Thursday, August 30, 2007

Heading North

Family and friends, if you'd like to read occasional dispatches from Cambridge you may visit my personal blog, Heading North, at I'll try to update it every few days or at least weekly.

But if you're seeking punditry, or opinions on topics in the news, you should look elsewhere until my return next July.

Have a great year in The Naked City!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

What's your own 'Walk Score'?

Some of you already know this, but at the end of this week I'll have to close down The Naked City for a year, while I take part in a fellowship program for midcareer journalists at Harvard, called a Nieman Fellowship.

It's a wonderful opportunity for me and my family: I can take any courses I want to at Harvard. But I'm not allowed to do any professional work. (Throw me into that briar patch!) That means no Naked City. Sorry, folks. Maybe you can convince Ed Williams to start a blog or something. (And for you conspiracy theorists, I applied for the fellowship last winter, long before I had ever heard of Lizardking or Edd Hauser ... )

My last posting will be tomorrow or Friday. Until then, here's a cool link my buddy Joe Sovacool showed me. This site rates the "Walk Score" of your neighborhood.

Example: "90-100 = Walkers' Paradise: Most errands can be accomplished on foot and many people get by without owning a car." Or, "0-25 = Driving Only: Virtually no neighborhood destinations within walking range. You can walk from your house to your car!" My neighborhood rated a 35.

Warning: The site is slow, and earlier today it was having a spasm. Seems to work better on Firefox than IE. It isn't up-to-date. Told me I was only half a mile from Providence Hardware -- which closed in 2003. And I don't think it measures threatening dogs or places where poison ivy is growing too close to the sidewalk. Still, it's fun. Check out your own area's walk score.

The site's principles are based in part on those of Dan Burden, a consultant who's been to Charlotte several times to try to infuse the city DOT with info on pedestrian and bicycling needs.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Which 'burbs boomed?

If you want to keep arguing about transit, please do so, on the comment string from my previous post. This is about other topics.

Booming 'burbs: What's the country's fastest-growing suburb? Not Marvin. Not Fort Mill. See this Forbes magazine story for the answer, and for a list ranking suburbs by growth rate. (Want to skip Forbes' annoying full-screen ad before reading the article? Click on "Skip this welcome screen" in upper right corner.) The chart, ranking growth from 2000 to 2006, tallies Holly Springs at No. 18, and Wake Forest at No. 20. Both are in Wake County. You might say Holly Springs is a suburb of Fuquay-Varina ... Huntersville is No. 46, and Cornelius No. 51.

Back off, bulldozers: Salisbury, which takes more pride in its historic buildings than, say, Charlotte, on Tuesday will consider (but not vote on) an ordinance to require the City Council to issue a permit for any downtown demolition. Here's the Salisbury Post's article.

Hummer Houses in Hotlanta: Here's a link to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's article last month about a proposal to limit the size of large houses on small lots. (A Nexis search didn't find any follow-up articles.)

On the verge of importance? UNC Charlotte's Ken Lambla, dean of the College of Architecture, offers a thoughtful look at the role of art and architecture in this month's Charlotte Viewpoint. He starts, "We all know that Charlotte is on the verge of something big; the question that follows is whether we are on the verge of something important? After 24 years of teaching at UNC Charlotte and being involved in architectural and urban practices, I am convinced that we are just about ready to make a shift in substance."

Anti-sprawl in Greensboro: Read about an "un-sprawl" development in Greensboro, from, "A Journal of the Built & Natural Environments." Here's a link. It's about Southside, one of that city's first significant mixed-use infill projects, and winner of an American Planning Association award in 2003 for Outstanding Planning: Implementation. The photo shows Southside infill housing (in yellow) and renovated housing.

Driving drives down volunteering: Long commutes have a negative effect on community volunteering, a new study finds. The study says four factors influence the rate at which a community's residents volunteer: (1) residents’ attachment to the community, (2) commuting times, (3) socioeconomic characteristics such as education levels, and (4) the capacity of a community’s nonprofit groups. The study found that volunteer rates in central cities are lower (24%) than in suburbs and rural areas, which rates (29%). Here's a link to the study. Charlotte ranked No. 9 nationally for volunteering, below Milwaukee and above Tulsa. Minneapolis-St. Paul ranked No. 1.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Naked City's back on track

At long last, I'm freed up from other duties to get back to Naked City topics. I've spent this past week researching topics such as impact fees and land transfer taxes. More on that in later posts.

First, to take the wind out of some conspiracy theorists' sails: I opted to start Potterblog about two weeks before the books came out because I thought it would offer fun online reading that no one else at was going to do. I didn't plan it months in advance. I didn't do it to escape writing about that transit study. I did it because I thought it would be interesting (believe it or not, I have many interests) and give readers something they'd enjoy.

Second, although I do appreciate the devoted (if sometimes mean-spirited) commenters and readers of The Naked City, honesty compels me to reveal that Potterblog was far more popular, measured in page views. (Blog readership -- high or low -- doesn't affect my pay, by the way. And no, I don't measure the value of what I do by page views, otherwise I'd be opining about Brad Pitt and the NFL.)

But back to Naked City-land:

Yes, I goofed in making such a big deal of the UNCC transit study . Edd Hauser wasn't forthright in explaining its origins to me, and I took him at his word when I shouldn't have. However, a few mistakes in one apparently sloppily done rush-job research report do nothing to undermine the importance of having a good transit system here. It's just one study, for crying out loud.

Further, nothing in the somewhat obsessive reporting that's been devoted to the UNCC study indicates Hauser or anyone else cooked the results. Steve Harrison's analysis confirmed many of the study's findings. Of the mistakes, some made CATS look worse than it should have, others made CATS look better. To me that shows hasty and sloppy work, not intentional skewing.

The bottom line remains: Much statistical information you'll read about transit comes from people either stoutly for it or stoutly against it. They mine data charts for tidbits that support their views and ignore tidbits that don't support their views. I don't believe the UNCC study did that. Compared with much of what I see, especially from the anti-transit crowd, it was far more even-handed. (It's not sheer coincidence that the anti-light-rail John Locke and Reason Foundations hire anti-light-rail UNCC prof David Hartgen or other rail transit critics to do their transportation studies.)

Overall, finding dispassionate analysis is tough. Academic studies, as opposed to advocacy group studies, tend to be more even-handed. But academics often have views that affect what they study and how they approach it. That's true for many subjects, not just transportation.

Even people who aim for even-handed analysis face difficulties comparing one city's transportation experience with another's, because each city is unique. They differ in topography, financing, growth rates, growth patterns, land use rules and local culture.

Should Charlotte be compared with Atlanta, which until recent years didn't require transit-supportive development around MARTA stops? (Miami was the same.) Or with slow-growing Pittsburgh? Or Portland, which decided to support its transit system by capping the number of parking places downtown? Any comparison is, in its own, way, apples to oranges.

At bottom, the issue facing Mecklenburg County is whether the city needs a mass transit system funded with a half-cent sales tax, or not. Some people think it's a waste of money. I -- and many other people -- think it's fiscally irresponsible NOT to build one.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Assessing 'Deathly Hallows'

This will be the last Potterblog post. I'm taking time off the rest of this week and next week The Naked City will return in this spot.

Yes, I finished the book. It was 4 a.m. Sunday. Our daughter finished it at 6 a.m. Saturday, after getting a midnight copy at a Potter party at Borders near SouthPark. It was a memorable event: Little kids, teens, young adults and gray-haired folks all gathered in one spot for one reason. Some of the costumes were quite creative. One young guy had rigged up a centaur costume.

It was a good cross-section of society, in many ways. You had obvious nerds (having been one in high school, I can say that), obvious "popular" teenagers, and lots of regular folks in between of all ages and shapes. My husband came, too, although he hasn't read any of the books, doesn't like fantasy fiction and hates costume parties. He lasted until about 11 p.m. and said later said it had reminded him of being in a remote, inland country somewhere in South America where you didn't understand the language, the people or the culture.

