THE TRIAD AS WE LIKE IT
It’s impossible to venture into Winston-Salem and not be bombarded with the arts and culture of the south. There are sculptures in every park, murals on open walls and even a bus that drives around selling art supplies. There are five venues within a 10-block radius where you can enjoy music, theater, and comedy. There is Trade Street, where you can find every possible medium of art represented on gallery walls. There is the Sawtooth Center, just minutes away from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where you can try your hand at pottery, glass blowing, metal work or just painting on a canvas. For a city to embrace the arts in the way Winston-Salem has shows that culture is the most important thing in helping a city grow. Supporting the arts is really rooting for the underdog because the term “starving artist” is actually a subtle truth, and Winston-Salem has made it so that artists can come to the city and eat, thrive and display.
The nightlife that Winston-Salem has to offer year round is unrivaled in the Triad.
With festivals such as Phuzz Phest, Salute! North Carolina Wine Celebration and, of course, the monthly First Friday events along Trade Street, it’s always a good bet that downtown will be a safe and fun time. And now, more bars and restaurants are filling empty commercial locations “” wiping the dust away from a few stagnant years of less success. Looking at the north end of Trade Street starting at Ziggy’s and meandering down to 4th Street, you’ll always find a bar, eatery or event going on that, for all intents and purposes, is family friendly. Small Batch Beer Company just celebrated a one-year anniversary, which is a testament to Winston-Salemites’ open mindedness to new businesses, as well as the tenured Foothills Brewing Company, which just celebrated its 10th year. With more than two dozen bars and restaurants within safe walking distance of each other, you’d be hard pressed to go out on the town and not end up making some new, like-minded friends, as well as some resourceful contacts in the community.
There are few names in Winston-Salem that hold the acclaim that Reynolds and Hanes do, and that is because those are two names that have, almost single-handedly, built the city to be what it is today. Reynolds, for instance, is one of the first legible names on the skyline of the city as you enter Winston from Business 40, with BB&T taking the second spot. Reynolds, a company known for its tobacco products, hit tough times through the late-20th century because of blow-back from the medical community and began scaling back employment levels. However, the Reynolds name is engrained in the culture of Winston-Salem because the letters are scribed on buildings and smoke stacks all around the city. The Hanes family managed to turn itself into one of the largest brands because of textile manufacturing, but the family has also endowed the city with funds providing artists a platform of expression. Tobacco is an addictive product so there’s always going to be money there, and the plethora of industries that Hanes has expanded into are a great example of innovation and growth that is firmly rooted in Winston-Salem. The future of Winston-Salem is bright with the downtown district swelling with new apartments, commercial properties filling up with small businesses and the Innovation Quarter bringing technology to the city, so it will be exciting to watch what the next five years will bring to Winston-Salem in terms of business and technology revolution.
There are two sides to every story, and whereas innovation and growth are healthy for a city, gentrification always has a shady underside. For Winston-Salem, the growth of downtown is limited in terms of real estate, so expanding east and north is inevitable. But what does this mean for the residents? The invisible fence that is MLK Jr. Drive divides the city: On the interior is Plant 64, a shiny new apartment complex with loads of off-street parking, high-ceilings, “exposed brick” and young adults clamoring up the corporate ladder in various industries. On the other side, families that have been in Winston-Salem for decades are fighting increasing property values as they watch the redeveloping city creep into their neighborhoods. Who will step up and be the voice of reason? Expansion in any city is great: it shows that businesses are succeeding, that the populace is supporting its community and that the people are working together to grow. But at what cost?
Winston-Salem isn’t quite a college town, though it boasts Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem State University and Forsyth Technical College. Combined, all three of those schools enroll roughly 27,000 students, and the diversity is quite obvious. Undergraduate tuition at Wake Forest exceeds $46,000 per year, which makes the private institution somewhat of a unique school. And these students, not all, but some, feel as though Winston-Salem is their oyster, and they do whatever they want. It’s apparent when you are downtown and you see Sperry-wearing future yachtsmen treating bar staff as servants or extolling the virtues of how hard it is to attend classes between frat parties and the lake house. This is not a generalization that covers every single student, but some of the rotten eggs are ruining it for the whole bunch. Perhaps it’s a lack of accountability, but we must remind all college students that no matter your background, respecting humans and your social environment is above all the most important lesson you can learn growing up.
