Northside Memories

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

A couple excellent student driven articles on Northside appeared this week.

Carrboro Commons’ Megan Gassaway published this article which reviews the history of the Northside community through long time resident Ms. Keith Edwards eyes.

Too often local media focuses narrowly on the business of carving up the community rather than providing a broader context – injecting the human dimension into the story – which better informs the wider community on why folks living in Northside mourn its passing.

Courtesy ReeseNews

Reese News,UNC School of Journalism & Mass Communication’s Digital Newsroom, leverages the power of the multimedia ‘net to give voice to 10 community members’ concerns in their story The struggle for a neighborhood.

It’s no secret that Northside isn’t the neighborhood it used to be.

The change is visible in the increased diversity of its residents and the ten-story high-end condominiums that tower across from the traditionally working class neighborhood, where massive duplexes are replacing single-family homes. Change is also evident in  the growing tension and frustration of residents in a neighborhood plagued by the effects of gentrification.

The pressure for development is taking its toll on the historically black neighborhood, and the town is struggling to balance the need to grow with the needs of neighborhoods like Northside.

Since 2010, the town has been working with the Raleigh-based consultant KlingStubbins to develop a Downtown Framework and Action Plan, which could revise and redevelop parts of downtown Chapel Hill and the surrounding areas.

The downtown proposal could have significant effects on Northside. In its current draft, the framework suggests building new road connections and parking decks in areas where homes currently stand. It also underscores certain areas of Northside as prime for redevelopment.

Well done folks!

Want a bit of additional perspective on the development pressures facing Northside?

IndyWeek reporter (and former Daily Tar Heel editor) Joe Schwartz put together another excellent overview last June (2010): Greenbridge: A new chapter in a tense history .

Greenbridge, as reported by the Chapel Hill News, faces its first foreclosure hearing next Tuesday. This Sunday they promise a further exploration of not only Greenbridge’s problems but other Downtown developments putting pressure on Northside, Cameron Ave. and Pine Knolls neighborhoods.

Change is going to happen. The question is how the whole of our community can benefit from that change. Articles like these help create a broader perspective, one that has been missing so far, in the discussions over development policy Downtown.

It is critical that the nearby neighborhoods play a vital role in determining their own fates. Until their voices are heard and their neighborhoods are treated like living, breathing communities rather than convenient parcels of land for future development, our development policy is as broken as Greenbridge’s financing.

Radical Shift in Vision For Downtown

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

Just got back from another presentation/planning charrette covering the Town’s new Downtown Development Action Plan and Framework.

The plan, created with input from UNC, the Downtown Partnership, Downtown businesses and local citizens, is supposed to look at economic, cultural and social development opportunities over the next 5 to 8 years and layout a fairly structured framework for encouraging change that meets both these goals and those encapsulated in the Town’s 2000 Downtown Small-Area Plan, Comprehensive Plan and other relevant guidelines created over the last decade.

Today was the first opportunity the public has had to review Kling-Stubbins’, a Raleigh planning consultancy, realization of that input into an initial proposal.

First reaction? Wow!

Back in April I attended both public input sessions to lobby for my vision of Downtown. I made a number of practical and visionary suggestions (as CitizenWill readers might expect) of how we could improve Downtown including using ongoing development initiatives like the University Square project to catalyze action. Today I saw quite a few of my and other folks suggestions captured and integrated into the proposed framework. Very encouraging.

The framework sketches out a series of evolutions that go far beyond a 5 to 8 year horizon: a new grid of east-west/north-south roads, linear parks stretching along Pritchard and Roberson creating several north-south axes through Town, creation of smaller human-scale city blocks to encourage greater pedestrian access, a multi-model transit station along a corridor running on the east margin of Parking Lot #5 (folks might remember my lobbying for such a corridor and its rejection by Council and RAM Development), an emphasis on work-force/mixed income housing OVER luxury condos, more parking especially along the margins to build up capacity, along with a slew of transformative elements to make Downtown physically and psychologically more productive.

On the planning side, Kling-Stubbins recognized that the overlapping jurisdictions between Downtown’s TC-2 zone and the Northside NCD (neighborhood conservation district) presented some serious challenges both for the neighborhoods and managing controlled growth along the Rosemary St. corridor (principally to the north). Addressing the incompatibility between the currently approved Downtown development projects and the maintenance of Northside, Cameron and Pine Knoll neighborhoods’ integrity is a key issue facing our Town. The framework presented this afternoon didn’t shy away from this issue but, instead, made solving the clash of competing objectives a priority.

In the “everything old is new again”, a few elements, like recreating the informal alley that ran through Fowler’s parking lot to connect Rosemary St. and Franklin St. to offload some traffic and add additional intersection corners (which attract and support high rent business), were rolled out. When I asked the consultants why they resurrected historical components of Downtown that I thought had worked, they admitted they were not aware of the history but had derived these proposed changes from first principles.

