Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Chapel Hill redevlopment: "soft modernism"

lot 5 details

Dean Marvin J. Malecha of the N.C. State College of Design has spent seven peer review sessions with the design team for the Lot 5 and Wallace Deck properties--time well spent, to judge the results. Yesterday the team presented schematic designs.

The basic architectural vocabulary they have chosen draws upon what Dean Malecha referred to as "soft modernism," which he explained to mean a modernist aesthetic that responds to the surrounding context (in downtown Chapel Hill, distinctly not modern), that incorporates color in ways that Corbusier-inspired modernism usually did not, and that makes accommodation for pedestrian traffic in ways that auto-centric modern designers were not typically thinking about. Although he stressed yesterday that there was a long way left to go, what we saw was exciting.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Might as well start in Loving County.

Tens of thousands of copies of America's Providential History are being put to use in home schools, religious schools, seminars, and discusison groups. The book's message (take a peek) is that God will provide: only evil secularists have a problem with natural resources. It includes this interesting thought experiment:

While many secularists view the world as overpopulated, Christians know that God has made the earth sufficiently large, with plenty of resources to accommodate all the people He knew would come into existence. All the 5 billion people on the earth could live in the state of Texas in single-family homes with front and back yards and be fed by production in the rest of the United States.

Never mind the question of who's going to run the farms producing the food for everyone in the world once they take up in Texas: there does seem to be plenty of room. Consider Loving County, for example. The Providential plan might save them from the Liberterian threat.

"Hang on Stevens!"

From Air America, "the mp3 song that's sweeping the Internet and Supreme Court fan clubs."

Via Concurring Opinions. (Seems it's retreaded "Hang on Thurgood," but what the heck.)

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Marketing downtown Chapel Hill

I like Lex's suggestion.

Or how about: "Chapel Hill: Left of center, right of Carrboro." (Or is it?)

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Korematsu: the other side of the story

In these sad days, everybody knows about Korematsu v. United States. Roundly criticized, even by Justice Scalia, as a phenomenally wrong decision, its half-life pulses on among those like Michelle Malkin who would encourage ethnic profiling today. (Here's what Mr. Korematsu had to say to her.)

Eric Muller, who has been engaged in this debate for a good while now, gave the keynote address last week at the annual Northern California Time of Remembrance. The creed of this group, which gathers each year on the date of FDR's executive order that began the Japanese removal, is that "Justice is a matter of continuing education."

Eric's talk effectively participates in this continuing education, reminding us that though the government won Korematsu, in many contemporaneous cases its arguments faltered. At the same time, he reminds us that historical memory itself is forged out of conflict and contestation. Then and now, "what does power want us to forget?" he asks.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Pedestrian safety, cont'd

We still don't know what happened yesterday when apparently an out-of-control car turned the innocent scene of a Girl Scout cookie vending table into a nightmare, but it's a good sign that there's no news of death or serious injury.

The cluster of pedestrian fatalities and injuries that we've seen in Chapel Hill might be seen as freakish bad luck. But I don't think it is. As Peter White said, around the country cities that want to be "walkable" are running smack into the deeply entrenched mentality that cars come first.

The D.C. area is having the same problems and paying the price in human lives.

Walking is by far the most dangerous form of travel in America, according to federal accident data, and that is especially true in Fairfax County. Along much of its 2,700 miles of roadways, designed to channel torrents of commuter traffic, is a no-man's land of missing sidewalks, shabby grass and dirt paths, and unregulated intersections.

In New York City, they're trying to rethink traffic priorities:

"Livable Streets: A New Vision for New York," takes aim at New York's "auto-centric" grid by challenging the city, and in particular, the traffic planners at the Department of Transportation, to rethink how people use the city, and to what end.

Pedestrians outnumber car-commuters in Manhattan by more than seven to one. So how come our streets are largely devoted to motor vehicles? "Other cities have begun to measure the performance of their streets in terms of walkability or bike-ability," notes Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives. "Here in New York, we're still measuring by how many potholes we've filled or the 'vehicular level of service,'"—i.e., how many cars can cram down a street at any given time.

This video from the Project for Public Spaces shows some ways to think outside the car.

UPDATE: Here's what happened. But why did it happen?

Friday, February 17, 2006

Lost: a life

Watch enough soap operas and amnesia starts to seem like a joke, but this story of a man traumatized by Vietnam and Sept. 11 is terribly, terribly sad.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Scaling the food pyramid

Lilliputians in a strange land.

The demographics of happiness

Paul (citing Kirk Ross) points to this interesting, if not really earthshaking, research.

