Between the Trayvon Martin verdict and the recent youth fights resulting in our downtown curfew for the remainder of the summer, I’ve been thinking a lot about what we can do to make sure downtown is solidly diverse, without sacrificing safety.
I’ve had to think long and hard about what my response would be. I could rail and say that this city is forever racist, that the kids will never amount to anything, that there will never be any chain stores or any other negativity that has been thrown at downtown and even our city lately. However, it is just like I told Sarah Goodyear of Atlantic Cities in this article:
Kristen Jeffers, a Greensboro native who lives downtown, founded the blog The Black Urbanist. She says that anxiety about young black people who flock to the entertainment district masks deeper issues facing the city’s development.
While there’s been a lot of investment in high-end rental housing, and the city is talking about putting in a performing arts center, Jeffers says the area still lacks basic services like pharmacies and a full-scale supermarket.
“For a neighborhood to be a true neighborhood, and not just a vertical suburb, you need those services,” she says.
What the also downtown needs, she says, are amenities that attract more people of a variety of ages, like playgrounds for families and a first-run movie theater. And young people should be supported with more structured programming, rather than marginalized. “Our city needs to bring back a full-on youth program,” says Jeffers, the type of effort that includes job training as well as recreational opportunities.
What my solution look like?
What you see in the left oval is an area that consists of a YMCA to the top right of the oval, a magnet performing arts high school flanking the left side of the oval and school administration building between the two surface lots. The right oval shows how close this area is to Elm Street, the new hotspot for everyone that’s become ground zero for the fights, and also new upscale stores and development. My office is also in that oval and my apartment is just southeast of it’s boundary, along with our central bus depot and Amtrak train station.
We are talking about roughly a square (rectangular) mile here. This area is also owned and managed by either the county school system or the Y. The Y already has programs for youth, even though they are fee-based. The school system has a mandate to educate the teenagers that go through their building. Adults already know this area as a place that is family-friendly. Teens know this area has places they can go and not be pushed out.
The only caveat is that this area is adjacent to the county jail. However, this also means law enforcement is quite close by and can deal with people who fight. Otherwise, one of the surface lots along with the brick school administration building can be upfitted into a family entertainment center, with lazer tag, bowling, a skate park and playground, go-karts, and a movie theater. The administrative functions could move to another building that the school system owns just north of the school building. The center could be closed during school hours except during the summer. A deck could be built next to the Y building to accommodate the increased traffic to both the Y and this entertainment center. It could also accommodate jail parking, which has been a need since it opened last year. The playground area would be a public, free facility, or the Y could open their existing playground area to the public. A private company could operate the entertainment center, and employ students of either the high school or nearby colleges. Students could even build the center, as this high school at one time housed one of the construction trades programs in the county.
In addition to beefing up the existing Greensboro Youth Council, these initiatives would go a long way in serving the growing and in many ways already existing youth population who want a place to go downtown, along with the adults.
This also does not excuse the current curfew, nor let other areas off the hook for being accepting of students and youth. As long as youth don’t fight each other, they have every right to play sports on the lawns and sit on the benches of Center City Park like everyone else. Yet, once that park closes, they could go to the Y or the entertainment center and spend the remainder of their evening in a place that is ready and willing to accept them.