Thursday, August 30, 2007

The future, past and present

One of the neatest things about the blog Paleo-Future is the way it consistently reminds you how far off the mark predictions about the future have always been. (Where's my three-wheeled runabout?)

So it is with a bit of skepticism that I read in the Guardian about a smoothly running, traffic jam-less "world where cars drive themselves, people could be tagged so they are constantly monitored, and nearly all modes of transport can be run by computers rather than people."

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Today in history


From the Library of Congress' American Memory Project:

Ten suffragists were arrested on August 28, 1917 as they picketed the White House. The protesters were there in an effort to pressure President Woodrow Wilson to support the proposed "Anthony amendment" to the Constitution which would guarantee women the right to vote. . . .

Friday, August 24, 2007

It's hot. Go read a book.

Via wood s lot, seasonable advice from Andrei Codrescu.

Quietly, quietly, the artworks and the poems and the stories keep being made in small towns and big towns and middle-sized ones, storms of beauty like butterflies migrating past one’s hoary head. You’d think that by now every wall in every house in the world would be covered by works of art and that there would be a stack of poems by every chair, being read dawn to dusk, loudly or to oneself, by lovers of words. But no, most walls are bare, sporting at best religious icons, and at worst mass-produced pictures from yard sales and Walmarts, and the people read the crawlers at the bottom of TV news and the thin newspapers with even thinner words and zero matter for reflection. People complain of excessive mediatization, of too much TV, too-loud advertising, too many sensationalistic news stories, but I don’t believe it. I think that a great big silence surrounds and suffuses us and that all the noise the world makes barely penetrates it, and that most people’s inner lives are muted craters gurgling forth only the loopy monotony of one’s own voice discussing misconnections and mortality in nonstop prose. And yet, over there, by the trees in the Vermont hills, lovely magical theater is being made for decades by the Bread & Puppet Theatre, and there by the Russian River, living for years in a house beneath the redwoods, poet Pan Nolan projects in lovely lines the issues of a consciousness intensely immersed in nature and irony, and a little up the ocean, in Prague, Vincent Farnsworth makes the cacophony of the band rehearsal next door into a manual for gracefully ageing, and just around the corner in Baton Rouge, Colleen Fava, burning sacrificially for art is reading Robert Musil in his wooly and unfinished entirety for the purpose of feeding her mind and pleasing her capricious teacher. So why is it, that all most people hear is their own lonely sorrow drowned in TV noise, and all they see is their insignificance barely kept at bay by shopping? The answer is that there are two devils: the Devil of Conformity who keeps us from seeing and hearing what artists make and thus condemns us to sterile solitude, and the Devil of Art and Joy who is fighting the Devil of Conformity as we speak. Today, in the deep laziness and profound tedium of summer, go out and buy an artwork and a book of poetry and keep it talismanically around, or take it with you into the waves. You must quit boring yourself.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Grace Paley

Grace Paley died yesterday. She was one of the first women writers I really loved. I saw her at a PEN conference in Houston around 1977, and again when she read at George Mason University from her 1985 book Later the Same Day (just checked my autographed copy). The Times obit is correct about her voice, both her writerly voice and her actual, physical voice. Her stories are best read aloud, and really best read by her. I had her on Books on Tape once, only once, a library copy, but there's a stretch of Wade Avenue in Raleigh that I can't go down--this is 10 years or more ago now--without hearing her voice. Most times, she is reading the story "Wants," which starts like this:

“I saw my ex-husband in the street. I was sitting on the steps of the new library.

“Hello, my life, I said. We had once been married for twenty-seven years, so I felt justified.
“He said, What? What life? No life of mine.
“I said, O.K. I don’t argue when there’s real disagreement. I got up and went into the library to see how much I owed them.
“The librarian said $32 even and you’ve owed it for eighteen years. I didn’t deny anything. Because I don’t understand how time passes. I have had those books. I have often thought of them. The library is only two blocks away.
“My ex-husband followed me to the Books Returned desk. He interrupted the librarian, who had more to tell. In many ways, he said, as I look back, I attribute the dissolution of our marriage to the fact that you never invited the Bertrams to dinner.
“That’s possible, I said. But really, if you remember: first, my father was sick that Friday, then the children were born, then I had those Tuesday-night meetings, then the war began.”

