Sue Schwartz, the city of Greensboro’s planning director, loves the Cedar Street area.
“It’s the cool and funky part of downtown,” she said. “What a treasure it is.”
City planners talk about “the missing middle,” meaning the gap between traditional, single-family homes and denser apartment complexes, Schwartz said. In several ways, this area is that middle, a transitional area between downtown and Westerwood with four-plex apartment buildings, duplexes, single-family and other housing options. She helped collect feedback and design the neighborhood plan, and even though it was 11 years ago, she still remembers the area as a “charming” and “eclectic place,” adding that it has a “unique funk” and charm.
“Every city needs one of those, at least one of those,” she said. “It’s one of my favorite places and I’m actually kinda glad the recession helped it.”
Schwartz easily picked out several attributes that bolster the area’s character — the collection of architecture, large trees, a portion of younger residents, a good sidewalk system and closeness to downtown and the baseball stadium.
“Downtowns can run the risk of becoming an upper-income enclave,” Schwartz said, adding that people who are priced out of certain areas but prefer more interaction and style than apartment complexes offer will land in areas such as this.
Some of the changes are welcome. Mark Purvis can remember a junkyard in the community, and Deep Roots Market’s relocation to the north end of downtown thrilled Joya Wesley. Purvis had his concerns when the greenway cornerstone — a gazebo at the corner of Prescott and Smith streets — was under construction, but now that it’s finished, he’s happy with it.
“I never thought I’d see all this up here,” Purvis said, gesturing over his shoulder towards the Greenway at Fisher Park apartments and the complementing complex across Smith Street. “It’s growing, but it’s still taking its time.”
Schwartz said the city’s growth rate is around 2 percent, adding that “we’re moderately inching up” but that Greensboro is still growing at a third of the rate of Charlotte and the Triangle. That snail’s pace can be a good thing for areas such as Cedar Street, she said.
“I think the steadiness works in our favor too, because there’s not a panic,” Schwartz said, elaborating that people aren’t snatching up properties and jacking up prices.
If that ever does happen, or if Cedar Street changes considerably in price, the neighborhood won’t be the same, Fitzpatrick said.
“I think the affordability of this neighborhood is what makes it so eclectic and unique and diverse,” she said. Without that, it would be just like every other neighborhood around it, she said.
But that doesn’t mean developers won’t try and cash in on Cedar Street’s cachet, and Fitzgerald is worried that they are “just waiting to pounce.”
That’s why I was hesitant to tell you about my neighborhood. We’ve got a good thing going here, and I’m afraid you’ll ruin it.
There are downsides to the neighborhood — occasional crime, piles of unwanted belongings on the curb, empty airplane bottles along the sidewalk, frequent car wrecks at nearby intersections on Smith Street. Most people I talked to agreed that it’s a safe area, though a friend recently left her Cedar Street apartment after several years when her neighbor across the street, apparently struggling with mental health, admitted to sneaking onto her back porch and stealing her spare key.
The same day Fitzgerald closed on her house in 2003, she heard about a shooting at the brick apartments on the west side of the street almost across from her. Former neighborhood residents told me that people once found a body behind the former Cedar Street House, and called it the “Dead Body House.” As far as I can tell, there’s not much veracity to the story, and at the very least Aaron Lake Smith knows nothing about it. But if I see you walking down the street with some surveying equipment, I’ll probably tell you the story anyway.
But if I think I can trust you, I’ll share other stories about bounce castles, a nerd house that takes its annual party so seriously that it turned me away a couple years back because I didn’t have a wristband, a prank war taken too far and all manner of cookouts. My neighbors might share theirs too, about playing hooky under a nearby bridge decades ago, the time police caught a vandal for trespassing after he fell asleep on a rooftop, underground anarchist literature distros or a motorcycle ride gone wrong.
I agree with Fitzpatrick — it’s the affordability that makes all of this possible. She, and everyone else I talked to, agreed that one man more than anyone is responsible for the neighborhood staying intact — my landlord, Mahlon Honeycutt.
Purvis rents from him, and so does Gibson even after relocating down the block. Wesley did when she lived here, as did several other residents including whoever lives in the Zenke house that Honeycutt brought here just before the new jail went up downtown. Not only does he keep it affordable, but he’s responsive and affable. Without him, Kacie and I wouldn’t have decided to stay here. Indeed, many of us on the street likely wouldn’t have had a choice.
There’s been plenty of talk over the years of altering the face of Cedar Street and the surrounding area. Purvis and other longtime residents easily rattle off ideas that never came to fruition, and for his part, Purvis doesn’t know if the greenway cul-de-sac will arrive. Not that he’d mind, as long as people don’t tear up our shared gravel driveway by trying to use it as a cut-through, and his partner Dawn is dying to put up a basketball hoop in the dead end once its completed.
The fact that the street is chopped up into many smaller properties, and the fact that Honeycutt owns many of them on the core 400 block of North Cedar, may prevent large-scale development, some residents said. But there are still scattered vacant or under-utilized lots, particularly on the 200 block. Prause started talking about one that would be ideal across Prescott from the greenway cornerstone, and I quickly realized he was speculating about my extended backyard. As infill projects continue downtown, including Roy Carroll’s massive development and the hip LoFi area, it’s hard to imagine that those empty spaces will remain unnoticed.
But despite my fears, the more I talk to my neighbors the more I realize that we’re all maintaining a vigilant watch, keen on protecting this community that represents our desires for the city at large. Talking to them eased my mind, especially when I played back the tape from my interview with Wesley Morris, his things piled up in his living room before his move a few years ago. When I asked him about his hopes or fears for this neighborhood’s future, he offered a reflective and nuanced response that’s typical of his nature.
“I think Cedar Street has its own life,” Morris said, “that I wouldn’t want to put my own hopes or my own fears on.”