Skateboards and skateboarding have been relative hot topics in Winston-Salem during city council meetings. Last year, a skate park was temporarily constructed in the Annex at the Fairgrounds, but that was merely a band-aid on a gunshot wound. Skateboard laws within the downtown business district of Winston prohibit skateboarding, which is not much different from laws in place in almost every major city in the country. But the city’s unwillingness to address the needs of a sport that is becoming more popular by the day shows that Winston doesn’t mind wasting resources on punishing a select group of people who enjoy an alternative sport. Last year, Ric Carter told Yes! Weekly writer Daniel Schere, “When you see skateboarders they’re in their hoodies or baggy jeans, so I think there’s a misperception of what kind of kids are involved. None of the skaters that I have met have been disrespectful or troublemakers.” When the city begins to see these activities as healthy rather than a public nuisance, a park will be built, and the wasting of law enforcement’s time will come to an end, at least as it applies to recreational activities.
Perhaps it’s in the water, or more likely the city’s Quaker roots, but one thing that has always stood out to me about Greensboro is it’s energetic activist community. Even to an outsider like myself, much is known about the regional connection to the Underground Railroad and the later launching of the Sit In Movement that was so vital to the larger Civil Rights battle of the 1960s. It was in 2011 that I visited meetings of Occupy Greensboro to see first hand that activist spirit that runs so strong in the city’s youth culture.
During the last year I’ve been energized by the commitment of the folks at The Beloved Community Center and their allies as they organize in their continued fight for police accountability. The future of the city’s activist spirit is in good hands, as evidenced by the regular protests on the campus of UNCG where the passionate have rallied for student debt relief and against budget cuts and course reductions. The strong will of the Bennett Belles was on display in a recent solidarity protest highlighting police violence against unarmed African Americans, and the #BlackLivesMatter marches have unified the city’s activist community like no issue in recent memory.
With more than 30,000 college students in the city it’s no surprise that Greensboro is welcoming to newcomers. But beyond the everyday comings and goings of people about their business, the city has a significant history of offering sanctuary to immigrants and refugees. That history stems again from those Quaker roots and the early days as the first stop on the Underground Railroad, but in more modern times Greensboro became the home to Montagnard refugees from Vietnam, with more than 5,000 now living in Greensboro. Diverse organizations such as Church World Service, the Center for New North Carolinians at UNCG, the Bonner Center at Guilford College, the North Carolina African Services Coalition and the American Friends Service Committee’s Welcoming Greensboro Initiative continue to make Greensboro a destination for immigrants seeking a fresh start. The Center for New North Carolinians estimates there are 120 languages and 140 countries of origin represented in Guilford County Schools. In addition to the Montagnards and an estimated 30,000 Latino immigrants in Guilford County, the center estimates an additional 15,000 African immigrants, led by populations from Sudan, Niger and Liberia. Recent Asian refugees from Bhutan and Burma, and those from wartorn areas such as Iraq and Syria, continue to find a new life possible in Greensboro. An estimated 815 refugees from more than 14 countries arrived in Guilford County in 2014.
The Greensboro Neighborhood Congress lists 75 neighborhoods and about 17,000 households as part of the city’s vibrant network of residential communities. With organizations such as GNC improving communication among the city’s residential interests, and the likes of Preservation Greensboro fighting to maintain one property at a time, it’s clear that residents of Greensboro have a special identity with the many historic areas of the city’s urban core. City staff works with the various neighborhood associations “” names such as Dudley Heights, Glenwood, Ole Asheboro and Westerwood “” to improve conditions and maintain quality of life. The associations themselves are often examples of democracy in action and serve as proving grounds for potential future elected officials. With neighborhood meetings and email listserv, communities organize to fight crime, address nuisances and advocate for comprehensive improvements to lighting and pedestrian safety. Duke Energy found out last year just how particular Greensboro residents are about their neighborhoods when the residents of Westerwood aggressively opposed excessive tree trimming. Though urban redevelopment wiped most of Warnersville off the map, a passionate crowd showed up at the Greensboro Historical Museum in late 2014 for the unveiling of an exhibit on the collective memory of its residents. Residents of Aycock and Fisher Park are currently gearing up to put pressure on city leaders to implement a long-delayed Summit Avenue Corridor plan. As the infill versus greenfields development debate takes shape, expect the city’s historic neighborhoods to increase in political relevance and importance.
