life between the pages

“I spent my life folded between the pages of books.
In the absence of human relationships I formed bonds with paper characters. I lived love and loss through stories threaded in history; I experienced adolescence by association. My world is one interwoven web of words, stringing limb to limb, bone to sinew, thoughts and images all together. I am a being comprised of letters, a character created by sentences, a figment of imagination formed through fiction.”
Tahereh Mafi, Shatter Me

Friday, April 15, 2005

the yankees are comin'

This is forwarded from the NC Plan mailing list, where this week, the discussion focused on the Census Bureau's new findings.

David Stein wrote:
"North Carolina continues to have a highly ambivalent attitude toward planning - we do it with great reluctance in many cases, and avoid it entirely elsewhere. The continuing game in which taxes from new development is used as a tool in setting up bidding wars between communities or between incorporated and unincorporated areas has allowed development to maximize the externalities they create: long term costs borne by tax payers as a class rather than by the newer homes that cause the costs. This leads to sprawl, leap frog development, air and water pollution, and traffic congestion, not to mention pedestrian unfriendly environments. Note how many supposedly "new urbanist" subdivisions are miles from any real center of activity. North Carolina is also a beautiful place, with an attractive climate, many good jobs (at least for the well educated who can afford new homes), plenty of willing developers who are unwilling or unable to put the pieces together, and local governments unable to get past the anti-tax climate that would allow them to do better planning and development guidance. Yes, there are exceptions, but in observing the scene closely for several years as a transplanted Californian (and no, we win no prizes there, either), I am saddened by the inability of our profession to get ahead of the curve and make the case for not just "smart" growth, but for very much smarter policies on land use management, transportation, health, education and economic activity. We need to recognize that the population has grown dramatically, and to rethink the nature of our development process. To what extent does the "right" of the property owner to maximize individual profit exclude the right of the community at large to avoid economically untenable patterns of development. Why can't we use common sense a bit more often: we know the consequences of haphazard, poorly sited development, yet somehow we seem to be making exceptions for each case that comes along. Even when we go to great lengths to improve a project, we still seem to only be able to make it less objectionable rather than truly an improvement. Look at the "new" development on the site of the formerly proposed "Coker Towers" in Raleigh: months of negotiations still left us with a project that it vastly over-scale for the site, with little public access despite its density, and located where public transit will never be a meaningful option. Or the almost gleeful pattern of continued annexation at the outer edges (Raleigh now touches Rolesville!) which can only undermine the billion plus the city is causing to be invested in its downtown. Isn't there a point at which we can figure out how to do the right think rather than just please everyone or even worse, avoid displeasing anyone "important"?I know it is hard, and that one must listen carefully to the political pressures on local councils, but still, we have not done our job very well if the term smart growth is largely a term of ridicule, the NC Smart Growth Alliance has had to fold up its tent, and the state has yet to mandate appropriate planning legislation for all counties and municipalities."


sophronia_ said...

Yeah. We could always return to the good ol' days when they wouldn't come to the South 'cause they were afraid we would shoot 'em first & ask questions later..... and besides, there was no such thing as air conditioning and sometimes there were even flies.

Sorry, in a bad mood today and my tongue is bleeding from being bitten in two to continue being polite while I listened on the phone to yet another person-who-moved here-from-somewhere-else rant about how awful "her neighborhood looks, the grass along the roadsides hasn't been cut in ages, where is the town maintenance department? Somebody isn't doing their job!" I explain politely we don't have a maintenance department, and DOT maintains the ROWs, and it is Spring, which is when the grass grows. Some people think it is picturesque. "Picturesque! Oh, you mean like in the country and all. Yes, well, that is true. But I think it is a health hazard. I think it breeds vermin. And there is standing water in the ditches right there. What about mosquitos?"
Yes, ma'am. Mosquitos do breed in standing water. But it is only April, and the mosquitos by and large do not come out this early. And the ditches are there so the water does not stand in the road.
"I see. Well. I think it looks awful and somebody is not doing his job. And there's my neighbor. He has a truck that he drives to work. It has lettering on it, and he parks it in the driveway, which is on my side of his lot. And there it sits, every day, looking at me. It's large and white and has blue lettering. Can't you do something about that? He should park it in his garage."
What does your neighbor do for a living?
"He's the greenskeeper at the golf course. And he mows my lawn."
I see. So the lettering on his truck says....
"Joe's Lawn Service."
Have you tried talking to your neighbor about where he parks the truck?
"Yes, but he has things in his garage and the truck won't fit in there, he tells me."
Is the garage attached or detached from the house?
"It is attached."
Do you know what he is storing in the garage?
"Stuff for his business, mostly. Lawn equipment and that sort of thing."
Can it be seen from the road? Does he have a sign in his yard?
"No, it's in the garage, I told you! And no, there's no sign, just the truck."
So he is operating a home business, I take it?
"Yeah, right out of his truck! Some home business, I say. He shouldn't be able to have a truck."
Yes, ma'am. I read her the home occupation regs and speak very slowly and distinctly when I come to the part about "Vehicles used primarily as passenger vehicles (automobiles, vans, pick-up trucks, &c.) shall be permitted in connection with the conduct of the home occupation." "One name plate, occupational sign, or business identification sign shall be allowed." So what kind of truck is it?
"A Dodge Ram."
I see. Not a commercial-type pickup? Does he have any other trucks or vehicles?
"No, just the truck. And it has lettering on it!"
Yes. I will come out and take a look at the truck and speak with him, just be sure he is staying within all of our home occupation requirements. Thank you for letting us know. Is there anything else I can do for you today?
"Yeah. You can stick it in your ear. I know you people don't do anything up there but sit around all day. Our hard-earned money in taxes goes to pay your salary, you know."
Yes, I know. Thank you for that. I really appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Does anyone ever feel as if what we do is really fruitless? I ask you. Today I feel kindof like that.