We stood in line next to Voldemort. And then we got the book and as we waited for a ride home, a friend who had been with us in line called from the nearby Teeter to report that the books were on sale there, too, with no line at all.

But the book? OK, spoilers to follow. If you haven't finished it, stop now.

How would I review the book? As a work of literature, I'd give it maybe 7 on a 10-point scale, with popular but not very well written stuff like "Da Vinci Code" down at about 3. It kept me attentive -- of course -- but the long exposatory passages, where Harry reads Snape's memories and where he has his disembodied lecture from Dumbledore, made me question why Rowling wasn't able to clear all those things up without having to resort to the "egghead explains" technique.

As I noted early in the Potterblog, I was afraid we'd endure one of those cheesy scenes where the dead come back in ghostly, translucent forms to communicate with the living, and I was right to be worried about that.

The very last chapter -- the one that Rowling has said she wrote at the very start of writing the series -- sounded, in tone, much more like Books 1 and 2 than Books 5 and 6. It was, dare I say it, a shade too cute? All those cutesy little kids saying cutesy things. And I knew right off that someone was going to be named Severus. But to name Draco's kid Scorpio was a great touch!

On the other hand, was I right, or what, about Snape and Lily? Ditto Lupin's death, sad to say?

Is it accurate to note that all of Harry's "protectors" ended up dead? His parents, his godfather, his mentor Dumbledore, the respected Auror Mad-Eye Moody (he was Tonks' mentor, so maybe that's why she had to die, too), even Dobby the annoying house elf who kept showing up to help him out of tight spots. Even the majestic owl, Hedwig. So I spent much of the book thinking both Ron AND Hermione would be snuffed. I'm very glad I was wrong.

The doe in the woods was a wonderful touch -- and the revelation about whose Patronus it was and why. I liked the introduction of the goblins -- they were a cultural group (a race? a species?) that we hadn't learned much about. I liked it that we FINALLY learned more about Ravenclaw, and saw the Ravenclaw ghost. I LOVED Molly Weasley's great scene with Bellatrix.

Aberforth was a nicely drawn character. I wish we could have seen more of him earlier in the series, just because he was good company. Ditto Ted Tonks.

Agree? Disagree? Put in your own thoughts below.

Final note: If you want to read more thoughts about Book 7: and And try I couldn't get the page to load, but you may have more luck.

Friday, July 20, 2007

More clues from JKR, plus advice to the lovelorn

You would all like me to tell you exactly what happens in books six and seven and then to erase your memories so that you can read them. -- J.K. Rowling, 2004 interview

What follows are excerpts from an August 2004 interview in Edinburgh, after publication of "Order of the Phoenix" but before "Half-Blood Prince." Upon rereading it this morning, I've pulled out some hints/clues/advice/fun stuff.

First, though, if you're interested in a long but well-thought-through essay on the Snape question, try "Severus Severed."

Now, back to those interview excerpts. To read the full interview, here's the link. The full transcript has some good tidbits, such as Rowling all but confirming that, yes, Aberforth Dumbledore is the barman at the Hog's Head Tavern, and explaining the origin of the avada kedavra curse (it's Aramaic.)

J.K.Rowling said:

[One question] I am surprised no one has asked me since "Phoenix" came out – I thought that people would – is why Dumbledore did not kill or try to kill Voldemort in the scene in the ministry. I know that I am giving a lot away to people who have not read the book. Although Dumbledore gives a kind of reason to Voldemort, it is not the real reason.

When I mentioned that question to my husband – I told Neil that I was going to mention it to you – he said that it was because Voldemort knows that there are two more books to come. As you can see, we are on the same literary wavelength. [Laughter]. That is not the answer; Dumbledore knows something slightly more profound than that. If you want to wonder about anything, I would advise you to concentrate on [that question]. That might take you a little bit further.

How did Dumbledore get his scar in [of?] the London Underground?
You may find out one day. I am very fond of that scar.

Also, will we see more of Snape?
You always see a lot of Snape, because he is a gift of a character. I hesitate to say that I love him. [Audience member: I do]. You do? This is a very worrying thing. Are you thinking about Alan Rickman or about Snape? [Laughter]. Isn’t this life, though? I make this hero – Harry, obviously – and there he is on the screen, the perfect Harry, because Dan is very much as I imagine Harry, but who does every girl under the age of 15 fall in love with? Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy. Girls, stop going for the bad guy. Go for a nice man in the first place. It took me 35 years to learn that, but I am giving you that nugget free, right now, at the beginning of your love lives.

... [later, answering another question] Why do people love Snape? I do not understand this. Again, it’s bad boy syndrome, isn’t it? It’s very depressing. [Laughter]. One of my best friends watched the film and she said, “You know who’s really attractive?” I said, “Who?” She said, “Lucius Malfoy!”

Is there more to Dudley than meets the eye?
No. [Laughter]. What you see is what you get. I am happy to say that he is definitely a character without much back story. He is just Dudley. The next book, Half Blood Prince, is the least that you see of the Dursleys. You see them quite briefly. You see them a bit more in the final book ... I am sorry if there are Dudley fans out there, but I think you need to look at your priorities if it is Dudley that you are looking forward to. [Laughter].

Will there be a book about Harry’s Mum and Dad, about how they became friends and how they died?

So it would be “Harry Potter: Episode One”. [Laughter]. No, but a lot of people have asked that. It is all George Lucas’s fault. You won’t need a prequel; by the time I am finished, you will know enough. ... I think that by the time you have had the seven books you will know everything you need to know for the story.

[answering another question] People ask questions like, “Will there be an eighth novel and will Harry be in it?” There are questions that I simply can’t answer. Fans are very good at that, and I have to be very awake. I think that you want to know, but you don’t want to know as well.
You would all like me to tell you exactly what happens in books six and seven and then to erase your memories so that you can read them. I know, because that is how I feel about things that I really enjoy. I would kind of like to do it, but at the same time I know that I would ruin it for everyone.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Should you read the reviews?

Want to know J.K. Rowling's own hints? Hear opinions on who's the worst villain of them all? Find out about other Harry Potter theories? See previous posts, below this one.

As you've probably read or heard, the New York Times has a review of Book 7 in its Thursday editions. The Baltimore Sun had one Wednesday. They say they acquired the books ethically. I don't know any more details, because I'm not going to read the reviews. Should you?

I asked some newsroom volunteers who didn't care whether they learned the ending to read the two reviews and give advice. Here's what I asked them:

Do the reviews reveal any key plot points: Does Harry die? Who else dies? Is Snape hero or villain? Who marries whom? Do they give any other hint? I.e. "happy ending" or "darkly powerful" etc etc.

Be aware I was even horrified when my eyes glanced over the 1A tease on today's NY Times front page, which said something about comparing its ending with the tradition of the heroic saga genre. My stomach lurched in horror. To me, even that was going TOO FAR in revealing the end. I mean, doesn't the heroic saga genre usually end with the hero alive? But then again, I had crappy high school English classes once I moved to Florida and never had to read Beowulf or Gilgamesh. And I can't remember how the Iliad ended, either, other than it being really boring to a teenager ...

Here's advice from Elaine Jacobs, the newsroom's administration manager: "For anyone who really doesn't want any clues about the book, DO NOT read these reviews. There are clues about the storyline and good and bad events that happen, just not the ending." She adds: "I hesitated before reading and skimmed NYT quickly before deciding I could live w/knowing the storyline. Baltimore clearly states at the beginning it's not going to tell the ending, but reveals something at the end of the review that would spoil it for some."

