The Once and Future of Glenwood
By Charles Wood
The railroad tracks that run along Oakland Avenue once separated UNCG’s campus and downtown Greensboro from the Glenwood neighborhood. It can be easy and convenient for UNCG students to forget that just across the street from their beautiful and expanding campus live many of the city’s working class and less fortunate.
The crime rate of Glenwood is nearly double that of Greensboro as a whole. Property crimes, such as larceny, burglary, and theft are the most prevalent and makeup roughly seventy percent of the crime rate with drugs and prostitution making up for most of the remainder. The high number of abandoned and under-maintained homes that line the streets can easily overshadow the beautiful and historic homes in the neighborhood.
The relatively high crime rate, low property value, as well as its proximity to campus are what makes the Glenwood neighborhood so attractive to UNCG. Unfortunately, Glenwood is home to a tight-knit, multicultural community who thrive despite, or possibly because of, adversity of all kinds. Where are members of this community supposed to go when they are being systematically separated from their homes and businesses in the name of prosperity?
Many residents of the community are members of the Greater Glenwood Neighborhood Association, a non-profit organization open to, “property owners, residents, renters, business owners, the clergy of faith-based groups in Glenwood, and friends of the neighborhood.” The mission of the GGNA is to, “conserve and enhance our neighborhood’s aesthetic appeal, safety, and community character; including our historic buildings, parks, and open spaces.”
The GGNA have worked with and against UNCG, with varying levels of success, in recent years over the campus’s plans for further expansion into the Gate City Blvd corridor and Glenwood area. UNCG, in response to a projected increase in enrollment, have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the construction of Spartan Village as well as a new Rec Center. These developments have brought a number of changes to the historic Glenwood neighborhood.
Many of Glenwood’s residents are not happy with UNCG’s expansion. Elizabeth L. Keathley, is a both a resident of Glenwood since 2002 and an Associate Professor of Historical Musicology and Women’s and Gender Studies at UNCG. According to Keathly, “Enrollment has been greatly overestimated yet development continues undeterred.” Keathly adds, “A student rec center no one wants costs $191 million dollars and will be paid by student fees.” The student fees Keathly mentioned will be between $435 to $600 per student and that just goes to pay off the interest. The rising student fees and price of tuition in turn only price out potential students and thus deter enrollment even further.
Forty houses in Glenwood were destroyed in order to make room for UNCG’s expansion. Four of those houses were burnt down to the foundation. In 2012 UNCG called the Greensboro Fire Department and had them burn down the homes for practice. The practice was much needed, apparently, because neighboring houses and trees were singed. The smoldering rubble wasn’t removed for months later.
The majority of the houses were bought up in 2010 and 2011. Many of these houses were purchased by an LLC working in secret for UNCG. Though many of the houses were unoccupied, several still were homes to families. The rent on these houses was raised by two hundred dollars a month so the inhabitants could no longer afford to live there and were forced to move. Many of the houses purchased by UNCG were boarded up at the time of sale because investors who were just waiting to sell the property for a profit bought them up.
In addition to the homes, one hundred and forty-seven trees across nearly fourteen acres have been destroyed by UNCG. In 2005, Glenwood won the first “Neighborwoods” grant from Greensboro Beautiful and the City of Greensboro due to the neighborhood’s beautiful tree cover. Eighty trees were planted as a result of the grant. UNCG, however, couldn’t care less about Glenwood’s Fauna. Fifty-two trees were cut down to clear a space for the rec center. Of these fifty-two trees, four were large oak trees over a century old. The date this happened, April 29, 2014, has been declared the Day of Abomination by the GGNA.
The trees had helped to dampen the sound coming from the train when it passed on the tracks across Gate City Blvd and Glenwood Avenue. However, in the absence of the trees, the buildings now echo and amplify the sound. The absence of trees has also made the area hotter and there is no way to measure the effect the trees removal has had on the air quality of the neighborhood.
To understand why the neighborhood is held dearly in the heart of many of Glenwood’s residents you first have to understand its history. Glenwood may not be the most respectable community in Greensboro but it hasn’t always been that way. In the 1920s, Glenwood was among the most vibrant and thriving communities in the city.
The area that would eventually become Glenwood was originally farmland just outside Greensboro city limits. Plans to turn the land into a neighborhood first began in 1908 and The Carolina Real Estate and Investment Company began construction of the first 50 homes in the neighborhood in 1909. The first school was built in 1912, the same year the Titanic sank.
Glenwood was a thriving hub of commercial activity from the time the neighborhood was first established until the 1960s. Annexation of the neighborhood by Greensboro began in 1923 and was completed by 1957.
The neighborhood was once the home of Telfair Sanitarium. The Sanitarium was moved from Asheville to 1305 Glenwood Avenue in 1907. The Telfair Sanitarium changed its name to Glenwood Park Sanitarium in 1918. The institution was established “for the care and treatment of mild mental, nervous, and habit cases” and was meant to be an idyllic slice of life free from the stress of city life.
