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Not giving away the farm

by YES! Staff

Conventional wisdom posits that there aren’t enough economic development projects in east Greensboro. Councilwoman Dianne Bellamy-Small has made a political career out of that statement, and we’ve hit on the theme often in our pages.

But what happens when a project gets slated for the eastern part of town, and the people who live there — the very same ones who have been clamoring for attention — say they don’t want it?

That’s what’s happening with the proposed Florida Street extension, which would continue the road past East Lee Street and into the new Gateway Center, a nanotech facility near the NC A&T University Farm. To reach the center, the road would have to cut across a portion of the 492-acre farm.

At a town hall meeting last week, area residents and A&T staffers and alumni came out to push back against the city’s proposal, citing concerns about A&T’s heritage and skepticism about the economic benefits of the connection.

GEOGRAPHY EQUALS DESTINY, AND IF THE NANOTECH CENTER IS TO BE THE HUB OF INNOVATION, IT NEEDS TO BE CONNECTED TO THE GRID.

We think it’s pretty straightforward: Geography equals destiny, and if the nanotech center is to be the hub of innovation and high-paying jobs, it needs to be connected to the grid. Economic devel- opment is a linear process, and the first thing that needs to happen is for access to be enabled. Roads come first. Then shops, gas stations, motels and apart- ment complexes come in’  — after people have a reasonable way to get to the location.

And so we found ourselves asking the question: Don’t the people of east Greensboro know what’s good for them?

It’s exactly the kind of patronizing, paternalistic question we abhor when others — especially those in government — pose it, which makes it an unacceptable position for us to take.

So the opposition to the Florida Street extension must be taken in context to be fully understood.

East Greensboro residents have reason to be suspicious of city council when generations have seen that part of town ritually ignored for development for anything other than bargain stores and landfill.

Similarly, A&T, as a land-grant university, has a responsibility to the farm and the curricula it sustains.

But a road crossing through a corner of the farm would hardly destroy the agricultural program at A&T. And better access to the nanocenter would certainly give a lift to the technical platform of the school — it is a joint project with UNCG, giving A&T some skin in the game.

What we have is a sales problem: Council has not adequately informed the neighborhood residents and A&T personnel of the benefits of extending Florida Street to connect with the larger grid. Mayor Robbie Perkins, an expert on transportation issues, should lay it out the same way he did to us: “The biggest deterrent to economic development in east Greensboro has already been determined to be the lack of access through roads…. If [the area]’s going to successfully develop over the next 20 years, you need a road out the backside.”

The final call goes to the university. But if they turn down the city’s $3.2 million for the road now, they may find that they’ll have to build it themselves in the not-too-distant future.

YES! WEEKLY chooses to exercise its right to express editorial opinion in our publication. In fact we cherish it, considering opinion to be a vital component of any publication. The viewpoints expressed represent a consensus of the YES! Weekly editorial staff, achieved through much deliberation and consideration .

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