This is from Kerry Bean, editor of the Observer's Neighbors of Southern Mecklenburg section, who replied to my query for volunteers:

"I am guilty of wanting to know the ending before I read a book because I don't like to get too attached to characters who aren't going to make it. (I already read the final pages of the book that were posted online and can't wait to find out if they were accurate. ... I just reread Book 6 last week in preparation. And because I don't know anyone else who wants to know, I told my husband all the details of the ending I read online (he only read two of the books)."

Kerry read both reviews. Her verdict: "Don't read either of them. They give away too many clues (and it appears as if the pages I read online were the real thing). The NYT one is better than the Baltimore one, but it needs a few lines edited out to be OK for fans who don't want to know anything."

She adds, "If you hear from anyone else who wants to know the ending, let them know I am so eager to talk about it."

Here are the fateful links. Read them at your own risk:

New York Times review
Baltimore Sun review

Here's an online article about the two papers' breaking the embargo, and what other papers say they'll do, from Editor & Publisher. Warning: At the end it quotes from both of the reviews. If you don't want to read even a snippet of the review, either don't read this link or stop reading before the end.

Here's a tirade from Rachel Sklar of the Huffington Post, who's mad at The Times for its review.

And finally, here's an online discussion about Harry Potter, reading, and publishing from earlier today with Bob Thompson of the Washington Post. About two-thirds of the way down you'll get Thompson's opinion of the newspaper that ran reviews today.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Is it a spoiler or is it news?

Here’s how it ends:

Luke and Leia are twins!

The bad guy is his father! And the cute little kid grows up to be ...

Rosebud is his sled! (AND a Horcrux.)

Uncle Vernon wakes up in bed with Suzanne Pleshette and says, “Honey, you won’t believe the dream I just had ....”

But seriously. I’m not going to post anything to give away the ending of Book 7. For one thing, I don’t know what happens, and I’m not going looking. As you probably know, some people have posted online supposed pages that have been photographed – which may or may not be authentic. Here’s a link to an article about that.

It will spoil the fun for me if I know in advance. (But as many of you have noticed, I figure anything that happened in Book 6 or previous books is fair game. After all, it’s been two years since HBP.)

Two of the biggest Potter fan sites, and The Leaky Cauldron swear they’re not going to post any spoilers and will try to make life miserable for anyone who does.

But is it news?

Believe it or not, newspaper journalists take ethical issues seriously. So here’s an ethical question:

If J.K. Rowling has killed off Harry Potter in “Deathly Hallows,” is that news? And if so, should newspapers report it on Saturday, July 21? Or should they withhold the information from their readers (who are surely hearing it on TV and radio) because it will spoil the book for the huge majority of interested people who won’t have had time to read 784 pages between midnight and when the newspaper arrives?

It’s even been a topic of discussion at the Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank in St. Petersburg, Fla. Here’s a link to audio of an interview between Poynter’s Al Tompkins, who specializes in online and broadcast issues, and the institute’s Bob Steele, who teaches ethics issues.

Now, what newspapers decide to do and what Fox News or WBT radio or CNN decide to do often are entirely different. You think of it as “the media,” but we who work in it know that we make all kinds of decisions, and other news outlets make other decisions.

What should the Observer and do, if the news gets out about how the story ends?
Jeri Fisher Krentz, the Observer’s book editor, told me Tuesday that in the book review the Observer will publish Saturday, she’ll edit out anything giving away the plot.

But what about a day later? Two days later? How long before the newspaper should reveal details?

Monday, July 16, 2007

The power of love

What clues has J.K. Rowling herself dropped? Is Harry a Horcrux? Snape: Villain, hero or something else? Who dies in Book 7? And is Umbridge the worst villain of all? If you're interested in those topics, see previous posts, below.

I found several interesting viewpoints on the Harry Potter phenomenon published over the weekend. One is from a self-confessed Potterhead, in her 20s, who spent years scorning the books and then succumbed. Here's a link. Another, also from the Post, is a book editor who is less optimistic than many about whether the Potter phenomenon will translate into more kids (and later, adults) reading fiction. Here's a link to that one.

And here's a link to a column, published on today's Viewpoint page in the Observer, in which a book editor in St. Petersburg, Fla., ponders whether the fact that so many adults are reading the Potter books with their kids will make a difference as those kids become adults themselves.

Finally, I got this missive, via e-mail, from Tom Nie of Iron Station, who describes himself this way: "I'm a well-adjusted, ex-businessman, ex-corporate executive, 65-yr. old grandfather with a crew cut and a Harley. I ordered my new book months ago, as I did book 6 :)"

Nie has some theories. See if you agree.

Important is the butt-kicking Harry received at Snape's hands in the finale of book 6. He was completely inept. No longer will Dumbledore be around to bail him out in a fight. He must improve his skills in some unusual, fast, almost miraculous manner.

He's very weak in Occlumency and, clearly, has to achieve silent cursing skills like Snape and Dumbledore. So, how's he to do that if he's skipping his last year or Hogwarts closes? Snape was the one who was brilliantly creative at the same age. It would seem relevant that Harry has always been a learner of what was before him while Snape and Voldemort were the creators of additional wizardry. How then does the student get a leg up on them?

For him to be the hero he'll have to develop superior strength and tactics - as opposed to RAB becoming his next Dumbledore. Something akin to Matrix's ending maybe.

I find it interesting to consider Harry receiving bottles through Dumbledore's Will to use in the Pensive so that he can receive further training and edification on the Horcruxes. This, I think, will be the way Dumbledore reappears, including providing the explanation of his burnt hand.

Doesn't it seem odd that he's splitting with Ginny, yet Hermione and Ron appear to be joining him, even if they're not at Hogwarts? Especially considering the strength that Ginny exemplifies? Wouldn't you think that their love could be a factor?

Notice the ending of the latest movie and consider that unspoken answer of "love."

The worst villain of them all?

I finally saw the "Order of the Phoenix" last night. I'm not sure if I liked it, mostly because I watched at Charlotte's Imax theater at Discovery Place and, I'm embarrassed to admit, I couldn't see it very well.

We got there 20 minutes before showtime, but that was much too late to choose a good seat. Upshot: We sat in the second row. I have a crick in my neck today, and I know I will never again watch another regular movie on an Imax screen until I've watched it in regular format first. It's possible some of the scenic shots, such as the broomsticks flying over the Thames, were fabulous. I really couldn't tell. And my aging ears did not get along well with the sound system.

All that said, Imelda Staunton as Umbridge was almost perfect. The small, pink, plastic, kitten-shaped buttons on her fuzzy pink sweater were a masterful touch.

A few days ago some of us were asking who was the worst villain in the Harry Potter books (other than Voldemort, of course). Is it Draco Malfoy -- the spoiled, rich and smarmy bully? Is it Lucius Malfoy -- his father who combines the syncophancy of Jack Abramoff, the ethical business sense of Ken Lay and the compassion of David Duke? Is it Snape? Is it Filch, the creepy and whip-loving janitor? What about Bellatrix Lestrange, the deranged sadist torturer?

To me, Umbridge is worse. It's the banality of her bureaucratic maneuvering, and the way she (and her boss, Cornelius Fudge) close their ears to reality.

Maybe she's so scary because of some eerie parallels to the current White House administration, which muzzles its scientists and, like Fudge and Umbridge, just sticks its fingers in its ears rather than notice reality. (Sorry about the political digression, but the similarities are hard to ignore.)

A fellow Potterhead described her as a dripping sweet snake -- a type we've all encountered. Science fiction writer Orson Scott Card, in his review of the movie (He loved it! Go figure) says, "She personifies every slimy, evil person you have ever known."

That's why she raises just about everyone's blood pressure. If I know someone like Voldemort, I don't know it.But we've all known an Umbridge. And that's truly scary.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Dumbledore: Dead or Alive?

When Snape killed Dumbledore, did the majestic wizard really die?

