Thoughts on Bringing Our Youth Back Downtown

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?

Western Part of Downtown Greensboro

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.

  • MC GAL

    Not a bad solution, Kristin. I would also like to see more organizing efforts among the parents of the teens who venture downtown. I assume some are single parents with younger children at home so going out and getting junior back home safely isn’t an easy solution. However, giving these parents support to come up with some solutions of their own may help. The teens are not adults yet, even if they believe they are. They still need parental guidance. Any community that lets parents simply throw up their hands and say they can’t keep their kid in line, is a community that hasn’t worked hard enough to engage these parents. Let the parents lead the project to get a teen center going. Let them talk to city leaders, police and others about what might suit their teens’ wishes the best. If we bring them in on the discussion early, maybe I won’t have to hear them lament they don’t know why their children are so out of control as they so often say in juvenile delinquency court. We cannot ignore the work that goes into parenting. We cannot expect the “Village” to stand in for us. As parents we have to be a vital, energized part of the village mentality to work.

    • kristenej

      I know there are efforts to get parents involved through some of our churches and community centers. Also,GCS could also step up, as most of this land is theirs and they are responsible for these kids for a few hours in the day. Weaver and a few other high schools could also go year-round. Also, too many of these parents are my age or close to it and they were involved in similar activities as youth. Some of these ladies and gentlemen could benefit from mentorship as young parents too. As much as we need to let the police do their job, we need to also look out and mentor young parents and the actual children of GSO.

  • katherine

    Have you looked at any of the NEA ArtPlace projects? some of them could be good models for your idea.

  • Billy Jones

    But Kristin, we old white folk don’t want more black kids Downtown. Besides, your ideas make sense. Who ever heard of ideas that make sense taking root in Greensboro?

    • kristenej

      Well, I hope the community meeting with the youth, this idea or something productive can come from the attention that Atlantic Cities and hopefully others are paying to this issue.

      • Billy Jones

        I hope so too.

  • Tiffanie Tatum

    Kristen, I like this article. When my younger brother was attending Ragsdale, over six years ago, he sometimes had an issue of finding some where to hang out on the weekends. I think it is important for the City of Greensboro to develop activities teens can do on the weekend. I recently read a News and Record’s article about the city developing solutions, like keeping some of the rec centers open late during the weekends for teens to hang out., to keep teens safe and give them a place to have fun. City of Greensboro has always lacked places for teens to hang out and I am glad to see people in the community are trying to find away to keep our teen safe and happy to be apart of the Greensboro’s community. Also, Kristen, keep up the good work in writing about what is going in the Greensboro’s community. I love reading your articles.

    • kristenej

      Thanks for the encouraging words! So much of this stems from our struggles of having places to go and things to do and then being looked at as trouble. I couldn’t hold back on this issue, I had to make it known that what’s going on is wrong.