The flip side of Greensboro’s activist spirit is an atmosphere of at times poisonous debate that crowds out more rational public discourse. Despite the fact that much of the early Civil Rights Era protests were free of the violence that plagued parts of the Deep South, the late 1960s and 1970s were filled with tension that culminated in the 1979 Klan-Nazi Shootout. Because of that legacy, almost any mention of racial issues divides Greensboro like nothing else. Lawsuits over alleged racial discrimination have hampered the police department since the late 1970s, with a recent spate of officers settling claims with the city in 2014. The site of the Sit In Movement is now the International Civil Rights Center and Museum, a facility that could be a cultural jewel for Greensboro, but the center struggles financially because of the paranoid rhetoric of its founders. Despite the city loaning the museum $1.5 million to avoid collapse in 2013, its current leadership spews venom at Mayor Nancy Vaughan when she insists on financial transparency for public funds. Some bloggers and speakers at city meetings often hurl insults and unfounded accusations of rampant corruption at city leaders, which in turn tempts elected officials and city staff alike to adopt an insulated mentality. The city’s robust public records policy advances openness and accountability, though some abuse it seeking revenge and a fleeting “gotcha” moment that never comes.
Part of what drives the previously mentioned state of divisive paranoia, however, is grounded in the reality of Greensboro being what once was described to me as a “FIRE” city. That’s Finance, Insurance and Real Estate, for those scoring at home. Over the years that has led to the city’s true power base lying with developer and construction interests that often shamelessly seek special treatment, or financial incentives from the municipal government, all in the name of “growth.” With paper trails and political contributions becoming more transparent with each advance in computer technology, it’s not hard to draw a straight line from elected official X to developer Y when it comes time to close a street or reimburse a construction cost or raise enough money to beat back that grassroots challenger for city council who champions neighborhood concerns over the next shopping center development. The sweetheart treatment is also on open display when developer-backed politicians dole out $100-$200,000 reimbursements for construction projects like it’s nothing and then skewer a guy from an East Greensboro community group seeking $40,000 for micro loans to minority owned small businesses.
Which leads to Greensboro’s worst quality: sprawl. What might have once been a compact city with discernible paths to a well-defined city center became, after the white flight of the Civil Rights Era and into the 1970s, an uncontrollable behemoth of construction leapfrogging each new development one after the other out into the once green farmlands at the far reaches of Market Street and Friendly Avenue and up Battleground beyond the battlefield were the edge of the city once became visible but now stretches past the lakes and toward the horizon that will soon be rimmed with a beltline bringing untold amounts of new sprawl and cookie cutter development that much like this sentence has little shape or form and grows only unto the limits of man’s imagination. But there is hope! Residents of Greensboro have so far stopped commercial development from hopping across Hobbs Road at the edge of Friendly Center. City staff is pushing to give infill development priority over ever-expanding suburban construction. There’s even a bike and pedestrian plan making its way through the Melvin Municipal Building. The continued success of the Downtown Greenway and a renewed commitment by state leaders to historic preservation tax credits means the urban core of Greensboro has never been better.
GRASSROOTS ACTIVISM GROWING
Greensboro has traditionally been the most politically active of the Triad cities, but in the last year a new group known as “We Heart High Point” has formed and begun to voice their frustration at the lack of growth downtown and the unwillingness to think outside the box. Since last May they have made a number of suggestions such as dieting Main Street down to two lanes in order to increase pedestrian traffic and getting a Trader Joe’s grocery store to come to the area. Their Facebook group often writes sassy posts about how other US cities are pursuing more innovating ideas than High Point. Photographer David Rosen co-founded the group with Monica Peters and ran unsuccessfully for city council in the fall. He hopes the group’s message resonates and unites people across various backgrounds. “Most people only care about what’s going on in their microcosm of the city and where they live,” he said. “I know that some people don’t want to say it, but our downtown is dead.”