Tolkien's resurrection of Gandalf in "The Two Towers" gives a shiver of hope to any Harry Potter readers who don't want to see the end of Hogwarts' headmaster.

Most of us would love to think Dumbledore isn't really dead. You have to love a guy who uses candy ("lemon drops," "Fizzing Whisbees") as the passwords to his secret office. And who, when asked by Harry in Book 1 ("Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone") as they stand in front of the Mirror of Erised (it's "d-e-s-i-r-e" backwards for newby Potter readers) what he most wants he says, a warm pair of socks. And who has a brother who's been in trouble with the law for what may be a rather perverted habit. Fun fact for newby readers: Dumbledore is an old English West Country (King Arthur territory) term for bumblebee. Albus means white. Here's a link to the Wikipedia entry on Dumbledore, which includes the meanings and allusions for all his names, including Percival Wulfric (think Beowulf) and Brian. And here's another link, to an excellent compendium of Dumbledore lore, including the allusion to the scar on his knee that was a perfect map of the London underground. I had forgotten about that.

All this -- the Gandalf reappearance, the affection most readers have for him, the symbolism of his pet and his Patronus being a phoenix, which arises from the ashes -- has led to a fruitful but, I believe, misguided thread of theorizing that Dumbledore will return. But how?

Author J.K. Rowling has said many many times, generally when asked about Harry's parents, that when you're dead, you're dead. Even in the wizarding world. She has said she always knew Dumbledore would have to die, because Harry must make his way alone. That's in keeping with the heroic epic genre in which she's writing.

Of course, knowing she'd have to kill Dumbledore doesn't prove he won't come back. Maybe she knew she'd have to kill him off because she knows his return plays a role in the climax? See, even I can try to make myself believe it.

But sorry. I'm afraid that when Dumbledore died, he died.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Is Harry A Horcrux? Part II

Is Harry A Horcrux? What clues has J.K. Rowling herself dropped? Snape: Villain, hero or something else? Who dies in Book 7? Ralph Fiennes -- born to play Lupin, not Voldemort? If you're interested in those topics, see previous posts, below.

(And let me just say that I'm fascinated by the theory (see comments in previous post) that it's Harry's scar that's the Horcrux, and all he has to do is get rid of his scar. So a bit of dermabrasion would save the world from evil!)

Earlier today I promised a longer look at why some folks think there's no way Harry could be one of the missing Horcruxes. Here's one person's semi-rant:

Do I think that Dumbledore was right and Voldemort intended to make a Horcrux with Harry's murder? Yes. Do I think it's possible to make a Horcrux accidentally? No. And if Harry was a Horcrux, it would certainly be accidental.

On page 498 of the American edition, Professor Slughorn says to Tom Riddle, "There is a spell [used to encase the split portion of the soul], do not ask me, I don't know!" Now, it follows logically that to create a Horcrux, one would commit murder, then take the desired object and perform the incantation. And, presto, you have your Horcrux. Meaning that (a) it can only happen on purpose, (b) it can only happen after the murder has taken place and (c) it sure as hell didn't happen to Harry the night his parents were killed.

On top of that, it just doesn't make any sense to me.

Harry Himself A Horcrux? Or Is That Hokum?

What clues has J.K. Rowling herself dropped? Snape: Villain, hero or something else?
Who dies in Book 7? Ralph Fiennes -- born to play Lupin, not Voldemort? If you're interested in those topics see previous posts, below.

Other than the discussion about whether Harry will have to die in order to kill Voldemort [(n)either can live while the other survives: Trelawney's prophecy recounted in Book 5 (OotP)], the next most common line of speculation seems to be whether Harry himself is a Horcrux.

Note to slacker fans: You have to read Book 6 (HBP) to learn about Horcruxes. In brief, a Horcrux is an item that holds a piece of a wizard's soul, making said wizard sort of immortal. To make one the wizard has to A) Be to magic as Wayne Gretzky is to hockey and B) Kill someone. Voldemort has made six Horcruxes, Dumbledore speculates. Some are accounted for, some aren't.

A very astute Potter reader with whom I'm close is exasperated at all the people who believe Harry is the last, missing Horcrux and that's why Voldemort couldn't/didn't kill him as a baby and why Harry and Voldemort seem to share some mental connection.

I'll see if I can extract a paragraph or two from the "Harry's No Horcrux" side and post it, but it won't be until later today.

If Harry IS a Horcrux, that might mean he has to die for Voldy to die. Because otherwise Lord V wouldn't really be dead as long as Harry is alive.

After all, Voldemort could have used Lily's death to make Harry into a Horcrux. The question is, why would he do that if he wants the baby Potter out of the way? UNLESS someone else was there, perhaps hiding under an invisibility cloak that belonged to James Potter, and did something to make Voldemort's spell go weird. Dumbledore? Snape? Could Voldemort have been using James' death to try to turn Lily into a Horcrux? Does anyone know whether the Horcrux death has to happen before the Horcrux spell, or after?

Could Harry use the Prior Incantato spell (used by Amos Diggorgy in Goblet) on Snape's wand to get Dumbledore's ghost back? And if he does it, wouldn't that be too cheesily close to the Obi-Wan and Yoda ghosts who show up for Luke in "Star Wars"?

Is/was Dumbledore the Heir of Gryffindor? What does that mean for Aberforth, and his goats?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Wizard romance? Theories abound

Is Snape evil? Who will die in Book 7? What clues has J.K. Rowling herself dropped? Who -- besides Michael Gambon -- should have been cast in the movies to play Dumbledore? See previous posts if you're interested in those topics.

Ah, romance. I've offered my theory that Snape was obsessed with Lily Potter and that's his motivation to try to kill Voldemort. But other theories involving romance exist, too.

Was Snape in love with Draco Malfoy's mother, Narcissa Malfoy, not Lily Potter? Several online theorists point out the similarity of the Unbreakable Vow ceremony in the opening of Book 6 (Half-Blood Prince) to a wedding ceremony. Snape even says "I will."

Here's one lengthy essay that offers evidence for that theory -- and other interesting tidbits as well, including a mention that St. Hedwig (Harry's owl is named Hedwig) is the patroness of a small charitable order whose "chief aim is the education of orphaned and abandoned children."

Yet another romance-related theory comes from a friend: Having a romantic relationship will protect the characters from death. So Harry/Ginny and Ron/Hermione won't die. But those who aren't blessed by love are at risk.

Some theorize that if Lupin dies, Tonks will die, too.

Finally, a prediction from a co-worker is that by the end, love will survive but so will evil. Just like real life. But I think Voldemort will have to die, and Snape along with him.

One ending word about Draco Malfoy, the weasel-faced boy who tried to kill Dumbledore but wimped out. Rowling has said she's saddened by hearing about teenaged and preteen girls who think Draco is hot. She concedes the actor, Tom Felton, is a nice fellow and nice looking. But Draco? Yuck. What, she says, are those girls thinking?

If you want to explore more about this fascination with the rich, snobby bad boy, take a stroll on the fan fiction Web site page listing 1,574 pages written about Draco Malfoy and various romances. Warning: Fan fiction is a genre that is notoriously bad. Sticklers for punctuation, grammar and spelling should take pain medication beforehand.

The movie: Who should have been cast?

Is Snape evil? Who's going to die in Book 7? And what clues has J.K. Rowling herself dropped? See previous posts if you're interested in those topics.

First, a disclaimer: I've never thought the Harry Potter movies came close to the books in emotional power, verbal hijinks or general richness of experience. That said, I've seen them all (except No. 5, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" ) and enjoyed them.

But for years I've been mentally casting the movies. Sometimes my preferred actors even got the roles for which God seems to have intended them.