But don't stop there! You can hear the whole short story read, not by Paley, but by another interesting reader.

It's a story that sticks with you, like the smell of the bacon that Paley's narrator and her (not yet ex) husband had, and yet didn't have, in their small apartment, where, it seems, they had, and yet didn't have, many things.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

"A is for Architecture"

George Smart's mother, Ann Seltman Smart, was an accomplished radio personality in Raleigh in the 1950s, one of the first women broadcasters in North Carolina. In the 1960s, for UNC-TV, she produced this great 20-minute documentary film on North Carolina architecture. What a wonderful period piece from a time when architecture looked forward and North Carolina was where it was happening. We look back at the 60s and wonder how they could have made so many mistakes, how we ended up with all this sprawl. What gets forgotten is that they were trying, at least the best of them were, to "design for living" in all the right ways. What's painfully evident from this production is that architects considered themselves urban planners. I don't know exactly when or why architects retreated from the front lines of planning and building. We don't look to architects to be planners any more. Architecture is for the few who can afford it and who care to ask for it. This film is from another time.

So, watch the film; then watch this 7-minute video that George has produced as part of his nomination of his mother to the North Carolina Broadcasters Hall of Fame. Clearly she deserves to be there!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Monarch season in Merritt's Pasture

Ken Moore devotes his Carrboro Citizen column this week to the milkweed stand in Merritt's Pasture. Paul and Tucker were among the "observant citizens" he mentions who noted the annual return of the monarchs to this spot; I was on the Town Council committee that decided to mark out the milkweed stands so that they wouldn't get mowed down at the wrong time of the year. The metal stakes aren't all that attractive, but they do their job.

Do as Ken suggests and go check it out yourself--till the heat breaks, best early in the morning.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

House for sale: Wright for you?

Yes yes! Only it would require relocation to Minnesota--and a lot more than that. Sotheby's is offering this Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house for $3.75 million.

The Don and Virginia Lovness estate in Stillwater, Minnesota sits on 20 acres of lakefront property located 15 minutes east of St. Paul. The home has two bedroom wings separated by the living spaces that include an immense fireplace built of hand-cut Wisconsin stone. A glass window wall faces views of the lake. The property includes both the main house, known as the studio, and a smaller home, the cottage, which is also made of Wisconsin stone. The homes have been maintained by the family since the mid 1950s and the built-in furnishings, designed by Wright for the homes, go with the property. There are also Wright designs for three additional cottages.

Designed in the mid-1950s, this house is in Wright's "Usonian" style. That's a word he apparently made up:

Some suggest that Wright came up with the name during his first trip to Europe in 1910, when there was some discussion about referring to the USA as "Usona" in order to distinguish it from the new Union of South Africa. (In those days, as for much of the century, it's easy to see how the two nations could be confused.) Wright once said he took the name from Samuel Butler's utopian novel Erewhon. But no one's been able to track it down there. . . . Most likely it was a joke. After all, read in a mirror the title of Butler's novel is Nowhere.

Usonian houses were small, "organic" in design and choice of materials, and accommodating.

"We can never make the living room big enough, the fireplace important enough, or the sense of relationship between exterior, interior and environment close enough, or get enough of these good things I've just mentioned," Wright wrote in a 1948 issue of Architectural Forum. "A Usonian house is always hungry for the ground, lives by it, becoming an integral feature of it."

As John Sergeant writes in his excellent 1976 book on Wright's Usonian houses,

They had no "sense of the grand," but were designed for the celebration of the family coming together. They were not formulated for servant-help, but were planned for ease of maintenance with a central kitchen from which conversation could be maintained with guests.

But, Sergeant continues, Wright came up with this revolutionary idea "in post-Depression America at a time when an organic architecture in which each person was free to express his or her needs was clearly impossible." For that and many other reasons--Wright's own politics being among them--his hoped-for revolution in housing design for the masses didn't happen.