End of an era

Chapel Hill town manager Cal Horton's upcoming retirement is major news. He has had a long, distinguished, and effective tenure. In my two years on the Council I've come to admire his many skills and, really, to count on him to be there to advance our objectives: the negotiation with Ram Development Corp. over our downtown project is one important example that comes to mind.

It's hard to imagine Chapel Hill without him. Council members knew that he was thinking about retirement, but we thought we had him for a few more years. He said that had been the plan, but that he and his wife Ginger had come to a different conclusion, realizing that you never knew what lay ahead, how much time you had.

The Council is going to have a tough job finding a worthy replacement. At least, in a move typical of Cal for its courtesy and and thoughtfulness, he has given us more than six months notice. He also said it mattered that this was not a Council election year. He has really thought it through. Yes, quite a challenge to find his successor.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

A singular style

I wish I could hear Professor Robert Russell's lecture tomorrow on campus: "The Architecture of Politeness. The Charleston Single House: Form and Meaning."

"Unique" is an overused word, but the Charleston single house is a unique architectural form, found nowhere else. This requires some explanation. The traditional explanations (of which there are two) are superficially convincing, but wrong. This talk proposes a new history of the form, linking it both to the physical development of the city and to Charleston’s reputation as a mannerly city.

This sounds like a fascinating subject, made even more so by Fitz Brundage's excavation of Charleston's history of reinventing itself beginning in the 1930s, when economic times were rough.

In hindsight it may appear inevitable that history would become Charleston's principal attraction. White tourist boosters understandably sought to exploit the city's extensive colonial and antebellum-era architecture. But they still had to decide what aspects of the city's history to emphasize or ignore. White Charlestonians elected to dwell on historical qualities they believed had distinguished the city throughout its history. These attributes, including dilapidated mansions and unpaved streets, old buildings and quaint fashions, were now interpreted as something other than marks of poverty and isolation. They came to represent the serenity and dignity of the "old days." Charlestonians chose to pass over the low country's conspicuous role in fomenting the Civil War and instead dwelled on the city's colonial elegance, old-fashioned hospitality, quaint mannerisms, nostalgic atmosphere, and purported racial harmony. Over time, white Charlestonians renovated and restored the built environment of the city and adapted their habits so as to present an unusually pervasive and alluring historical experience that attracted hundreds of thousands of tourists each year.

It would be interesting to see if Russell's history of the "mannerly city" deals with any of that.

A couple of years ago my mother and I visited Jack Bass in his Charleston single house. We also enjoyed a Gullah tour of the city, which led us to Denmark Vesey's house (looks like a version of a single house); the site of the "Whipping House"; and other unmannerly landmarks.

UPDATE: Catherine Bishir refers me to a new UNC Press book about Charleston that sounds very relevant here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Still searching for the right war

My brother caught this one. The Pentagon morphs the "war on terror" into "the long war." China is cited for possessing "the greatest potential to compete militarily with the United States."

My brother wonders how a Chinese speaker would pronounce this new name.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Bypass surgery

Giving directions to our house, I've been known to say, "It's one turn off the bypass." But I don't do that any more. I can't count on people knowing what the 15-501 bypass is. The more recently you came to town, the less sense it would make to you that Fordham Boulevard is, or ever was, a bypass, because what it does, in fact, is to bisect major parts of Chapel Hill.

In the postwar housing boom of the 1950s, when the houses in our neighborhood were going up, the neighborhood was not within the town. That was part of the attraction: it was a classic suburban "borderland" in the tradition of Olmsted's Riverside, not completely rural, but not urban either. Two families that we know of kept horses.

The bypass, back then, was a two-lane highway. In the late 1950s the interchange at the point where 15-501 splits off with Hwy. 54 was improved and widened, for which the DOT declared eminent domain on a corner of Eben Merritt's pasture. He got a consent judgment of $30,000 for his loss of access (an amount equal to the cost of a nice house in the neighborhood).

The widening to four lanes--six counting the left-turn lanes at Manning Drive--began in the 1980s. The neighborhood formed a voluntary association (today's Kings Mill-Morgan Creek Neighborhood Association), mainly in order to negotiate the details of the new right of way, etc. But one thing they didn't get was a decent pedestrian crosswalk. Since then the town has grown right across the "bypass" to include the houses on the other side of Morgan Creek, and, to the south of us, Southern Village. Combining the traffic from that growth with the traffic in and out of Chatham County, Fordham Boulevard is consistently rated one of the most congested roads in our jurisdiction, and it is only getting worse.

