Sunday, June 19, 2011

A link for you

The new blog begins at:

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The invisible city, and the visible journalism artifacts on my desk

I've written my farewell column for the Charlotte Observer, "My not-so-secret addition to news" and I'm packing up artifacts from a lengthy career in newspapers (the recycled paper bin is overflowing). But in a nostalgic way I'm enjoying finding some quotations and other snippets that remind me of why the job matters – or that make me chuckle.

For instance, I've always loved this quotation from Italo Calvino's "Invisible Cities," sent to me courtesy of artist Linda Luise Brown:
"The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls."

This inspirational quote from artist Georgia O'Keefe:
“Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven't time, and to see takes time – like to have a friend takes time.”

That quote lived on my cubicle wall for years, next to photographer Nancy Pierce's snapshot of roadkill (possum) she came across that – I am not making this up – had been painted with a double-yellow stripe by some not-so-observant road crews.

I found my notes from an Oct. 15, 2003, editorial board interview with then-candidate Kaye McGarry, who was running for an at-large seat on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School board.  Someone (notes aren't clear) asked which of the sitting school board members she'd emulate if sh were elected.  McGarry answered: Molly Griffin and Lee Kindberg.

If you follow the school board you will understand that regardless of how you feel about her school board service, McGarry has not in any way resembled Molly Griffin or Lee Kindberg.

Of course, amid the very nice notes we all occasionally get from readers, you sometimes get emails like this one to me (from 2006): 
"let me say first and foremost that you are the signpost for stupidity...i can go further you ignorant slut.."  And the writer did, including phrases like .... "by the way i pray daily that williams [former Editorial Page Editor Ed Williams] will be called to a higher calling somewhere other than charlotte ....."

I found an old headline from The State in Columbia -
Death Toll 3.5 Million
In Fire At Cricket Farm

And, from the Testy Copy Editors website, this poem.:

Roving bands of youths
limped into port
after an intensive manhunt
by a disgruntled postal employee
in a quiet, middle-class neighborhood
of modest red-brick single-family homes
off tree-lined streets
in a shallow grave
in a densely wooded area
and were rushed to the hospital
in a firestorm of protest
by the Texas billionaire
and the slain civil rights leader
and the financially ailing tabloid.
In the hushed courtroom
the defendant showed no emotion
at the all-important loss column.

After Friday, I'll still be blogging but at a new site:   It's still under construction but should be operational by early next week.  See you at the new site.   

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Guerrilla tree planters, here's a project for you

(See note at end about where to find this blog after Friday.)

Today was a sunny morning, unseasonably cool for mid-June, and so I took my last 4-mile walk to my job at the Observer (Friday is my last day after 17 years on the editorial board). Only had one vehicle nearly hit me – a white SUV at Morehead and Kenilworth. At least I made him squeal his brakes.

I've chronicled some of my pedestrian adventures in my weekly op-ed columns, such as ("The foot challenge for Sun Belt cities" and "City walkability goal hits an icy patch" and "Walk this way. If you can."

This morning, I thought – not for the first time – about the possibility of a little guerrilla,  tree-planting campaign. I tend to think of this as I walk up South Tryon from Morehead Street to the Observer building at Stonewall Street.  The N.C.-owned right-of-way alongside the I-277 bridge, where those odd witch-hat/Klan-hood sculptures sit, is bare grass. It's a bleak trek across that bridge, let me tell you, and once you get past it, you sure could use some shade. What you get, though, is grass. And some "art."  (To be fair, the sculptures do offer a bit of shade at the right time of day.) But what about it? Someone want to sneak onto some of our fair city's spots-that-need-shade-trees and just plant some trees? Come December, if you see someone out there with a shovel and some oak or maple saplings, it might just be me.    
After June 17, if you want to read The Naked City blog, don't look for this URL ( because it will be disabled when I leave the Observer.  Instead, seek out Right now it's in the process of being designed (using the word "design" quite loosely). That's where you'll find me after my last day at The Charlotte Observer. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Mime troupes a new secret weapon?