In addition to a sanitarium, Glenwood was also once home to a trolley system. Electric streetcar service was brought to Greensboro via the New York financed Greensboro Electric company in 1902. People were excited to have such easy access to the home of the Greensboro Patriots, a minor league baseball team at the time, on Summit Avenue. Tracks led all across town with tracks to Lindley Park, Greensboro College, State Normal and Industrial School (now UNCG), and by many mills and homes thus providing affordable transportation to and from work for many of Greensboro’s residents.
The W. N. Coler Company of New York City purchased the streetcar system, including eleven miles of track, as well as the gas and utilities of Greensboro, in 1909. In 1915 the line expanded to the Irving Park neighborhood. Ownership of the streetcar system changed hands once again in 1926 when the North Carolina Public Service Company was purchased by what is now Duke Power Company of Charlotte.
A trackless trolley service replaced the streetcar system in 1934. The new service included a route that led to downtown and Glenwood. It was during this time that Glenwood experienced it’s golden era. With the trolley system came shoppers and several small grocery stores opened throughout Glenwood as a result. Brick commercial buildings began popping up around Glenwood in the 1920s and were home to businesses like drug stores, dry cleaners, barber shops, butcher shops and cafes. The businesses were often on the ground floor of these brick two-story buildings with apartments taking up the remaining upper floor. These establishments thrived for several years and the Glenwood and Grove Street areas became a buzzing hive of social and commercial activity.
Unfortunately, everything came to an end in 1956 when Duke Power replaced the trolley system with diesel-powered buses. Glenwood began to slowly deteriorate once it was cut off from this vein to downtown. The removal of the trolley system led to falling property values, which in turn led to more and more abandoned, under used and poorly maintained houses.
From 1990 to 2000, the percentage of residents living below the poverty line raised from 16.9 percent to 17.6 percent. Household income has increased but has barely kept pace with inflation. The percentage of residents with a high school diploma or GED has increased but the number of residents with a college degree has decreased.
Nearly eighty percent of the homes in Glenwood were built prior to 1970 whereas the percentage for the rest of Greensboro is around forty. The majority of these properties are made up of small, single family homes. Only forty percent of Glenwood residents own their own homes. Housing code and public health violations are elevated in the neighborhood and violators are rarely reported, much less fined. These are both the symptoms and cause in the area’s crime rate, perceptions of danger, and unfavorable neighborhood image.
“For a long time the city wasn’t enforcing housing standards,” said Patricia Wisneski, a neighborhood resident. “The city had to hire two people to spearhead repairing the system.” The two people Wisneski mentioned are Beth Benton, who is the Division Manager of the Code Compliance Division, and Mark Wayman, Compliance Code Field Supervisor. It is because of those two that residents who are renters now have somewhere to turn when confronting negligent landlords who allow their homes to fall into disrepair.
There have been several revitalization projects started in Glenwood, especially in the 1970s and 80s. The Glenwood Neighborhood Watch program was established in 1977 by Janette Miller and was the first of its kind in Greensboro. The organization led to the formation of what would become the GGNA in 1981.
The first UNCG Master Plan was completed in October 1984. This Plan has been updated in 1995, 2001, 2007, and, most recently, in 2014. The updates have stated the overall goals of UNCG, how UNCG plans to achieve these goals, an estimation of how much these goals will cost, how to pay for them and how long it will take to implement them.
The stated goals of the 2007 UNCG Master Plan were to provide a strategy for accommodating a projected increase in enrollment, provide overall guidance for the design and construction of new and renovated facilities that meet the goals of the university, and, lastly, to maintain and enhance the aesthetic appeal of the campus. It was here in the fine print of these documents that implied buying up properties along what was then the Lee Street Corridor (now Gate City Boulevard) and expanding into Glenwood.
On February 19, 2008, the GGNA adopted its Glenwood Neighborhood Plan. This plan was amended on September 13, 2011. The introduction to this plan states how, “Over the years, much of Glenwood’s original luster has faded…” and goes on to say, “Quality of life in Glenwood has been eroded, but the memories of many long time residents, former residents, and business owners agree that Glenwood was once a great place to live and work.”
The overall goal of the Glenwood Neighborhood Plan is to “present practical strategies and policy recommendations for enhancing desirable conditions and reducing the undesirable conditions currently found in the neighborhood.” In order to achieve this, the Plan wishes to increase home ownership and maintenance, improve both walk-ability and bike-ability, promote desirable infill development, reduce crime and perceptions of danger, promote vibrant retail and services, and strengthen the community fabric.
Beginning in 2010, representatives from UNCG began inquiries with the GGNA Boards, as well as City staff, in regards to the expansion of UNCG campus south, past the railroad tracks, into northern Glenwood. These inquiries led to a major public engagement process through which UNCG collaborated with the neighborhood to craft a cooperative agreement for developing the campus expansion in harmony with the intent of the Glenwood Neighborhood Plan. This was followed by a rezoning and an amendment to the Glenwood Future Land Use Map, which was adopted by the Greensboro City Council in September 2011.
It was during this period that UNCG acquired over 100 individual properties in preparation for the construction of Phase One of its Spartan Village Campus Expansion Project. This project broke ground in 2012.