-- Alan Rickman was born to play Snape.
--Maggie Smith was perfect for McGonagall. (In fact, I keep expecting McGonagall to take on some Jean Brodie-esque qualities. Don't you think she was carrying a torch for years for Dumbledore?)
--I'd have cast Alec Guinness as Dumbledore except for the little problem of his having died. Richard Harris was quite good. And he died, too. This is not a good omen. Michael Gambon is not right. He lacks a necessary twinkle. And he's wearing a beanie, for crying out loud!
At least a few of you agree, based on comments below. (As of 12:42 p.m.)
Ian McKellan was busy, I guess. Which leaves Peter O'Toole. He'd have hammed it up wonderfully.
--Sirius Black was a role made for Daniel Day-Lewis. Thin, dark, intense, romantic but dangerous. That Gary Oldman guy just misses the point.
--Ralph Fiennes would have made the perfect Lupin -- sympathetic, with undertones of nervous despair and tragedy, and just the faintest wolfish cast to his features. (Note the adjective that describes a wolfish kind of face is lupine.) Fiennes is wasted as Voldemort. With all that makeup, who can tell what the guy underneath looks like anyway?
--And the actor playing Lupin -- David Thewlis -- is wrong, wrong, wrong. "He's just kind of ugly and he has a bad haircut," says one of my friends.
--I'm looking forward to Imelda Staunton as Umbridge. I just hope she's prissy enough. My midnight-movie source reported today that she was fabulously evil and twisted.
--Slughorn? I envision Richard Griffiths. Too bad he was already snapped up to play Uncle Vernon.
--Helena Bonham-Carter may be too petite and too curly-haired to play Bellatrix Lestrange, who is described as having long, sleek black hair. But her face is suitably cavernous, with eyes that bore into you, so maybe that will work out. Again, my midnight-movie source, who is a very tough critic, approved, saying Bonham-Carter was suitably "deranged."
Who's in your dream cast for the movies?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

JK Rowling's own clues

You may know what you think will happen, but J.K. Rowling knows. Here are some hints she has dropped that may shatter your illusions:

--Harry's grandparents are all dead, and they aren't important to the plot. Rowling calls that part of her backstory "mundane territory." She said she thought it was more interesting, plot-wise, if Harry was completely alone. James' parents, she said in an interview, "succumbed to a wizarding illness. That's as far as it goes. There's nothing serious or sinister about those deaths. I just needed them out of the way so I killed them."

--That means, she said, Harry is not the heir of Gryffindor.

--The gum wrappers that Alice Longbottom gives to her son, Neville, at St. Mungo's in Book 5 (Phoenix) are just gum wrappers, a sad depiction of how an insane mother tries to offer something to her son.

--Dumbledore's death was always planned to happen. (That has to mean it must be integral to the outcome.)-- More about Dumbledore: "I think it has been demonstrated, particularly in Books 5 and 6 that immense brainpower does not protect you from emotional mistakes, and I think Dumbledore really exemplifies that."

--Ron's eyes are blue. Hermione's are brown. Ron's Patronus is a small dog. (Those aren't necessarily clues, but just small details that haven't been revealed yet.)

--The color of Harry's eyes (green, like his mother) is significant and important.

--In Book 4 (Goblet) the "gleam of triumph" on Dumbledore's face when Harry tells him what happened with Voldemort is, Rowling said, "enormously significant." And, she points out, "I haven't told you that much is enormously significant, so you can let your imaginations run free there."

--Question: Why did Voldemort offer Lily so many chances to live? Would he actually have let her live? JKR: "Mhm. ... [silence] Can't tell you."

--Umbridge will reappear. Rowling: "She's a pretty evil character ... It's too much fun to torture her not to have another little bit more, before I finish."

--If Dumbledore looked in the mirror of Erised, what would he see? Rowling: "I can't answer that."

--What would Dumbledore's boggart be? JKR: "I can't answer that either, but for theories you should read Book 6 again."

--Bellatrix Lestrange will play a significant role. See the article in today's Observer about what JKR told actress Helena Bonham Carter, who plays Lestrange in the movie that opens today.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Who's gonna die?

So, who dies? (Sorry, won't let me title this. I'll try later when the software wakes up from its midday nap.)

It was Emerson Spartz's comment (see the 2005 interview with J.K. Rowling) that got me thinking about who will be killed off in Harry Potter No. 7, "The Deathly Hallows": “The wise old wizard with the beard always dies.” (Think Obi-Wan Kenobi.)

An aside: But remember Gandalf, in Lord of the Rings. He came back. On the other hand, Rowling has said that in her books, when you're dead you're dead. I don't think Dumbledore will come back. And I really hope he doesn't come back as a blue-green hazy ghost floating around to impart wisdom at important plot junctures, as Obi-Wan did.

My buddy Dave Enna says that if you're ever watching a low-budget movie and you see a beat up '72 Pontiac, you know the car will explode sooner or later. Or if you're watching a cheesy thriller and a blonde takes a shower early on, you know she will not survive.

Rowling has said two main characters will die in Book 7. There's been much speculation about whether Harry will be one of them. As I wrote previously, I'm not sure he will live. But given the heroic genre, I don't think he will.

That brings me to Remus Lupin. He's one of my favorite characters -- maybe my very favorite, after Dumbledore. He's thoughtful, principled, brave, noble, has good taste in women (Tonks) and he's living with a deathly illness for which polite society shuns him -- werewolf-hood. Many AIDS parallels. Anyway, sorry to say, but soon as I met him in Book 3 I knew he's too good to live. The only question is whether Rowling considers him a "main character."

Ron -- I don't think both Harry and Ron will die. That means, I'm so sorry, Ron will have to. Maybe Harry will have to choose whether to kill Voldemort and at the same time kill Ron, or save Ron and let Voldy go.

Updated paragraph (4:21 p.m. Monday): In my haste I neglected to say that of course, Snape will die. Whether he'll die as an act of noble sacrifice in order that Voldemort will die, or die battling the forces of good, or die some other way (this is my hunch), I don't think he'll survive.

Who else? Maybe Hagrid? At least one other Weasley, possibly more. Bill is probably toast, I fear. And Mr. Weasley, too.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Is Snape evil?

For a couple of weeks – or maybe less, depending on reactions – I’m going to veer away from the usual Naked City topics here and instead offer this blog up for theories, comments and philosophizing about Harry Potter and the upcoming seventh and last book.

Why? Because for a lot of readers, it’s more fun than public policy, planning and transportation arguments. And because it’s July.

And because despite the mountains of hype, some very interesting Potter facts are out there, if you know where to look.

First, you have to endure my theory about what’s going to happen. I promise, it isn’t long.

For years I didn’t think J.K. Rowling would kill off Harry Potter in the end. Now, I’m not so sure. After all, the main character, Nathaniel, was killed off at the end of Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus trilogy about wizards in England. And I didn’t dream she would kill off Dumbledore.

Silly me. Rowling said in an interview in 2005, “In the genre of writing that I”m working in, almost always the hero must go on alone. That’s the way it is.”Or, as creator Emerson Spartz then said, during the interview, “The wise old wizard with the beard always dies.”

As I wrote in my column today (see, I think Snape’s out to kill Voldemort, because he was in love with Lily Evans Potter. When Voldy killed Lily, Snape snapped. He’s playing both ends against the middle, loyal to nothing but his rage. Dumbledore knew that and trusted Snape to protect Harry, since Harry must be the one to kill Voldemort.

So let’s hear it. Snape – good or evil? Comments below.

If you have topics you’d like to propose, put them in comments or e-mail me. I’ll be checking in daily, adding links and theories.And if you’ve time, read the lengthy Rowling interview on MuggleNet. Plenty of room for speculation in there. Such as when she says, “Dumbledore’s family would be a profitable line of inquiry ...”

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

"The Chamber's study"?