The price wasn't the problem. Usonian houses could be had for $5,000 to $10,000. But for other reasons, the revolution didn't happen. Instead, the precious few intact Wright designs that come on the market, like the Lovness property, go for millions. Who is going to buy this house? Never mind the credit crunch. What kind of person with that kind of money is going to want a home of a mere 1,875 sq. ft., with no room for a Jacuzzi in the master bath?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Year of the deer

We hate their destructive ruminant ways, but the salt block we have out behind the house sends a different message. This summer we've gotten almost used having two pairs of doe and fawn spend the afternoon relaxing in our back yard, but yesterday they were joined by two more fawns on a frolic of their own--a total of six!

If I were a poet, I'd write a poem about it. But wait, somebody already has.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Saturday in Saxapahaw (II)

Django Haskins wowed the crowds again for his part in the Saxapahaw Rivermill music series held amidst a bustling farmer's market. He played a handful of new tunes and many old favorites.

Not sure where to turn? Aimless Farm has what you need.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Triangle Modernist Houses

Thank goodness, George Smart has taken all of his impressive research on the modernist architects of the Raleigh, Chapel Hill, and Durham region and has launched a web site. Writes George by way of introduction,

In January of 2007, I typed "Raleigh modernist architecture" into Google and began learning about our tiny universe of cool houses and their ardent admirers. A cataloguer at heart, I could not resist the urge to learn and index as many as I could, visiting almost all of them or at least talking with their owners over the next six months. This webpage is the result of my local investigative research. I also included some others I particularly like from outside the area. These houses truly rock, if you are into this kind of thing...
...which I learned, sadly, that most people aren't. The failure of modernist design to catch on with homebuyers is staggering. Except in rare cases, like the neighborhood of Arapahoe Acres in Englewood, Colorado, these unconventional houses are considered slightly treasonous anomalies to the predictable homeowners association mindset.

All too true, but it's also true that many people are interested in this architecture--I hear from them from all over the place, via this blog, all the time. In Charlotte, the real estate community is catching on: there's at least one real estate agent who markets these houses for their historic architectural value.

It would be a great niche market for someone in Chapel Hill.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Northside Night Out

Last night, once again the Northside neighborhood participated in the National Night Out, an event designed for neighborhood-building and community support for fighting crime. Paul and I were there. It always seems to be on the first Tuesday in August. I don't know why it's invariably on the hottest day of the year--a test of fortitude perhaps. Anyway, even in the heat, this year's event went well. We ended up at the Hargraves Center. I've been going for a number of years, at least since I was involved with the neighborhood in creating the Northside Neighborhood Conservation District. Back then, the gathering place was the vacant lot that formed a kind of peninsula at Sykes, Whitaker, and N. Graham Streets. But by now, Empowerment, Inc. has built two houses there, strategically filling a gap in the neighborhood, providing attractive affordable housing, not coincidentally enabling more "eyes on the street."

The folks in Northside have a lot to be proud of. They're actively "taking back" their neighborhood, and by being the first neighborhood conservation district in Chapel Hill--not an easy process by any means--they paved the way for four others.

New early voting site at old post office

When Andrea Rohrbacher made the great suggestion that the old post office on Franklin St. be used for early voting, as an alternative to the Morehead, we encouraged the town manager to run with it. Yesterday, the Board of Elections approved it as the site.

That's wonderful. Now the trick as always will be to get out the vote!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Turning a corner on homelessness

The Orange County 10-year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness has was adopted earlier this year by all the participating jurisdictions, including Chapel Hill. Out of that plan came the recommendation to form an "executive team" to oversee the plan's implementation. Last night, that team met for the first time. I was selected to be the chair of this group. This is a challenging assignment. We are charged with hiring a full-time coordinator for the plan and overseeing the work. I'll shortly be meeting with a subcommittee to flesh out the job description and recommend how to go about advertising and interviewing for the position. Here's the charge of the executive team from the 10-year plan document:

The Executive Team will provide insight as to the direction, and new efforts that are needed over the course of the 10 Year Implementation. It will serve as a base of community support by advocating for programs that move the results of the 10 Year Plan forward within Orange County and provide oversight for the 10 Year Plan Coordinator. This Team will meet quarterly [at least!] to ensure that goals, objectives and strategies of the 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness are being met, and to help address the inevitable challenges inherent in this ambitious initiative. At least one meeting per year will serve as a public forum for the community-at-large. These annual forums will provide the Executive Team an opportunity to update the community on plan activities and to reaffirm community direction and support as the Plan evolves and new strategies are adopted to end and prevent homelessness in the next decade. Annually, strategies will be prioritized for the coming 12 months.

