The Common Man’s Legacy in a City

My dad will probably never be a statue or have buildings named after him, but he still managed to leave a legacy in Greensboro.

My dad will probably never be a statue or have buildings named after him, but he still managed to leave a legacy in Greensboro.

What does it take to leave a legacy in a city? Is it having your name on a building that you either built or gave a lot of money to make?

Is it knowing your entire block or neighborhood?

Is it leaving behind children and grandchildren who continue on with the family cause or business?

These are questions I’ve been thinking about lately. I’m not going to go into any more details about what brought me to these questions, because there’s a lot I cannot say about why and what happened. However, the root of it all starts here, as I detailed in my About section and in my 2010 Grist article “Does urbanism have to be black or white?”

It all started with a map on the floor. My dad and I would spend Saturday afternoons “driving” around with my toy NASCARs from my friendly neighborhood Hardees. As I got older, I became enamored of the small skyline of my hometown of Greensboro, N.C. So enamored that one day, while I was sick with the chicken pox, my dad went out and bought me a postcard with the skyline on it. It hangs in my room to this day.

When they widened the main road next to our house, I cried. I also was opposed to a hotel project near my current residence that threatened to upstage the downtown area. Mind you, I was only eight. I was an urbanist in the making, although I would have had no way of knowing there was a name for it.

Dad and I biked through our neighborhood on Saturday afternoons. Those bike rides took us through housing projects and 1940s era single-family homes until we made it to the main suburban artery. I loved my bike until I moved to a neighborhood where I was teased for just walking around. It’s taken me about 15 years to consider getting back on a bike. My dad still bikes; he’s always had a string of intermittently non-working cars, so he doesn’t think twice about it.

My dad doesn’t have any buildings named after him. I’ll probably have to sell his house. He struggled to walk down streets with no sidewalks. Then there was the bike. When he got tired of fighting our stroads with both of those, he put money into a car he could barely afford. Yet, he fixed up homes that weren’t built well in the first place. He mowed yards that others couldn’t maintain. He always had a song in his heart and brought music to any space. Finally, he made sure that I knew that people, all people, mattered. All these things are his legacy.

How can you leave a legacy in your city? DO YOU and do what your community needs. My dad did. It does not take money, a building with your name on it, or a stone edifice of your body to be someone who is never forgotten or to create an example.

In fact, if you create an example, that legacy lives on and it lives in the present.

  • Matt

    Kristen, first of all, so sorry for your loss. He sounded like a fantastic man, and a great pillar of the community. And, yes: he undoubtedly left a legacy that others should try to emulate.

    • kristenej

      Thanks Matt!