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Please Excuse My Absence…I’ve Been On a Journey

I had no intention of leaving the blog idle for this long. Yet, occasionally, living the actual life of an urbanist gets in the way of being able to write about it.

Yet while away from my urbanist pen, I was able to experience two key events that I think have major significance in the creation of community on a micro and a macro level.

The first is that I finalized my move into Downtown Greensboro. The picture above is from my balcony window. Every day I witness all manner of trains and buses ferry people and things across the state and potentially across the country. Just beyond the train depot (which has been beautifully restored in the last few years), the skyline buildings of Greensboro and our main street slant out and appear to dance before my eyes.

Ok, this is where I stop and admit I have an unnatural love for good urban architecture. But so do a lot of you reading this page, so I’ll carry on.

On the other hand, there’s the instance of travel, the journeys we all undertake in life. At work it is a focus of a traveling Smithsonian exhibit we are sponsoring. I went down to rural eastern North Carolina to help promote the new exhibit last month. I had a great time getting to know my still new colleagues and seeing how it’s really going down in what we call “Down East”. I found a charming main street in one town and the appearance of suburban sprawl like development in the other. There was also a healthy dose of jingoism. The hotel where we stayed was built by the Murphy Family, a pork dynasty that wanted to have a hotel and state-of-the-art Irish bar to entertain people. There was also a master planned upscale retirement community nearby.

Now that I’m finally back home, settled and almost unpacked, I can really soak in what’s going to come next in my chapter as a black urbanist. I see five new elements of my urban experience.

  • Gentrification– I am a professional black person, living in an area that was targeted and won slum clearance just a few short years ago. Now although the neighborhood resembles the French Quarter and also appears to have similar dynamics of race (who lives there, what people do, etc.)
  • Gated communities– When I signed the lease, I forgot that our buildings have controlled access hallways. I appreciate the layer of safety, but I am still not in favor of gating communities down in lieu of dealing with why people feel the need to steal. Are we providing a good economy so that people can have their own stuff and let people have their own stuff?
  • Walking as a primary mode of transportation– I’ve looked forward to this the most. However, in reality, there are many days where I regret having elected to make the 15 minute walk in the 90 and sometimes 100+ degree heat. Yet, I know that once the weather gets cooler, walking is going to help me arrive at the office settled and help me shake off the office when I get home. Plus, my gas hand has sat at a half tank for over a week now. Walking will become less and less of an issue as time goes on. I’ve also noticed how little people actually walk around here too. I’ll be addressing that in a future post.
  • Biking– My dad worked some magic and my old bike is now fully functional. Looking forward to riding it to work and to going out on trails with family and friends. I’ll also be able to advocate even better for bike and pedestrian safety and I’m fully engaged in these modes of transportation.
  • Trains– At least 10 trains come right in front of my house daily. Some I love to see, such as the Amtrak trains. Others are just noisy and I’m thankful that they don’t wake me up. I often sit on my balcony and watch them go by, as well as the city buses coming into what is our multi-modal depot. They also serve as the foreground for the background of our city skyline you see above. I hope to take the train again one day soon to points north, south and east, since it’s now right in my front yard and will add to my urban experience.

Now, that’s settled. Let me get back to living and I look forward to a greater richness in my writings now that I’m finally in the environment I’ve written on and loved on so much.

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  • Jeff Butts

    Gentrification is one of the biggest concerns I have.  And for the bigger issue assimilation and integration.  The Dissimilarity Index is a useful tool, but doesn’t tell the whole picture.  I often find myself asking questions about maintaining cultures and whether enclaves are better.  Also, to be blunt, is it better to have a ghetto or a new development with higher land values and more public investment?  It’s very complicated and there aren’t any good answers. 

    • admin

      You are very right about there not being any good answers. My goal is to just be authentic. There are days when I eat sushi and days when I eat fried chicken. I make no qualms about eating one over the other outside of taste on a particular day. Also, if we were as prosperous as a country as we like to purport, gentrification would not be the problem it is today.

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