding.

Say what you will about who’s to blame for the poor education system, but it often comes down to economics. Equally troubling were the comments on the article. These comments bashed the idea of having a big all-district endowment instead of the per-school endowment. The assumption would be that each school would get equal dollars. I think this makes sense in the public school realm. Yet, this was slammed as socialism by many commentators on the post. One commenter offered to help other schools establish private foundations, but the sad part about him was that he was also anonymous. Still, parents who are buying into public schools, remember that they are public. Your money goes to the public good. If you really are concerned that bad about helping other students that you don’t like or know, consider taking your kids to private school.

A part of good urbanism is having amenities close by. This includes our schools. However, I believe our schools will be the last piece to join a compact, self-sustaining urban neighborhood. There are far too many curriculum choices, learning styles, parenting styles and age groups in fluctuation to allow for a successful neighborhood school network in line with urbanist principles. However, urbanism can embrace equal school access.

For cities like Raleigh that have a large enough urban and suburban base, I propose that we go to zone based schooling.  Zones would have several types of schools in one geographic area. No student would be bused out of this area unless demand far exceeded supply. A plan like this was proposed in Wake County. It was passed, but with far too many holes and disagreements and politics to work well.The main concern was that schools would re-segregate by racial and economic lines. They probably will, but that’s only a problem if the teachers and parents make it a problem. Kids bully, cheat, and fail tests all across the school income spectrum. I witnessed at the suburban high school I attended.  While these privileged kids from the suburbs were in high end classes and some did quite well, not as many did so well in college and so far there aren’t any who are doing above-average things that their high education would speak to. For the record, we do have aspiring lawyers doctors and young engineers. We’ve launched an Olympic athlete and a governor. Yet, just like any school, no matter the level, there’s not a 100% success rate.

Yet, what is success? People have different definitions. My own success came from a parent making me do well. In college I had professors and mentors that cared enough about my future to push me to the top. People are needed to help all students find resources they need and they don’t always cost money. They could be your neighbors. In a dense urban environment that’s economically stable, these neighbors also have careers and occupations that serve as educational outlets.

Ultimately, if we can’t get schools into the neighborhood fold, at least get mentors and teachers there. Find store and business owners who are willing to train students who aren’t too academic to  run tech based businesses or manage stores. Provide an adequate transportation network to and from schools that offer something the neighborhood school doesn’t. The neighborhood school should host other community events either free of charge or at a reasonable rate. Bring mentors in for students who are struggling, as well as for parents who may need help with continuing education and entrepreneurial training. Also, as we hold all parties (parents, teachers, students and the community) accountable for environmental issues, let’s push for educational excellence as well. Lastly, we must remember that success looks different, but we should strive for whatever it is for a particular person.

At this point, we can then start solving the urban schools problem and cross that off our list of urban renewal(the good kind) and suburban retrofit.

My Own Letter to the Nation, In Terms of the State and the City

Do you know where you’re going to?
Do you like the things that life is showing you?
Where are you going to?
Do you know?- “Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To)”

On Election Night, President Barrack Obama earned a second term. Pot and gay marriage are legal in more states. The governor’s mansion and the General Assembly in North Carolina are all Republican, save one good friend of mine and a few others sprinkled here and there. We elected other local folks to our school board, our executive cabinet and our county commission.

We are also still dealing with the aftermath of another storm that shifts the political climate, along with does major, possibly irreparable damage to communities. This tests local governments and shows how much a community really needs a backbone.

My friend Kaid Benfield has laid out a good set of mandates for the federal and state governments as far as planning goes.

I want to take it further, as we are now back into the city council cycle in Greensboro and we are dealing with a new regime in the state government. Don’t believe me? I had a front row seat to the last campaign and I am already hearing chatter about who is going to run next and how. Also, with the election of Trudy Wade in our fifth district to the state house, we have a wide open seat that represents one of our wealthiest areas. This area is also an attractive area for our newcomers and this person, whomever it is, needs to be focused on the future.

So what are my mandates for the next four years? Here’s a start

Real talk around commuter rail and light rail in all of our major cities and connecting our major cities. Governor-Elect McCrory opened the Blue Lynx line in Charlotte, working with city leaders of all stripes to get that done. I want him to keep the efforts going by Governor Perdue and others to maintain federal high-speed rail funding. I also want funding to go to adding a third train from Charlotte to Raleigh that leaves at midnight and arrives in Greensboro at approximately 1:30 AM. The Piedmont train is almost always on time. The Carolinian has issues due to it’s leaving the state and going all the way to New York. Get this train to an on-time schedule, and use this to build on an already established commuter rail system that’s gaining ridership at a rate higher than any line in the country.