If you are under the belief that the recent study by UNCC's Center for Transportation Studies was paid for by the Charlotte Chamber, or somehow was connected with the Chamber: What are you smoking?

It was paid for by UNCC and done by a nonpartisan UNCC transportation study center whose director has a lengthy background in transportation studies.

Here's what happened: Chamber President Bob Morgan suggested to UNCC Chancellor Phil Dubois that the topic would be a good one to study. That's sort of like mentioning to Bob Johnson, "Say, you might want to get your players to practice shooting." I mean, Duh! You've got a center of transportation studies. Studying transportation is what it does.

Some people are offering up UNCC Professor Emeritus David Hartgen's studies as being more objective. Yet several of his most recent studies were paid for by interest groups with a specific position to advance: The Reason Foundation and the John Locke Foundation, two Libertarian think tanks that have funded a variety of studies opposing rail transit and Smart Growth. Those nonprofits have a point of view, and they use their money to advance it, hiring researchers who share those points of view. How is that somehow purer than a short report from UNCC's Center for Transportation Policy Studies, beholden to no one?

If you bother to read the UNCC study -- in contrast to most advocacy group studies such as those from Reason or the JLF -- you'll read no conclusions and no recommendations. Indeed, some of the information it offers will probably be of more use to people opposing light rail transit, such as the comparison of highway and transit spending since 1998.

"Our research has revealed a need for a comprehensive study of the economic, societal, environmental, land use and business impacts of LRT," it says. Gee, that's clearly a biased, tainted and suspect statement if I ever heard one.

I suppose some people are going to see dark conspiracies in such statements. Remember, there are more than a few people out there who think Commies in pink robes are hiding under the bed, or they put on tinfoil caps to keep the alien transmissions out of their brains. But the rest of you? Get a grip.

Some people who don't like mass transit are deliberately trying to plant the idea that light rail mass transit is a creature of the Charlotte Chamber. Though it's misleading, it's also a clever political stunt, because a lot of people here are suspicious of the Chamber. But if you think I blindly follow everything the Chamber proposes, well, you haven't been reading what I've been writing for more than a decade.

If you're thinking mass transit is a creature birthed and nurtured by Charlotte's business oligarchy then you are uninformed about Charlotte. For about, oh, the past century or so it was the conservative business oligarchy here that fought the concept of any government-funded public transit. They kept a pitiful bus system running on fumes and pennies -- and extremely high fares -- because business leaders didn't want their taxes raised just to make life easier for low-income mill workers and black people. It's still the ultra-right-wing descendants of those anti-tax businessmen who are fighting the transit tax now.

One last thought. Rick, I appreciate your devoted readership and your civility, but it's blindingly naive to say we can just get another transit tax in 2010, if we decide we want one again. State legislators from outside Mecklenburg just cackle if you mention that possibility.

What Mecklenburg voters do or don't want doesn't make a rat's patootie's worth of difference unless the legislature allows it. It took years to get permission to hold the 1998 referendum. If we have a transit tax and kill it, it will take years -- if ever -- to get permission for another one.

Get another transit tax in 2010? It would be easier, and about as practical, to just get hold of the pot of gold at the end of the next rainbow.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Transit foes 'grass roots?' One point of view

I spent a couple of hours last week talking with Robert FitzPatrick, who spent much of the 1970s helping Charlotte neighborhoods and grass roots groups organize to fight City Hall.

My Saturday column told of his efforts to prevent Freedom Park from being plundered by an ill-conceived canal project. The project would have dredged Little Sugar Creek and trapped it into concrete embankments and locks – and would have richly rewarded land owners and real estate developers who were pushing the plan.

In those days FitzPatrick and the folks he organized mostly fought City Hall and the business oligarchy that backed city government. Among the leaders of the group that fought the canal project were a roofer and a truck driver.

FitzPatrick helped organize the North Charlotte Action Association, which focused on code enforcement and trash pickup. He helped organize the Association for Better Public Transportation, a citizen group that fought (unsuccessfully) a bus fare increase that made Charlotte's fares among the highest in the country. (40 cents in 1974, equivalent to $1.66 today.) The group also wanted the city to take over the bus system, because the private company running it was providing, as FitzPatrick termed it, “nasty, dirty buses that were never on time.”

So I asked him what he thought of the folks who had organized to get the repeal of the transit tax onto the Nov. 6 ballot. They say they're “grass roots,” because the Charlotte Chamber and most elected officials here support the transit tax.

“I hope you will not link the group I was involved in with them,” he said. “We were not financed by somebody anonymous throwing a lot of money. To me that’s not real grass roots.” (Businessman Jay Morrison, who says he's running for school board, paid to hire professional petition-gatherers to get 48,000 signatures to put the measure on the ballot. Morrison hasn't said how much he paid. "Those close to Morrison say he's paid for about half the cost for the petition drive," a June 7 Observer news report said.)

And, FitzPatrick pointed out, “We didn’t have a single elected official anywhere within a hundred miles of us.” Co-chairs of the anti-transit tax petition are former school board member and former county commissioner Jim Puckett, former City Council member Don Reid. Helping them is former U.S. attorney Tom Ashcraft. None holds those positions now, of course.

FitzPatrick is not looking at CATS through rose-colored glasses. He said the single-issue interest groups, like the one formed to fight the transit tax, are a symptom of a government (including CATS) that doesn't take the time to be responsive to the public.

Is Charlotte different, I asked him, from the days when the business community ran the city?

"If it is," he said, "it's imperceptible to me. Just look at the sprawl. It's a disgrace. Is that vision? ... Nobody ever takes responsibility for disasters, like the death of the west side, or the university area. You can't even walk around up there. Whose vision was that?"

Friday, June 29, 2007

Son of "Dirty signs"

Friday afternoon Doreen Szymanski of the city's Department of Transportation returned the message I left Wednesday, asking whether the city ever cleaned off its grungy street signs. (See my Wednesday posting, below.)

If you see grungy signs, she said, call the city's 3-1-1 number to report it. "It'll probably show up in my office," she said, and she'd flag it to the attention of the city's Operations Department.

But no, she said, there's no system for cleaning the signs. When streets are repaved the workers routinely replace street signs that are older than two years, she said. But at the current pace of repaving, you might not want to rely on that, especially if the sign is getting unreadable.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Major street gets new name; and a report on dirty signs

Did you notice that -- almost in time for Independence Day -- a stretch of Independence Boulevard has a new name? From Kenilworth Avenue (at the Midtown redevelopment area) over to Seventh Street it's now Charlottetown Avenue. An article in the Observer last week revealed the news. So, is this a good thing or a bad thing or irrelevant? Thoughts welcome below.

One longtime Charlottean likes the idea of memorializing Charlottetown Mall (later known as Midtown Square), even if it's only on a small green sign. She wrote:

"Even if building it did cover Sugar Creek with concrete ... and even though I will be right in line when the Target opens where I once stood in line as a high schooler to see "Star Wars" at what was then the biggest theater in town ... I like it that "Charlottetown" -- and all it says about where Charlotte's been and is going -- will live on in a subtle, tiny way. A street sign. Pure Charlotte!"

My column last Saturday (yes, I write columns as well as this blog) about walls and the public realm brought in plenty of comment, most -- though not all -- in agreement. Sadler Barnhardt brought up an interesting point, about one small, additional way that the public realm is disrespected:

"Thanks for a good column. That reminds me of a project I have tried to get at least two Observer writers to help me with but no luck: the atrociously dirty street and stop signs around town. Is there money in the budget for this?? If not, why not? What can we do? Have you noticed? They have been this way for years."

He's right. Green mold covers many street signs in town. I'll try to find which department would be in charge of that. My first call will be to Doreen Szymanski of the Charlotte Department of Transportation, who seems to know -- if not everything -- then almost everything. I'll update this later, with a report.