Another encouraging aspect of today’s presentation was how data-driven the process Kling-Stubbins used.

Analysis showed that, in spite of Council’s rhetoric in selling the ridiculous Lot #5 project, there are actually quite a few “eyes on the street”. Peak pedestrian traffic at Columbia and Franklin was over 10,000 folks. Consultants remarked that the high pedestrian counts throughout Downtown indicated quite healthy and enviable conditions especially in comparison to other benchmark college towns (Athens, Austin, State College).

Market evaluations show a need for Downtown work-force housing in lieu of more luxury condos. Again, contrary to recent Council policy.

For all my glee there are some sticking points – including incorporating wider public input, making Downtown neighborhoods partners and using TIFs (tax incremental financing, a problematic form of tax transfer payments) to pay for required infrastructure.

The Downtown Partnership will be posting the slide presentation, backing analysis and other materials used today on their website tomorrow (DownTownChapelHill.com).

I plan to whinge on more about the positives and negatives once those materials are available.

So, executive summary: framework is shaping up, has integrated public input, presents a revolutionary vision of Downtown the implementation of which will take decades.

A middle finger to Northside

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

I wasn’t able to attend the spoken-word event concerning the corrosive effects of Greenbridge on Northside last evening, but according to the Daily Tar Heel, it stirred some sharp discussion.

UNC junior Kane Smego, who performed slam poetry at the event, described the project as two towers, “one 10 stories, the other seven — like a middle finger to the Northside.”

The Greenbridge promotional video added some controversy:

The video features interviews with black Northside residents recounting family history intermixed with narration about the proposed Greenbridge site.

Many of those featured in the video now say their words were taken out of context and misconstrued to seem as they were in full support of the project.

“I didn’t realize what I said was going to be used in that manner,” said Dolores Bailey, a Northside resident who was featured in the promotional video. “So that bothers me a lot.”

Delores (not Dolores) did support Greenbridge’s zoning application though she also wanted to carve out a better deal for the neighborhood:

Delores Bailey, a Northside resident, pointed out that Greenbridge could help but would not solve all of the problems in that area of Chapel Hill and/or Northside. She said the notion that preserving downtown is more important than preserving a neighborhood makes her “shudder.” Ms. Bailey said there were people in the neighborhood who did not understand that Greenbridge would be 10 stories high. She proposed putting half of the affordable units in the neighborhood, adding that this would address more needs. Ms. Bailey said that developers had listened, and that even though she had problems with the project she supports it because it is an attempt to work with the neighborhood and an understanding that some people will be living in its shadow. She stressed the importance of Greenbridge being respectful of the neighborhood and not making it feel shut out.

As far as that shadow, I argued that the socio-economic shadow this throws across Rosemary was not adequately discussed or evaluated (the physical shadow is pretty large also).

Alum08 at the DTH said:

It’s truly unclear what NOW is hoping to accomplish. This organization’s sole achievement has been complaining about something it does not fully understand. Additionally, this is all final and in the past. Why, as bright Carolina students, are we focusing on this instead of the future?

The future Downtown, at least as it is constituted by our current leadership, is high – high cost, high density, high buildings. The consequences, especially the long-term cumulative consequences, have not been adequately evaluated by our community.

Here’s a comment I left at the DTH:

It’s a shame that this dialog didn’t happen when the project was going through the approval process. I was one of the very few folks that stood up to challenge the project. I took a lot of heat for pointing out that this project would accelerate the gentrification going on not only into Northside but spreading South to Cameron, West to Pine Knolls, etc.

There are other shoes to drop here: the commercialization of Rosemary to the North, the cumulative impact of the Town’s Lot $5 project/Short Brothers project/University Square redevelopment on the nearby neighborhoods, the gentrification of nearby local businesses (how long will unsubsidized local business last as their rents rise or landlords redevelop to attract boutique shops?) and other corrosive effects of the high-priced/high-density vision our Council maintains.

Delores, as well as did other local leaders from organizations like the Hank Anderson Breakfast club, supported the project wholeheartedly. It was quite difficult to contest the social justice issue in the face of their support.

There’s a lot to like about Greenbridge, even as it sheds some of its “green” cred. I argued it was in the wrong place and that it would exacerbate the community displacements seen in Northside, Cameron and Pine Knoll.

Again, while Greenbridge is a “done deal”, there is still an incredible need to explore these other issues. I’m glad some other folks are taking up the challenge.

Characterizing Delores’ acquiescence as wholehearted is maybe too strong a sentiment but as I recall, in the end, there wasn’t a lot of struggle to get the final approval.

If there’s one lesson to be learned from last night’s event it is that our Town needs to look at improving our community outreach effort, get creative and more expansive, in order to build a broad consensus.

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