Members of the executive team are the ones who will forge the critical links to the community in this new and ambitious project. One thing I learned at the conference of the National Alliance to End Homelessness was that every place that has taken on such a project has responded to the challenges of its own circumstances in its own creative ways. Another is that the two most important words are "partnership" and "collaboration."

I shared with this group a DVD showcasing the work of Seattle's Downtown Emergency Services Center, a nonprofit organization that provides "disabled and vulnerable homeless adults," particularly those with mental health and substance abuse problems, with a continuum of housing and support services ranging from emergency shelter to permanent supportive housing. They've achieved great successes, including, recently, the opening of their 1811 Eastlake Project (built to house 75 chronically homeless people, targeting alcoholics) in downtown Seattle after an 18-month legal battle with one real estate developer. (See a recent story about this amazing project.)

King County, Washington (where Seattle is), has a comprehensive 10-Year Plan, managed by the Committee to End Homelessness in King County. By their own reports, they're making good progress. But other contemporaneous reports are not so rosy: wrote the Seattle Weekly over a year ago, "The region's ambitious 10-year timetable to end homelessness is in serious trouble, undercut and under funded. The Bush administration is sending mixed signals, and things are about to get worse."

Clearly, we have our work cut out for us.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Human trafficking bill awaits signature

The bill to authorize assistance to victims of human trafficking, sponsored by Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, has passed both houses and awaits Gov. Easley's signature. This bill will allow victims of trafficking to be treated like victims, like people with tremendous needs for help--not like the criminals who have abused them. Thanks and congratulations to Sen. Kinnaird and others for taking this issue on.

Donna Bickford and the Carolina Women's Center at UNC deserve a lot of the credit for this victory, too.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Weird Al in full

How great to see Weird Al Yankovic in concert at Carowinds last night! A multimedia show, covering a lot of ground. While we had to explain some allusions to Tucker (e.g. "all choked up like Momma Cass," ouch), he had us outsmarted on many others. But in one way or another we are all white and nerdy.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Interview with Ernest Dollar

Ernie Dollar, who in March became executive director of the Preservation Society of Chapel Hill, tells Fiona Morgan for The Independent Weekly that he wants to get younger people to embrace the cause of preservation; and his notion of "preservation" goes beyond old houses.

Most people do have a very antiquated view of preservations societies, and I think [preservation societies] have sort of helped feed that stereotype. Our mission statement is to preserve the architectural heritage, the natural landscape and the culture of Chapel Hill. It encompasses those who are interested in saving the trees, stone walls and green space, and the arts and music communities.

He also thinks it's time to realize that mid-century modern is a proud part of our architectural history too--something that naturally warms my heart!

Recently the Preservation Society and Orange Politics hosted a fundraiser for The People's Channel.

See the Preservation Society flickr pages for some neat photos.

UPDATE: The Chapel Hill News has taken notice, too.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Tragedy waiting to happen

No one could have predicted which bridge it would be, or how catastrophic the results, but the bridge collapse in Minneapolis was foretold in the 2005 Report Card for America's Infrastructure. The category of bridges got a C, which was the second highest grade (slightly behind solid waste).

Between 2000 and 2003, the percentage of the nation's 590,750 bridges rated structurally deficient or functionally obsolete decreased slightly from 28.5% to 27.1%. However, it will cost $9.4 billion a year for 20 years to eliminate all bridge deficiencies. Long-term underinvestment is compounded by the lack of a Federal transportation program.

As I did then when I blogged about it, this time I couldn't help thinking about Walker Percy's Love in the Ruins.

Conservation victory

From Raleigh: Thanks to the advocacy of Land for Tomorrow and others, this year's state budget includes $128 million over two years for land and water conservation.

Congratulations to all of those who worked hard to get there. It's great news for all of us.