First, some personal news, if you'll indulge me:  After 17 years on the Charlotte Observer's editorial board I was among a small group of employees offered a buyout and I accepted it. My last day of work at the newspaper will be June 17.  That means this blog will vanish from the ether that day.

I intend to keep blogging, but I don't have a new site set up yet. Keep watching the blog before June 17 for more details about where you can find my work in the future. (And yes, I have some new job prospects but nothing to announce at this point.)

So that's why I've been digging through old files and various email folders tucked here and there.  And I've found some tidbits of things you'll enjoy.

I'll do anything, officer, just make the mimes go away ...: This article from a 2010 edition of City Journal (produced by the libertarian-leaning Manhattan Institute) discusses one of my favorite urban stories ever – how Bogotá, Colombia, used mimes to make people obey traffic laws.  The article tells "about former Bogotá, Colombia, mayor Antanas Mockus’s use of mimes to mock jaywalkers, reckless drivers, and other scofflaws. ... The mimes had a noticeable impact on compliance with traffic laws. The mayor reported that traffic fatalities fell by more than 50 percent between 1993 and 2003."  Want to see a photo of the mimes, and more about Mockus? (He also donned a Superman costume and acted as "Supercitizen,"  using humor to get residents laughing, but behaving better.)
I wonder if Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe has considered hiring a mime troupe to enforce (or scare) misbehaving youths at uptown's next street festival? Or would roving bands of chamber musicians serve as prevention? 

Maybe, sometimes, a pencil really isn't just a pencil: Another fun story: "Tall buildings, short architects" from Slate magazine last December.  From what we've seen in Charlotte, short bank CEOs also seem to have an affection for tall bank towers.  And those tall buildings that claim to be so green? Here's a look at evidence that after a certain point, those high-density towers are less environmentally sound than mid-rise buildings.

Monday, June 06, 2011

S.C. highway that was, then wasn't, and maybe is again

It was the highway that was, then wasn't, and now is again. The big story in Carolinas transportation planning in April was the Charleston (S.C.) County Council's rejection of a planned extension to Interstate 526.  It's notable whenever any elected officials – and especially those in reliably conservative South Carolina – say no to any highway.

But never count a highway out.  I-526 was revived with a new council vote last month that rescinded the vote to scrap it.  Its future remains unclear.  (Here's Post and Courier columnist Brian Hicks on a mysterious pro-highway campaign.) Monday night, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley Jr. spoke to Charlotte City Council about historic preservation (talk about a day late and a dollar short, or maybe three decades late ...)  at the invitation of Mayor Anthony Foxx. Riley was gracious enough to let me buttonhole him about 526.  He has been a 526 supporter, and I wanted to hear why a guy who seems to understand good urbanism would want another big ole ugly interstate boring through his city. How, I asked him, could the city prevent the typical highway sprawl if this road gets built?

Riley contends the highway is needed because of the growth in motorists trying to get to and from Folly Beach and Seabrook and Kiawah islands at the far end of Johns Island. That sends too much traffic into the neighborhoods west of the Ashley River, he said. The highway will divert that beachbound traffic.

And to control the sprawl? Riley said the city and county had adopted a plan about 10 years ago to create an urban growth boundary. They downzoned a lot of land on Johns Island – even winning a landowner's federal lawsuit over the downzoning – and, at least inside the city limits, there aren't any more large commercially zoned tracts available. But, I persisted, land can be rezoned. It's not that hard. "A lot of blood was spilled," he said, over those downzonings. "The community's invested in this."

Additionally, plans are that the 526 extension won't be a typical interstate, but an at-grade, four-lane road with a tree-lined median and bike paths. It will have only two intersections, no cloverleafs, and, he said, "zero" development.

Although I'm of the belief that keeping sprawl development off a new highway is about as easy as turning lead into gold, I admit part of me thinks it would be interesting to see if this road can offer a model for a tamer way to build urban highways. It's what I (and many others) have said for years: Don't build highways inside cities. Build boulevards designed to move a lot of traffic but that add beauty, not ugliness. Cities need transportation connections, and that includes street networks. They don't need interstate highways gutting them.