Cape Fear Economic Development Council [CFEDC] hosted noted ex-mayor of Milwaukee, author/ educator, and New Urbanist advocate John Norquist for 2 days last week, May 19 & 20. The enduring theme of the luncheon presentation and multiple breakout and work sessions was ‘adding value’ to our cities. While ambiguous at first, one can interpret this phrase in a multitude of ways so that as Mr. Norquist noted; conservatives and liberals, old and young, cat people and dog lovers, can all agree that the developments proposed add this inherent ‘value’ to the city/region. It is often called ‘smart growth’ or a remixing of the urban fabric that pushes for restructuring codes & land use in America. Single-use zoning, as most of SE North Carolina is, is now seen as an out-moded strategy, one that has created all the ‘sprawl’, that most Americans say they don’t like. [Norquist also quipped that they don’t like ‘density’ so what’s the in-between, or answer?]
The next day the Star-News had this story in the Local page.
‘Rezonings pave the way for nearly 6,000 homes’
What if we rewrote this headline as it should be; ‘Navassa plans for 12K Northerners to Relocate in Brunswick Co.’, ‘Town Envisions 65% of its area to be paved in 30 years’, ‘Northeast Brunswick County; Cary without the parks, planning or conservation’.
Other headlines in the month of May add to this lack of vision & conventional approach to growth. ‘Lane to be added from bridge to Leland’ ‘I-140 Wilmington Bypass interstate extension work to begin soon’
Thankfully(?), we will have that bypass by 2018, so that everyone from Jacksonville & points north and east won’t have to go through Wilmington on their way to Myrtle Beach, except stop at a new Scotchmen store off ‘the loop’ or maybe hit a new outlet mall or strip center or umpteenth Bojangles.
He also talked about ‘congestion’, drawing a metaphor to cholesterol, in that there is both a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ component to congestion. Merchants & restaurant owners on Front St. downtown or Main St. in Mayfaire don’t mind the back-ups that traffic exhibit in being a desirable destination, and a place that has more to offer than copious stripped asphalt & a big glowing box signs of College Road, Oleander or US17. However, our area is being drowned in new highways, overpasses, turnlanes, ‘michigan lefts’, and other engineering feats to combat ‘congestion’ and allow all the exurban & suburbanites here to get from home to work to store to mall to home, without walking or even slowing to 25 for that matter. Just like our waistbands and garages, America is truly obese on the legacy of cheap gas, fast food & shitty development, and it has to stop if we are to have any quality of life in the future.
If we have learned nothing from the recent events along the Mississippi, Gulf Coast, and the ‘sustainability mecca’ of Greensburg, Kansas (obliterated by tornados and rebuilding itself as the ‘greenest town in America’), we are taking advantage of our land and its inherent strengths and qualities which we are quickly erasing. That essence & potential which drew all of us here in the last decade or century; whether by boat, train or the dreaded I-40 extension from Raleigh is eroding. It’s called ‘sense of place’ and most Wilmingtonians cite it as a key factor of why they moved here- but from recent history and future efforts, that will soon be the tiny, sweet filling in a hard candy shell of garbage, concrete & unsightly sprawl.