And if you can e-mail me a photo of a particularly grungy street sign, I'll try to post it here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Is Ballantyne planned to be confusing or did it just happen that way?

Have you been to the cinema at Ballantyne? If so, you may have some thoughts to share on the topic that Hickory's Avis Gachet shared. Gachet, one of the Observer's community columnists this year and a faithful Forum writer, e-mailed me this. My response is below. And planners, it would be especially interesting to get your thoughts on this one:

Mary, Yesterday a friend and I spent the day in Charlotte. At noon we sought out the Ballantyne Theatre in Ballantyne Village. It was a nightmare to find. (Fabulous movie, however--"Away from Her.")

I had gone to the Website for directions. Found a phone number, and, after talking to two people, obtained rather poor directions. Found Johnston road off 485--no problem.

THEN...we began to negotiate our way through the maze. I had NOT been told to look for the tower. Even so, we found ourselves turning around in parking areas and going out of our way several times before we zeroed in on it. We were ten minutes late for the movie as a result.

Is that the current planning style in Charlotte? I have to say that I would opt for a strip mall instead.

I am NOT a timid driver. I drive in Washington, D.C. and New York City. I would drive to England if someone told me I could. One of these days if there is a fire or a crisis in that area, people will be frantic trying to evacuate.

Do you approve of that sort of design? This would be a real turnoff to many older drivers.
Give me a theatre in a former big box--with a parking lot one can find easily. I guess that I am a Philistine.

But I am one person who is old enough to: 1) see various fads come and go (each having the absolute answers, of course); and 2) feel that making things fancy is not always making them better.

I would not THINK of making a casual run for something from one of those shops near the theater. It would take an Act of Congress to get me there more than a very few times a year. Generally speaking, I will go anywhere--at least once.

Here's my response, only partly tongue-in-cheek.
Avis, I've been to Ballantyne Theatre and I fully understand your frustration. They need some signs that tell you where to turn! I've been there 2 or 3 times and usually I turn at the wrong place.

From what I see, it's the planning style everywhere to use movie theaters in large shopping center-mixed use developments. There's one at a Ballantyne-like shopping center in Mount Pleasant, S.C., called Towne Center-or-maybe-Centre (not that it's in the center of town.)

But I don't think the planners have any set "style" other than to encourage connectivity of streets, etc., etc. They tend to assume the retailers and developers will be savvy about getting people into their developments. And as we all know, sometimes they aren't savvy at all.

And then you can't discount the old Charlotte tradition of just figuring that people who are from around here will learn their way around and the other people, well, they're not from around here, are they? Example: Myers Park and its Queens Roads.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Kids: How much freedom do they need?

This follows up on the previous posting which included one father's musing about teens living in suburban or urban neighborhoods, and what the suburban-reared kids may be missing. A report in the U.K. speculates that the mental health of modern-day kids is at risk because they lack the freedom to explore the natural world that their grandparents had. Here's the top of the article from the Daily Mail of London:

When George Thomas was eight he walked everywhere.

It was 1926 and his parents were unable to afford the fare for a tram, let alone the cost of a bike, and he regularly walked six miles to his favourite fishing haunt without adult supervision.

Fast forward to 2007 and Mr Thomas's eight-year-old great-grandson Edward enjoys none of that freedom. He is driven the few minutes to school, is taken by car to a safe place to ride his bike and can roam no more than 300 yards from home.

Even if he wanted to play outdoors, none of his friends strays from their home or garden unsupervised.

The contrast between Edward and George's childhoods is highlighted in a report which warns that the mental health of 21st-century children is at risk because they are missing out on the exposure to the natural world enjoyed by past generations.

Here's a link to the full article.

As a parent, I've struggled -- as I'm sure many of you have -- with figuring out where to land on the freedom-versus-safety spectrum. At what age do you let a child walk to a neighbor's house alone? When should you let a child go for a walk in the neighborhood for exercise? What about riding a bicycle?

I have a friend, a native Charlottean whose family got its land from King George III before the revolution. She grew up near Commonwealth and Central avenues, in the 1950s and 1960s. She remembers riding her bicycle over to the Coliseum on Independence (now Cricket Arena) to go ice skating. That was their hangout, she says. Or they would take a bus to go uptown to a movie. Would any parent today let a kid do that? If so, at what age? When our daughter was 11 or 12 I let her walk or take the Gold Rush shuttle from Discovery Place or the Main Library to The Charlotte Observer building, seven or eight blocks away.

I know other parents who'd be shocked to think of such a thing. And even others who'd let kids do that at a younger age.

It's one of the little-mentioned differences found in cities with strong public transportation systems: Teens and preteens have more freedom to move around the city without having to depend on parents chauffeuring them.

Monday, June 18, 2007

A city planner gets his due

Many of you who read this blog regularly knew and were probably friends with Warren Burgess. He was a city planner and urban designer who worked many years for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission, then was town planner for the town of Davidson, and then worked at Neighboring Concepts in Charlotte. He died in 2005 at age 56. I wrote about him on and off over the years. Here's what I wrote when he left Charlotte for Davidson, and here's what I wrote when he died.

Many of his friends have wanted to honor him somehow. Now, three things are in the works to do so.

First, a poll of 70-some members of the N.C. chapter of the American Planning Association ranked Burgess among the most influential planners in the state. An article about the planners will be in the summer issue of Carolina Planning magazine. Others in the top eight:

F. Stuart Chapin Jr., a pioneer in founding the UNC Chapel Hill Department of City and Regional Planning; long-time Raleigh Planning Director George Chapman, a.k.a. "the dean of Triangle planning"; UNC Chapel Hill planning professor David Godschalk; Dave Owens, Richard D. Ducker and the late Phil Green of the UNC School of Government; and Wes Hankins of East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C.

(Another Charlottean, longtime Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Director Martin Cramton, was among "others receiving a substantial number of votes.")

But there's more. A group of Burgess' friends is working to put together an exhibition of his sketches and paintings in May 2008. They're talking with Linda Ostrow of the Queens Art Gallery, 1212 The Plaza. And they're seeking people who bought Burgess' work over the years who might want to donate a piece, as part of a fund-raiser. If you'd like to donate a piece, or work on the exhibit, contact Lenore Jones Deutsch.

Finally, there's to be a Warren Burgess Lane. NoDa-based architect and designer Babak Emadi of Urbana Architecture says he'll honor Burgess with a street named for him at Royal Truss Condominiums in the SteelGardens development. Construction on the project has started.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Say 'no' to gated communities. Asheville just did

People who live in gated communities and complain about traffic congestion remind me of people who say they hate sprawl and also hate density.

Guess what. The best remedy for traffic congestion is to have lots of streets, most of them relatively narrow and slow-speed, connecting to lots of other, similar streets. Traffic engineer and N.C. State grad Walter Kulash, in an interview with me years ago, compared an efficiently functioning street network to an electric company's power grid: "a dense, highly connected network of low capacity."

What prompted this reverie was the news that the city of Asheville just banned building any more gated communities. Here's the story. The city figured out that letting some neighborhoods wall themselves off makes it even harder to build a street network of connecting streets.

Charlotte, despite its much bragged upon "connectivity" policy, not only hasn't banned gated neighborhoods, there hasn't even been a proposal for the City Council to vote on.

I have two theories why Charlotte isn't talking about such a ban.

--First, developers wouldn't like it. Gated communities are popular with some affluent buyers, who assume they're safer. Guess it depends on which crimes you're worried about. I might worry about disproportionately high rates of insider trading or hedge fund fraud in gated communities. (But seriously, I recall seeing a study a few years back done in Atlanta, that compared crime rates in a gated community with those in a comparable, but non-gated community. The gated community had more burglaries.)

