I hesitate to tell you this story.
We may not know each other very well, you and I, and so this requires a small leap of faith on my part.
That’s because, in a way, this is a story about an endangered species, one that very much belongs in the wild and not suffocating in a zoo, or taxidermied and shoved in the back corner of a museum. And while telling you about it may, as I hope, lead to a greater understanding of its importance and ultimately its preservation, it could also encourage you and yours to want to come claim a piece of it for yourself.
Do not consider this as such an invitation.
The community where I live is not a neighborhood by traditional standards; it doesn’t have a name or a neighborhood association, and it’s truly not big enough to be considered a neighborhood in its own right.
Mark Purvis, a 47-year-old who’s spent most his life in the area, calls it “Cedar Street Estates.” Six years ago, when I moved into the apartment next door to him, my roommate Lamar Gibson and I dubbed our second-story home “Cedar Estates,” oblivious to Purvis’ moniker. It felt like the right calling card for our 800-square-foot apartment on a hill, a modest and cheap two-bedroom unit that in most respects is wholly unremarkable but to us warranted a sort of elevated and dignified status.
Most people don’t call it anything. Our neighborhood along the western boundary of downtown Greensboro is more of a transitional area, not quite center city and yet at arm’s length from the Westerwood neighborhood, where the use of the term “estate” could be taken more literally. When giving directions to the house she owns across the street from Purvis, Liz Fitzpatrick often mentions the liquor store at the corner of Cedar and Friendly; if she just offers the street name, the other party will generally bring up the ABC store anyway. When people ask where I live, I usually say near the Grasshoppers stadium downtown.
In a 2005 strategic plan generated for the area, the city plainly refers to this as the Cedar Street/Bellemeade area. That’s the last time the powers that be took a serious look at our community. For the most part we go unnoticed, and that’s just the way we like it.
I moved into my apartment upstairs from Purvis’ parents in 2010, just a couple months after graduating from college.
When Gibson moved out a year later, the neighborhood had already settled beneath his skin, and he found a duplex across the street and a couple doors down from Cedar Estates. My friend Michael Daye, like Gibson a Greensboro native, quickly claimed his old room, and we lived together for three and a half years until Michael decided to challenge himself and picked up for Atlanta. I couldn’t imagine replacing him as a roommate, but when I looked at one-bedroom apartments in the city, I realized staying put would actually be cheaper.
After six years, I’m still here. And so is Gibson. But when my girlfriend Kacie and I decided to live together, it seemed that my Cedar Street era would come to a close. We needed more space, we figured, somewhere that felt like a new beginning. We seriously considered Winston-Salem, but later narrowed our search to a few satellite neighborhoods in downtown Greensboro.
But as our intended May 1 moving date drew closer, Kacie said she wasn’t ready to say goodbye to this apartment. And summer is the season for Cedar Estates, she said. It’s not time to leave, she said — not yet.
Now there are boxes of her books, winter clothes and kitchen supplies stacked up in my bedroom, our bedroom come Sunday. On the other side of the wall, I can hear painters finishing up a fresh second coat in the bathroom.
As I recommit to the Cedar Street area, and start a new chapter here, I can’t help but think about the changes I’ve witnessed in the last six years. I worry, and always have, about what this area will become. Someday, we’re told, the Downtown Greenway will run alongside the property I live on, claiming part of it for a wider sidewalk and blocking the Cedar outlet onto Smith Street, creating a cul-de-sac in our front yard. As breweries, a restaurant, grocery stores and, maybe most significantly, new apartments change the face of the lower Fisher Park area, or LoFi, I fear that the high percentage of renters in this area will be priced out. Fitzpatrick, who bought her home in 2003 as a college sophomore, is concerned, too, pointing to development in what’s being called Midtown on Battleground Avenue creeping towards the LoFi area. Will North Cedar Street be squeezed in the middle?
This is so much more than a typical story of affordable housing vs. gentrification, of winners and losers or “the greater good.” It’s about a pocket neighborhood that is akin to an endangered species, a refuge, and fertile ground for the most beautiful aspects of the city as a whole.
What is the Cedar Street area?
The November 2005 Cedar Street/Bellemeade area strategic plan defines the area as within the bounds of Friendly and Battleground avenues to the south and north and Eugene Street, and the train tracks running by Westerwood Tavern to the east and west. But to me it’s much smaller, defined by the tracks, Friendly Avenue, and Spring and Smith streets, a more heavily residential area. Spring and Smith are too busy thoroughfares for this little neighborhood to jump over, in my mind. Instead, 200, 300 and 400 blocks of North Cedar Street form the core of the neighborhood, with one-block spurs on Bellemeade Street at the center and another on Guilford Avenue. Other residents confirmed similar confines, often remarking that they’re unfamiliar with the 500 block of North Cedar, which is on the other side of Smith Street.