If you are in Chapel Hill, you know what I'm leading up to. The intersection of Manning Drive and the 15-501 "bypass" is where David Galinsky was killed on January 25. The driver was not at fault, but neither, I believe, was he. Even if you're in a car, the green light coming out of our neighborhood is so short you hardly make it out. When an intersection is as hostile as this one, it makes no sense to blame the pedestrian. Bad planning is to blame.

This week, the city of Pittsburgh was found by a jury to be 20 percent liable in the death of a pedestrian at a poorly designed intersection. In that case the driver was at fault, but the point is that the city was too. North Carolina is one of the few states that don't allow the blame to be split up this way, but again that misses the point: an intersection that invites pedestrian traffic but does not effectively handle it is a badly designed intersection.

On Monday night prior to the Council meeting, Jim Ward and I have called a news conference to highlight the issue of pedestrian/cyclist/jogger safety at major DOT-controlled intersections in Chapel Hill, and in particular on Fordham Boulevard at or near Manning Drive. Citizens are planning to petition us to press harder for a workable solution. To the Council's prior requests to improve this intersection, the DOT has responded with a classic Catch-22: there isn't enough pedestrian traffic to warrant it. We've got to work on changing the whole mindset from designing for cars first to designing for a transportation network that includes people.

Peter White, director of the North Carolina Botanical Garden--over here with us on the wrong side of the bypass--has prepared a statement that puts the issue nicely:

Too often in today’s world, roadways become isolating and unsafe barriers. In cities across America from Boston to Portland, Oregon, governments are seeking ways to overcome the isolation that roadways impose within a community and to build infrastructure that supports walking, biking and public transportation. These solutions are good for exercise and fresh air, good for reducing congestion, good for lessening pollution, and good for a sense of community. Above all they proclaim the message that we can design with people, as well as cars, in mind.

Fordham Boulevard at Manning isn't the only hostile intersection in town. The bus stops at the apartment complexes on MLK Boulevard require people to cross unsafely, as do several places on Franklin Street, to name a few. What the worst ones have in common is that they're controlled by the state Deparment of Transportation. We've got to get them to the table and come up with engineered solutions that we all can live with.

UPDATE: Thanks to Fiona at the Indy for picking up the cause.

Notes on language, admittedly random

The tired old "no problem" has become "not a problem."

"On the ground" has enjoyed a meteoric rise since the beginning of the Iraq war. "The situation on the ground" in New Orleans when Katrina hit may or may not have been known to President Bush. (Where was Bush if not "on the ground" too? OK, never mind . . .)

"Push back" is pushing out. This one is harder to quantify, but it seems to me that there is more "pushing back" going on now than before. Maybe there's more to push back against.

Ruby Bridges

Ruby Bridges has a place in history for her courage in integrating a New Orleans public school in 1960 all by herself. If you're my age more or less, you might remember Robert Coles' sensitive and perceptive treatment of her story as part of his work on the moral lives of children.

Today, Ruby Bridges is back in New Orleans hoping to rebuild--and to integrate, again--the very school that she attended under protection of federal marshals.

Jonathan Tilove has the story.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Homelessness: required reading

OK, for you it's optional, but I'd like to make this New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell required reading for the steering committee of our Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness. Thanks to Anton for the pointer.

Gladwell's point sneaks up on you. He starts out with one of those "faces of homelessness" cliches: Murray Barr of Reno, Nev., is a homeless person, and guess what, he's a real person just like you. But it turns out that Murray Barr is part of a statistical argument. He is one of the "chronically homeless," and from his story, Gladwell turns to tell us about the Ph.D. student who wrote the dissertation that determined that while only 10 percent of the homeless are chronically homeless, they cost the rest of us an awful lot of money. Between substance abuse treatments and ER visits, Murray Barr "probably ran up a medical bill as large as anyone in the state of Nevada."

So the point is bound up with the objectives and strategies of the national initiative to end chronic homelessness: it makes economic sense to put people like Barr directly into housing. It's cheaper than the alternative. But what's valuable about Gladwell's article is the way he shows us that what makes economic sense does not intuitively make moral sense. What about the transitionally homeless? where is the immediate help for them? What about the people at risk of homelessness? where is their housing subsidy? Why does an alcoholic bum deserve a place to live anyway? Isn't this a "special treatment" plan, plain and simple? Such solutions, Gladwell writes, "have little appeal to the right, because they involve special treatment for people who do not deserve special treatment; and they have little appeal to the left, because their emphasis on efficiency over fairness suggests the cold number-crunching of Chicago-school cost-benefit analysis." Still, he concludes, "helping a few people a lot" can have a significant impact.