FURNITURE MARKET STILL STRONG
Overall this is a plus, but there are a few issues here. Furniture is the heart and soul of High Point. The industry took a hit when the recession hit in the early 2000s but the furniture market still draws huge crowds during the two times it is held each year. The event puts High Point on the map since there is no event that is similar in scope on the east coast. It is the one thing that people from out of state would go to High Point to see. Unfortunately the market is only open to traders and not the general public. In addition, most of the people that do come for the market end up heading to Greensboro or Winston-Salem for dinner.
High Point is not the most small business friendly place, but there are a few daring entrepreneurs that have managed to make their way. Among them are Miro Buzov and Ross Lackey. Buzov opened the Penny Path CafÃ© and Crepe Shop in 2013 after several years making furniture. It always seems to attract a substantial lunch crowd.
“We did this with nothing, trying to make the point that you can get people to come to downtown and that we have the rock solid infrastructure in High Point to do these things,” he said. “And the Penny Path is really a visual to the vision that everyone tries to figure out here.”
Lackey started Kapuka Farms in November 2013 at 500 Lindale Dr. He has been looking to expand his operation downtown but has had difficulty navigating the bureaucratic red tape required to get a business license.
“The zoning laws are antiquated,” he said. “I can’t get a business license in the correct format. Every business license asks what’s my building? I don’t own a building. I can’t own a building. There needs to be incremental steps for natives to create businesses on their own, not $100,000 entry point of owning a building and creating a storefront.”
-COLTRANE MORE THAN A STATUE
At the corner of Commerce Avenue and Hamilton Street stands an eight-foot statue of the great John Coltrane. The world-famous jazz musician spent the first 17 years of his life in High Point. He grew up at 118 Underhill St. and played alto sax and clarinet in high school. The music building at the Penn-Griffin School for the Arts is named after him, and there is even a jazz festival held every year in his honor. Yet very few people in High Point are aware of these pieces of history, and that is a shame. Penn-Griffin office assistant Linda Willard told YES! Weekly that she too wishes the city would embrace one of its cultural icons.
“Overall I think the city has really neglected to cash in on what we have,” she said. “I think if you have someone as famous as John Coltrane, as talented as he was, we really should do more at promoting that and promoting the arts.”
Perhaps it is unfair to characterize High Point as a divided city when so many other cities around the country are experiencing a similar phenomenon. But some have said it is falling victim to the same problems of inner-city decay that Detroit has experienced for the last half century. The numbers tell the story here. According to a 2010 census analysis conducted by the city the population grew 21 percent between 2000 and 2010 as it topped 100,000. To put the city’s growth further in perspective, consider that in 1920 there were just 14,000 residents “” a 614 percent increase in almost a century. Yet the same study concluded that 64 percent of residents over the age of 25 did not have a college degree, and almost 20 percent of individuals were living below the poverty line including more than 3,000 families. Although High Point’s median family income came in at a reasonable $41,000, per capita income was only $22,000 “” less than half the national average.
Statistics aside, the phenomenon is illustrated by the stark contrast between Washington Drive and Kivett Drive, located on the opposite sides of the railroad tracks. The issue of division was agreed upon by all three candidates for that ran for mayor last year at a forum on Oct. 23, though Marcus Brandon felt the divide was more socioeconomic than racial. The other two candidates, Bill Bencini and Jimmy Scott said racial tension still exists in High Point, citing the city’s inability to name a street after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as an example.
-ISLAND OF ACADEMIA
We have to give HPU some credit since they did rank first in US News & World Report’s southern regional college category. I don’t doubt that the university has good academics, but there are several other factors that make this very attractive campus a minus. To start, you can barely see how beautiful it is because a fence surrounds it and entrances are gated. This shuts off any potential communication students can have with the outside world. There are also no bars or places to gather near campus (As if High Point wasn’t dull enough).
HPU is also not cheapest school with an annual tuition of $31,000 or the most diverse with whites making up 75 percent of the freshman class. In addition, the class of 2018 is made up of almost 80 percent out-of-state students. None of the UNC system’s 17 campuses even comes close to that with the largest amount being UNC School of the Arts at 53 percent. !