Everyone from Greensboro faces the ultimate Clash quandary: “Should I stay or should I go?”
Well, everyone from everywhere faces that quandary. But if the adage heard around College Hill, “When friends move away, you’ve got a place to stay,” says anything, it’s that Greensboro has a real problem with people choosing the latter.
Other cities in North Carolina make headlines and rank amongst the most desirable places to live in the country. They focus on nightlife. They support their subculture. And it’s working out well. Asheville has become the craft-brewery capital of the East Coast. Raleigh hosts the Hopscotch Music Festival, which has gotten major attention nationwide. And Durham… well, everyone just seems to love Durham these days.
Greensboro’s highest rankings, by contrast, revolve around food insecurity and a lack of upward mobility. A disgraceful share of us goes hungry; statistically speaking, Detroit offers more opportunity.
Our lack of mobility is one plank of our biggest problem: Our leaders and major players harbor a staunch resistance to anything beyond status quo. The chasm between those with vision and those with resources could not be more vast.
Leaders spend tens of millions of dollars on consultants while refuting the voice of Greensborians who practically shout the demands of our city. Their voices are squelched, much like the way our buildings are being razed. Architecture reflects culture. Greensboro exudes a “culture of no” pretty hard these days, exemplified in demolition being all the rage, particularly downtown.
The potential held by old buildings is being irreparably squandered. When I was a tot, and downtown was a deadzone, I’d gaze into empty windows and meander down alleys, dreaming of what my city could grow into as I grew up. And we grew alright. But now that we’re here, now that we’ve finally arrived, it’s being ruined.
This year alone, I’ve watched Glenwood erode to the clutches of campus encroachment; and the old JC Price School and Greensboro Inn turn into fields of weeds. The Pet building is gone; and Festival Park, the last public space downtown, will soon go under for the GPAC.
The historic Bellemeade block between Greene and Eugene streets is getting leveled so Roy Carroll can build a Hyatt. They took down the Dixie just this week.
Preservation Greensboro, an organization dedicated to architectural preservation, turned a hypocritical blind eye as their own building succumbs to the problem they exist to solve.
All of this construction or “development” is stale, overly sterile. The sterility isn’t just in our buildings, it’s in our businesses. It pervades our scene, and inhibits any personality we might develop as a city, making it hard to shy from a cycle of cynicism, and thereby hard to want to stick around.
It doesn’t take much to see why cities like Durham are moving forward. Nor does it take a tour like the one on which our council recently embarked, yet still fail to articulate solutions beyond shovel-ready development.
Looking at how Bull City regards its buildings and people, it becomes clear their success is rooted in the practice of investors partnering with innovators, in a city that doesn’t try to stop them.
Greensboro hemorrhages innovators every semester. Our pool of investors is largely comprised of an elite circle of disinterested development firms and their partners on council.
The War Memorial Stadium is a striking example. Greensboro’s gift to the doughboys who gave their lives in World War I sits in a sorry state of decay, as does the $3.5 million bond dedicated to renovation. Across the street, the farmer’s market — which gets packed like sardines every Saturday — bustles in its shadow.
When faced with a similar stadium situation in 1998, Durham didn’t abandon their ballpark. They allocated $5 million to its renovation and created an open-air farmers market in the parking lot.
At least there’s a concert coming up at the War Memorial, organized by what makes us awesome: our underground community comprised of pockets of people working to make here a place worth being. Greensboro is home to an amazing array of artists and weirdos, barflies and bands.
As stuck in the mud as we may be, this city will always be a sight for sore eyes. Even if cool buildings crumble and council never listens, we still have each other. “We’ll always have the Leeves,” says a song by my favorite Greensboro band. And that’s worth sticking around for.
The lesson, if there is one, is to feast your eyes and hug folks while you can. And remember, “There’s nothing cooler than your friends or your scene or your city.”
Stay fresh, Greensboro.