Closure of Davie Street/Summit Avenue
The new LeBauer Park — covered previously in these pages by my colleagues, Brian Clarey and Eric Ginsburg — is magnificent in its own right. What I’m noticing, in addition to how instantaneously enthusiastic cohorts of all age groups have taken to the foosball tables and cornhole boards, is how the park points to future developments in the activation of the urban landscape. Specifically, the area at the east end of the park where the concession buildings and stage are located fronts to the origin of Summit Avenue, opening towards the future Tanger Performing Arts Center. The city of Greensboro’s decision to keep Davie Street and Summit Avenue closed to vehicular traffic might be more of a practical consideration of safety, but on a recent run I noticed a salutary effect of pedestrians feeling safe to cross from LeBauer to Center City Park in a relaxed and unhurried manner. In the short time it took me to run up Davie Street, past LeBauer Park and then cut across on Summit Avenue to get to Elm Street, I noticed two families using the closed streets to push baby strollers. This might be an unintentional tactical urbanism intervention, but the temporary closure of these streets sets an early pattern of pedestrian primacy and conditions drivers to choose alternate routes well before the performing arts center opens. To anyone in the Greensboro Transportation Department: If you did this intentionally, my hat is off to you.
Refinery Vaping Co.
On the same run, I happily observed some life on the rest of Davie Street, which south of Friendly Avenue tends to be defined by parking lots that serve the primary corridor of South Elm Street. From a utilitarian perspective it’s friendly to pedestrians with wide sidewalks and ample space, but aesthetically, not so much. Incredibly, 104 S. Davie St., a one-story brick commercial storefront, is the only building that fronts the west side of the street. The building casts a generous length of shade over the wide sidewalk in the evening, and the sight of two people seated at a café table deep in conversation and enjoying their vapes presented a jarring contrast to the otherwise barren view. That’s almost the very definition of a tactical urbanism intervention: Throw some chairs and a small table onto a sidewalk in a setting where such comforts were never intended.
Similarly, I applaud Jake’s Billiards, the bar on Spring Garden Street that is renowned for its extensive craft beer selection and fair employment practices. In late 2013, the management closed off the parking lot in front of their establishment and replaced it with a large, partially covered deck. Spring Garden Street is a lovable hodgepodge of traditional storefronts and suburban-style buildings with parking in front. By eliminating the front parking lot, Jake’s urbanized its property and reoriented it to the street, creating a vital interface for pedestrians. The ample parking lot in the back is nearly always full, but they compensate by making their establishment more appealing to students and others who live and work around UNCG, who can walk or bike to meet friends for a late-afternoon drink. The deck has a democratic feel, with service-industry humps, professors and students, and members of the creative underclass jostling elbow to elbow at the long tables.