In Orange County, before we get too far down the road on crafting our 10-year plan, we are going to have to make some policy decisions about how to allocate limited resources. Which problem are we trying to solve? Only the problem of the chronically homeless (as the federal goverenment would hope)? Or is our work broader than that? What kind of plan will have the best chance of helping the most people?

Tonight on UNC-TV: "Negroes With Guns"

Before he wrote Blood Done Sign My Name, Tim Tyson published another book about race in North Carolina. Only this one was not about a single episode that nobody wanted to talk about. Radio Free Dixie is about one of the most important black activists of the civil rights era. From the book blurb:

Radio Free Dixie is the remarkable story of Robert F. Williams--one of the most influential black activists of the generation that toppled Jim Crow, created a new black sense of self, and forever altered the arc of American history. In the late 1950s, as president of the Monroe, North Carolina, branch of the NAACP, Williams and his followers used machine guns, dynamite, and Molotov cocktails to confront Klan terrorists. Advocating "armed self-reliance" by black Southerners, Williams challenged not only white supremacists but also Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights establishment. Forced to flee during the 1960s to Cuba--where he broadcast "Radio Free Dixie," a program of black politics and music that could be heard as far away as Los Angeles and New York City--and then China, Williams remained a controversial figure for the rest of his life. "Robert Williams was just a couple of years ahead of his time," Malcolm X said in 1964, "but he laid a good groundwork, and he will be given credit in history for the stand he took."

The book opens with a young Williams walking down Main Street in Monroe where he happened to see a police officer beat the tar out of a black woman. "Eleven-year-old Robert Williams looked on in terror as Big Jesse flattened the black woman with his huge fists, then 'dragged her off to the nearby jailhouse, her dress up over her head, the same way that a cave man would club and drag his sexual prey.'" "Big Jesse" was the father of Sen. Jesse Helms.

Tonight at 10, UNC-TV is airing the new documentary "Negroes With Guns: Robert Williams and Black Power." Read more about it, including what Tim Tyson has to say, in today's NYT.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Betty Friedan

From Feminist Law Professors, a nice collection of tributes to Betty Friedan, including a link to our own ae.

American idle

On Paul's birthday, it is time to be grateful to be married to a man who doesn't care about sports (save for Carolina basketball, of course), whose only interest in the Super Bowl is the halftime show (sadly, he seems to have believed the Stones would sing Happy Birthday to him). At our house we are pretty out of touch with the mainstays of popular culture--at least as recently defined.

But we did enjoy (if that is the word for it) Match Point.

A lust for Lustrons

An ambitious program to recycle refabricated steel houses designed for returning World War II soldiers. Quantico Marine Base is accepting applications through April 12.

There's one in Chapel Hill (at least I assume it's still here).

Friday, February 03, 2006

Civil rights conference today

I'll be at the Friday Center today for a conference on redistricting and minority voters sponsored by the UNC Center for Civil Rights. Thanks to Ashley Osment for the invitation.


MORE: Keynoter Donna Brazile was wonderful. As someone who has done her fair share of gerrymandering, she is ready to throw the whole system out and start over. She wants redistricting reform, but only if it really includes voters from the bottom up. "Unless the system is open, fair, and equitable, citizens will not support it; in fact, they will run away."

She's not too confident in W. Although he said to her personally after Katrina that he would push for renewal of the Voting Rights Act, she noted he didn't mention it in the State of the Union.

Speaking about her D.C. neighborhood: When John Ashcroft moved down the street, I said, well, they stole it fair and square; he deserves a place to stay. But when Katherine Harris moved in, I said, Lord, what have I done to You? That Halloween I went as a chad, not a hanging chad, not a pregnant chad, but a mad chad.

Sam Hirsch, who represents the "Jackson plaintiffs" in the Texas redistricting case to be heard in the Supreme Court on March 1, gave a fine luncheon address. He shared his disapointment that the Department of Justice, earlier this week, filed an amicus brief on the side of the state of Texas. Great case; bad news if he loses.

texas redistricting
The vertical tan snake-like district at the bottom (Dist. 25) connects a block of Austin with a block of Laredo. The baby blue box in the north central region (Dist. 26) is mostly Republican suburban but reaches down to grab the blacks of southeast Fort Worth. The large purple area (Dist. 23) is represented by a Hispanic, Henry Bonilla, who has steadily lost the support of Hispanic voters: this is a Republican district. These are just a few of the issues on the table.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

DC Metro trades gentility for "attitude"

Sandy Carroll has been the voice of the D.C. Metro for a decade. Some riders say "her voice makes them think good thoughts." But Metrorail officials have other thoughts:

Moving away from a kinder, gentler era, Metro opened the new year with a contest for a more authoritative - even cheekier - voice of the subway.