Keep our university system affordable. Do not let the passing of Bill Friday give you permission to completely dismantle what is already a great system and a revenue generating system even with the lack of income from students. Don’t build up physical campuses at the expense of having good research faculty, good and caring teaching faculty and students, and students who finish in a timely manner without debt. We will fail in North Carolina without proper higher education, that doesn’t choke students with debt.

Continue to increase pedestrian, bike and other inner-city infrastructure– We have a lot of good bones here in Greensboro and in other towns and cities across the state and the nation. The General Assembly needs to revoke the privilege to allow cities NOT to demand that landlords be accountable for their houses. Far too many renters, many who have already suffered from foreclosures, are struggling with being able to stay in homes that have toxic issues. Also, we need a decent water and sewer system on the east side. Part of the excuse for not investing in this area is this issue of water/sewer and we need that covered, so that we can deal with the very reall inequity that still exists in East Greensboro. Similar areas in Raleigh and Charlotte, with lower-incomes and browner people, still have lots of mainstream business and retail opportunities. We need to do what we can (save adding the road into NC A&T’s farm), to get the East side at parity. Also, we can support another performing arts center, concentrated in the downtown area, if we work to make sure our transportation and also the groups who need to use it for their own personal economies and wellbeing (dancers, actors, singers, other local artists),know it’s theirs.

-Finally, lets keep grassroots efforts moving. I’m looking forward to this film and discussion on next Wednesday on the film Fixing the Future. A lot of people organizing this event I consider friends, colleagues and fellow foot soliders into what makes Greensboro great. I know of two active Better Block projects run by friends in Memphis and Durham. The folks here in Greensboro represent co-op businesses, environmental groups and others concerned with giving back to their own community. Oh, and we’ve done very well with having food trucks here in Greensboro, thanks to grassroots and mainstream support. As my friend Rosetta Thurman has stated, we cannot afford four more years of leadership by proxy.

Let’s do this people! What are some other things on your wishlist for this next election cycle and the next four years.

The Urban Hierarchy is Dead

The urbanist blogosphere has been on fire again over this idea of an urban hierarchy . I love Aaron Renn’s commentary as a whole he’s traditionally highlighted small cities. I also believe that he’s only digging deeper into what others have already said, namely Richard Florida, on the state of our cities.

However, I believe that we err when we stick with this idea that cities are in a rigid hierarchy. We are learning that rigid hierarchies don’t always work well in the corporate and even the governmental sectors. Why do we still lean on them for our cities? Also, why leave out farmland, dense suburbs, watersheds and even outer space? Are we not influenced by these places as well? Do these places not contribute to the growth and prosperity of the inhabitants of Earth?

Kenan Friki over at the New Republic has a similar response to mine. He even gives a shoutout to my current hometown and my adopted one as well, for different reasons. Based on two different, but popular sets of city rankings (export capacity and patent filings) Greensboro and Raleigh are in the top ten. None of the other articles even address North Carolina and its growing popularity as a place to go to college, retire or start businesses. Let us not forget there are also growing placemaking movements here.

The point is, we are no longer in a rigid, true hierarchy of urban areas. Yes, media outlets, the federal government, stock traders, car companies and film stars may concentrate in certain areas, but these areas are more concentrations and gatherings than they are true indicators of influence.

We are a network of places. Some are smaller than others. Some have higher concentrations of different people than others. However, at the end of the day, if one of these network nodes fell off, then we’d all be hurt. For some this hurt would be nothing more than a pinch. Others would be dead. However, there should not be pain, not in a world that still has creativity and innovation despite its dwindling amount of natural resources.

The key to this network of places is first the internet. A dancing pig eating chicken could influence the entire world in seconds. I wrote this post in my childhood bedroom in a mid-sized Southeastern US city that’s had its economy shaken and that people can’t always point out on a map. Unless the power shuts completely off, constant connectivity of myself and that dancing pig is a given.

Secondly, expenses notwithstanding, there are multiple, working transportation technologies to get people around the world. A person can be on the other side of the world within 36 hours. During this trip, they only change timezones, but fail to lose connectivity to information for long periods of time thanks to airport wi-fi if they choose to travel that way.

What makes this connectivity and collaboration shaky is not the rankings of cities, but first the inability to truly respect diversity of thought, person or style. We also have forgotten how to build communities so that the private and the public exist, but don’t overpower each other. We have ceded financial control over to too few entities and we let these entities stop us from expressing our true role as a citzen-driven democracy, at least in the United States. Too many people live in poverty worldwide. We are letting far too many people devolve into stupidity.

I am no longer driven by this urban hierarchy. Especially since so many rankings have poor margins of error and hardly any external validity. I am concerned more about what happens when too many nodes go dark. A whole dark region of nodes or even all the nodes but two (NY or DC) going dark is still a problem. Let’s think about what we all bring to the table as PLACES and PEOPLE.

After all when the lights go out, that’s all that’s left.