McDonnell has hung a big map of the city’s neighborhoods: East White Oak, Lindley Park, the Cardinal, more than 100 of them laid out in dotted lines, like a butcher’s diagram of a cow. He requested it from city staff when he was having trouble figuring out where one neighborhood ended and the next began.

“This should be on its own website,” he says. “People need to know their own neighborhood.”

Meanwhile, in his own corner of the city, they are tending their own gardens.

The Elsewhere backyard was completed on July 24 — a meandering path between terraced beds and rustic rock walls running behind the museum and parallel to Lewis Street. It’s a joint project between Elsewhere and Andy Zimmerman, who owns the adjacent buildings where Gibb’s Hundred Brewing and the Forge do business. The urban oasis came with a price tag of $20,000.

And then, down the alley to the street, McDonnell has parked another last-minute contribution to the South Elm Projects from artist Chat Travieso: an 8-by-14 trailer that’s already been sanded and weather-protected. By First Friday, it will be a parklet: a mobile public space that fits in on-street parking spaces, a bit of tactical urbanism designed to reclaim the city.

There aren’t supposed to be any parklets in Greensboro — efforts by Downtown Greensboro Inc. to establish them were thwarted by a tangle of bureaucracy and politics. But McDonnell, who secured a blanket permit from the city for the South Elm Projects, just went ahead and did it anyway.

“A lot of what I do is teach people not to be pussies,” he says. “[They say], ‘You can’t do that! That’s not how it’s done!’ And then you go and show them how it’s done. You start to realize that ‘No’ is a paper tiger.”


  1. This is more of what we need in this city. It really takes outside muscle (via a big blanket grant like this one) and people in the arts outside of the insulation of city government to begin asking bigger questions of development. I like the way this guy thinks, especially in terms of getting downtown bigger in a sustainable way (my idea? Big affordable housing developments, a few more bus lines to where jobs are, and an Aldi, for starters).

    We’ve seen Cool Fancy Urban Ideas *try* to take root in Greensboro to copy bigger cities and their models, much like a little sibling trying to copy its cooler, more successful older brother, but it usually ends up failing. Why? When the point of any new initiative is a Fancy Idea and not solving an Actual Issue that was researched and a solution had actual demand here in GSO from people of various backgrounds and social classes, those Ideas tend to flop. Not that I’m talking about the pointless ghost town that is co//ab or anything. Not that I’m talking about the plans in the works for a hip coworking space a la HQ Raleigh. (I’m not sure any of us know what businesses are actually asking for a coworking space to begin with. This is the problem.)

    I’d love to see more of this ethnographic, walking the streets type research coming from not only government, but also the large crop of brand-new (and sometimes redundant) nonprofit initiatives popping up left and right, and much less of the “if we build it, they will come” mentality with zero demand for such things. I hope Patrick sticks around for a few more years and really gets to know people in this quirky city. I’ll be cheering him on.

  2. I agree and disagree with jorutter’s comments. Downtown needs people like Patrick and forward progress needs to continue even against the typical push back of Greensboro. I agree attention must be directed to the current needs of the current community. However, some concepts like co-op spaces and other contemporary ideas (borrowed from our bigger metro areas) need to occur to bring new residents/businesses into our city as well as help keep young professionals. The city cannot stay in a box.

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