--Second, even when planners and politicians are willing to displease developers -- which believe it or not does happen upon occasion -- they still operate with a mindset dating to maybe the 1960s or 1970s, in which central Charlotte truly was threatened by vast growth flowing to the suburbs. In this mindset, the city shouldn't do anything that would discourage development here.

Even though the city is experiencing growth so rapid and extreme that infrastructure can't keep up with it, and even though demand for close-in housing is so great that prices are being bid up to an unhealthy level and in-town houses are being scraped away so in-town mansions can be built -- despite all that the planners and politicians are still afraid they might scare off growth.

Silly, isn't it?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Raising teens: City v. Suburbs

I got this e-mail from a planner-type I know who has lived in bigger cities than Charlotte, though he's been here for a few years now. He referred me to this article by Mark Hinshaw, an urban designer in Seattle: "Why Raise Your Kids in the Suburbs?"

But my planner friend, who raised HIS kids in the suburbs, also sent along some of his own thoughts and observations. If you're like most of us, raising your own kids in the 'burbs, you may enjoy his reminiscences and conclusions.

As a kid, I was raised in urban neighborhoods on Cleveland's westside and close-in suburbs. We walked nearly everywhere and took the bus when it was too far.

As a result, we got to know a variety of people and have a range of experiences. As an adult parent, I (and my wife) raised our kids in the suburbs where they had their own yard, a small circle of friends and we had to drive them everywhere. Despite my wife's and my best efforts, looking at our now-grown children, I believe that their suburban upbringing deprived them of many things, including how to interact with unfamiliar people and out-of-the-ordinary experiences.

Our society today suffers from many maladies. To me, an underlying problem is people's inability to relate to others who are different, and the fear and distrust this engenders. The old urban neighborhoods where people sat out on their front porches, walked and rode public transit helped people relate to and experience other people, including those who were different. Today's suburban developments with their dependency on the automobile have given us years of people driving around in their steel cocoons (cars) and retreating to their backyards (instead of their front porches), and as a result have helped create an America where people have trouble relating to others, particularly those who are different.

In the last two suburban neighborhoods (in Cleveland and Charlotte) I have lived in, I hardly knew my neighbors. Some I only saw when they drove by in their car.

On the flipside, something I have experienced firsthand in Boston, Seattle and Cleveland is what I affectionately call the "back of the bus (or streetcar)" phenomenon. People who are regular transit commuters tend to take the same trip to and from work each day. Over time they get to know each other and develop friendships.

In Boston on the Green Line/Beacon St. there was a bunch of us who regularly talked and exchanged information and experiences. In Seattle and in Cleveland on the express trips I used, a regular group of people (myself included) sat in the back of the bus and developed into a real group of friends, that resulted in us actually doing things together socially. While I have not had that same experience in Charlotte (my own schedule and limited service keeps me from regular transit usage), I have heard of it happening on some of CATS routes (i.e. Route 61 from the Arboretum, some Route 77x trips).

Public transit usage brings people together by definition.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that getting more people to use transit will solve all of society's problems. It will help, though.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

"Green" conventions? And other news

Should Charlotte's convention center start trying to capture the "green convention" business? Successful event planner Mary Tribble, who's back from a national conference on the subject, said Tuesday she believes more national conventions will aim their business at cities and facilities that can market themselves as "green." The Charlotte Convention Center is not LEED-certified, of course. [LEED = Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.] Nor will the new NASCAR Hall of Fame be. (See my May 23 posting, below.)

Tribble says she and Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority honcho Tim Newman are forming a task force to see what can be done in Charlotte.

-- In Wake County, even conservative tax-watchdoggers are pushing FOR a land transfer tax to generate money to build schools. Click here for the N&O's story.

Excerpt: Even former county commissioner Phil Jeffreys, speaking as a member of the fiscally conservative Wake County Taxpayers Association, was on board for a transfer tax. "We need to make sure we go to the legislature and really push on real estate transfer fees," said Jeffreys, who was voted off the board in the last election after voting "no" on many spending proposals.

-- In fast-growing Chatham County, county commissioners on Monday enacted a moratorium on residential development. Click here for the story.

-- Courtesy of one of my favorite planning info sources,, here's a link to a Wall Street Journal article about the trauma subprime loans are causing in many minority neighborhoods, including a long-established middle-class area of Detroit. According to the article, so many homeowners are facing foreclosure now that it may well erase any gains in homeownership the nation has seen. (And don't forget the Observer's coverage, complete with online map of local foreclosures. Here's a link.)

--And finally, also from Planetizen, here's a piece in which the author takes aim at Reason magazine's assumptions about mass transit versus road-building.

Great Bike Commuter Challenge -- Read Your Name Here

Those who took part in the Bike Commuting Challenge (part of Bike Charlotte!, May 4-13) saved a total of $536 in gasoline (or $2,600 in total car costs). Other fun facts below.

Thanks to John Cock (The Lawrence Group) for forwarding results of the Commuter Challenge from Bill Clark of the Bicycle Commuter Mentor Program.

Altogether, we had 77 cyclists, 26 new cyclists, 22 female cyclists, and around 250 commutes made at an average of 7.5 miles each way! For that week, some quick math shows that we:
--did not drive 3,750 miles during that week;
--saved $536 in gas between all of us (or $2,600 in total car costs);
--kept 3,500 - 4,300 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere (about the weight of a car); and maybe got a little bit of exercise!

Some highlights of this year's results include:
--Top workplace participation for a small workplace: TKM's Best (TKM Associates) with 100% participation!

--Top workplace participation for a large workplace: The Midnight Ramblers (The Charlotte Observer) with 2% participation. Yes, only 2% - but there are a lot of folks at these large businesses to convince to bike, and 2% is a great percentage.

--Top non-businesses group participation: The Greenway Go-Getters (The Greenway Advisory Council) with 100% participation and The Bicycle Advisory Council with 87% participation!

--Most riders in a small workplace: Charlotte Department of Transportation with 6 riders!

--Most riders in a large workplace: Bank of America's Gateway Village Team with 11 bikers!

--Most riders in a non-workplace: Wesley Heights Neighborhood with 4 riders!

--Most number of new riders in a small workplace: Full Blast Face Meltery (REI Pineville) with 3 new cyclists!

--Most number of new riders in a large workplace: Charlotte Observer with 4 and Duke Energy with 3 new riders!

--Most number of new riders in a non-workplace: The Portaro Family with 2 new riders!

--Most number of female cyclists in a small workplace: The Park and Wreckers (Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Planning Department) with 2 female cyclists, one being seven months pregnant and biking every day! (Way to go, honey!)

--REI also had 2 female riders!
-- Most number of female cyclists in a large workplace: Piedmont Natural Gas and Gateway Village with 3 female riders!
Most number of female cyclists in a non-workplace: Team Diva of the Dirt Divas Mountain Bike Club with 3 female cyclists and Wesley Heights Neighborhood with 3 female cyclists as well!

The teams which are the envy of all bicycle commuters and whose members live the closest to work include LG Love (The Lawrence Group - 1.5 mile average distance), REI (2 mile average distance), and The Drafters (The Housing Studio with and average driving distance of 3 miles).

The team that is way more dedicated than the average human being is the Charlotte Bicycle Advisory Council with an average commuting distance one-way of 19 miles!

A special recognition to the US Bankruptcy Court for getting the judge on a bike?!

Final recognition to a Bank of America team called Pigs CAN Fly for having the best team name, to the Heartwood Tree Service guys for always being there and showing a great performance, to Duke Generators and The Portaro Family for showing the media how it's done, to Smokin' in Spandex for their enthusiasm and to the captains of BikURS, eC Riders and Crown Club Cruisers for dealing with the most number of excuses!

If you're a cyclist and wondering about how to bicycle in Charlotte, visit the Charlotte Department of Transportation's Bicycle Program web site. Or try B.I.K.E.S., a local bicycling advocacy group.