Pondering Greensboro’s Future

Growing up in Raleigh I’ve had several occasions to do things in Greensboro, especially in the Coliseum area. During my lifetime Greensboro seemed to get all of the great concerts, got great stores before Raleigh, and got to host the ACC Tournament. For many, many years there were real reasons to not only visit Greensboro, but to live there over Raleigh.

Greensboro was a thriving mill town in the first half of last century, which led to the prolific growth of gorgeous classic neighborhoods. Hayes Barton is the bastard child of Irving Park in that regard, but even in the middle income areas there is a prodigious number of houses that were built before Suburbia kicked in. In that era Greensboro invested smartly in their road system, implementing many Wade Avenue type arteries around the older parts of the city. Around Greensboro’s city streets, traffic problems really only exist out in the Suburbian Battleground Avenue, a US1 North-esque sole artery north out of the city. When I-85 was planned, it was a no-brainer to include Durham and Greensboro, as they were thriving, productive cities, unlike Raleigh, the sleepy government town. As Raleigh quickly grew through the 70s and 80s, the two cities were relatively the same size and seemed to have a remarkable number of similarities.

We went to Greensboro for the Friday evening session of the ACC Tournament. Knowing that the Coliseum food is expensive and terrible, we opted to stop at a gas station for beer and stop at a downtown restaurant for take out before tailgating before the game.

While driving around downtown on a beautiful Friday afternoon we got to see downtown Greensboro at its most vibrant. “Dull” probably exaggerates the experience. I was stunned by the comparative lack of interesting restaurants, the lack of downtown bars, and the overall lack of people. There is definitely a vibe in downtown Raleigh, and there is definitely no vibe in Greensboro. This was the first time that it really struck me how much further along downtown Raleigh’s vitality is than Greensboro’s. The number of young people making something to do, creating a sense of place, and moving the city forward is just, scant. The difference is quite palpable.

The point isn’t to beat Raleigh’s chest and flame Greensboro at all. Rather, it struck me on this trip; where is Greensboro headed? Ultimately the I-85 spine will keep all of the cities on the string in fabulous shape. Asheville and Wilmington will exist as creative outposts, and the rest of the state will become severely depressed. I like to call the string of cities the “Carolina Crescent”. Charlotte, Greensboro, Durham, and Raleigh will be linked by better and better rail service, and the spine will be a magnet for all important growth moving forward. Much like our current thinking of the Triangle, the crescent will eventually be thought of as a “macrometro” as transportation improves.

So Greensboro has that going for it. The tech and information job push that is filling Raleigh’s sails currently will continue for a good while, but we have to be prepared for another wave; a wave that could change the economics of the city as much as the exodus of the textile industry changed Greensboro and Burlington.

The Triangle is the educational and technological center of the state. It has a strong Liberal voice with a strong interest in environment and humanism. Charlotte will continue to be the strongest financial center in the state, and seems to be the Conservative core of the state. What identity will Greensboro develop? Will industries polarize their presence in North Carolina to Charlotte and/or Raleigh and skip Greensboro even more than ever? It’s looking that way, and the lack of an interesting market sector to ages 25 to 35 has to be the deepest concern for Greensboro in the next 50 years. Much like Richmond, Greensboro stands as a city of yesterday, with no ascertainable uniqueness to tomorrow’s economy. Its future is seemingly more loaded with questions than with answers.

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Oh, BTW, we got food to go from OPA!, the Greek restaurant. The lettuce from the salad was basically from a food service, the olive oil they used was cheap, the pita bread for my wife’s sandwich was stale, the marinade for my chicken kabob was extremely uninteresting, my accompanying vegetables were bland, and my platter did not come with pita bread. This restaurant definitely needs to pick up a copy of The Grecian Plate (Durham Greek Orthodox Church’s cookbook)! An astonishingly better meal for the same price can be had a Taverna Agora; just so you know!

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