Has anybody read Jane Jacobs lately? What is the general consensus on her writing? I just re-read "Cities & the Wealth of Nations" and am shocked at how much I had forgotten, and how apropos it seems to today's love affair with globalization. She puts heavy emphasis on the importance of small businesses, locally-owned shops, people working for themselves. Maybe if we all stay home & work for ourselves, they will stop coming, because they apparently can't stand the sight of it.

My 2c. Thank you for listening!

sophronia_ said...

I loved your rant. You are absolutely right- Jane Jacobs does offer a lot. Why we fear collective knowledge and action I shall never know, since it is so much better than being directed by someone who inevitably has a very particular slant they want to get across. One more reason to cut back on globalization: it engenders too much competition which means we work too hard and too many hours, leaving too little time to become involved in the complex community conversations that should lead to better visions and tools to bring them about.
Best wishes

sophronia_ said...

I thought that only happened in Eden. For what it’s worth, you have made me feel better today.


Only in Eden!! Surely not --Eden is paradise, isn't it?!! How's it going, btw? I wrote you when I was at Guilford County, you may not remember me. I asked about the Spray Mills. If I were a billionaire, I'd buy them & re-do them as a Children's Museum, an Art Community (complete with artists' garrets & loads of display space), and I'd wake up the spinning room again making real silk hosiery for us plain-dressing Luddite re-enactors to wear.

Hope you are fine. Thanks so much for writing.


sophronia_ said...


Reading Jacobs will only depress you . . . if you're having a bad day due to transplants try something like "Tourist Season" by Carl Hiaasen.

Potential responses.
1. Mowing . . . "Its a low impact design, context sensitive program to maintain meadow habitat along minor state maintained roads to benefit our native vermin."
2. Standing water . . . "Its another low impact design tool so that stormwater runoff recharges the groundwater, plus it provides food for dragonflies"
3. Home occupations . . . a) "Have you considered just looking somewhere else?", b) "Privet can grow into an opaque hedge very quickly but with your issues I think it best to recommend some fence contractors . . . or perhaps a therapist" and/or c) "Does it bother you that you can read Dodge or in your world is it OK to advertise a huge international corporation but not a tiny local business?"
4. Taxes . . . "you mean your husband's hard-earned money, right? Because unlike you I work for a living."


sophronia_ said...


Ditto on Harrison’s responses. However, you might suggest that she ask her neighbor to conduct some community service by mowing the ROW.


sophronia_ said...

If it’s “tourist season”, then why can’t we shoot them?

The image of North Carolina as a back-woods, redneck, moonshinin’ state that would elect the likes of Jesse Helms needs to be expounded upon.


sophronia_ said...

Ah, the trading of the war stories ... the cocktail-party anecdotes ... !

Here are a few from my previous life as a zoning administrator:

-- There are swallows in my chimney. Can’t you send someone to get them

-- You planners aren’t really taxpayers, because your salary is paid by the
government, therefore anything you pay in taxes didn’t belong to you anyway.

-- You’re anti-youth and pro-drugs because you won’t let me place a teen roller skating rink in the part of a flight path to a municipal airport where the FAA prohibits buildings that may contain assemblies of people.

-- You’re anti-wildlife because you and the town attorney drafted an ordinance to prevent me from raising wolf-dog hybrids in an 8 x 8 enclosure made of plywood and blue tarps in my backyard in the heart of a town of 15,000 people. (Abutting the state capital, I might add.)

-- You can’t allow the use proposed by the applicant, because there are “red-headed woodchucks” on the property and they are endangered.