Conflicts between the goals of the GGNA, the UNCG Master Plan, as well as the interests of UNCG and those of Glenwood’s residents led to the formation of the Memorandum of Understanding between UNCG and the GGNA, or MOU, in 2012. The purpose of the MOU was to “establish a mutually agreeable framework for cooperatively addressing the short and long-term effects of UNCG’s expansion into the Glenwood Neighborhood.”
Some of the terms of the MOU included UNCG agreeing to “…develop in a manner consistent with the Neighborhood Plan and amendments thereto when adopted” and “..it will not acquire, for the purposes of trading, any property outside the RVP footprint with the potential for exception resulting from existing contingent agreements already in place.” UNCG also agreed to offer appropriate compensation for anybody displaced or relocated by the expansion, to not enact eminent domain to acquire property, and to not build any properties above four stories.
All of those terms seem very reasonable, unfortunately, however, UNCG has been incredibly selective about what terms it chooses to honor and what terms it chooses to ignore. One of the most disputed clauses is item 23 of the MOU. Item 23 states that buildings 1,2, 5, 6, and 7 have been coded for commercial use and will be geared and marketed to the residents of Glenwood. It goes on to say that preference for the retail spaces will be given to local small business and the properties will have attractive lease rates.
Mike Byers, the former Associate Vice Chandler for Business Affairs at UNCG, was instrumental in the design and implementation of the MOU and UNCG Phase 1. It was during these talks that he assured a member of the GGNA that, “we are going to be sipping a beer here next year looking at the whole thing.” Byers heavily implied at times and other times said directly that the above mentioned mixed-use retail spaces will include table service restaurants as well as grocery stores that would serve adult beverages such as beer and wine in order to appeal to Glenwood residents.
Tensions over the mixed-use retail space led to GGNA member Brain Higgins compiling a list of MOU violations committed by UNCG. The GGNA and UNCG met in 2015 via a third party mediator, as called for in the MOU. During this meeting, Chancellor Brady not only dismissed the concerns of the GGNA but condemned and mocked supporters by claiming it would be irresponsible to serve beer in a campus residential building.
UNCG hired HR&A advisers, “an industry-leading urban development consulting firm with over 30 years of experience leading complex mixed-use strategic projects” to do some market research for the mixed-use retail spaces. HR&A released their UNCG/Glenwood Mixed-Use Village Retail Development Analysis Final Report on June 6, 2011. In their findings, HR&A compared the type of grocery store they thought would best meet the needs and goals of UNCG to Best Way, a small grocery store on Walker Avenue known for it’s beer selection. The reports recommended that the spaces be used for at least five sit down, table service restaurants and grocery stores. In the report, HR&A also recommended opening up a brewpub.
Despite these findings, as well as the wishes from the GGNA, UNCG decided to ignore the report. “The one thing I think everybody wanted was a thriving retail development,” said one member of the GGNA. Apparently, UNCG and Glenwood residents have conflicting ideas on how to accomplish that.
Tensions between different parties within the GGNA threatened to tear the organization apart during the creation and adoption of the MOU. Patricia Wisneski, a GGNA member and Glenwood resident since the year 2000, experienced the process of adopting the MOU.
“UNCG did a bunch of public meetings after it announced it was planning to expand into Glenwood,” Wisneski said. “This caused many members of the GGNA to become uncomfortable. I think the GGNA didn’t want to feel powerless to UNCG and wanted to have some say so in it’s future.”
Wisneski goes on to say, “The process was horrible. We lost a lot of members during that time. Loud voices put out quieter voices.”
“There are two Glenwoods, divided based on class, race, and language. Rarely do the two meet,” said Casey Thomas, a Glenwood resident of four years and a member of the GGNA. “Glenwood was historically a white, working-class neighborhood. The children of those people moved out and now there are many vacant houses. With so many empty houses and with home prices so low, land developers came in and bought up houses like hoarders, sometimes buying dozens of homes at a time.”
While the cost of buying a home has remained stable, the cost of rent in the neighborhood has continued to escalate over the past few years. Thomas says that this “adds to the continual shuffling of low-income people of color from one neighborhood to another.”
Thomas and Wisneski are also worried about the possible gentrification of the neighborhood. “Gentrification is a word that encompasses all kinds of sins,” Thomas said. “I’m worried about Glenwood becoming a lower part of Brice Street.”
Thomas is also interested in the rising number of college students moving into the neighborhood and whether this might lead to a spike in petty crime as unsuspecting students get mugged over their laptops and iPhones.
The elevated crime rate and abundance of uninhabited and under-maintained housing do not help Glenwood’s image in the eye of the public. How can this be fixed?
“I don’t think the question is how to improve Glenwood’s image as much as it is ‘how do we make life better,” said Thomas. “We need to start making landlords accountable.”
There have been some positive changes to Glenwood in recent years. “I’d like to call out the Zetas from UNCG. They pick up trash on Aycock Street and helped with the community gardens,” said Thomas. Wisneski quotes the addition of the Hope Academy and Tutoring Program as another positive recent change. Hope Academy is in the education wing of Florida Street Baptist Church and is located at the intersection of Florida and Aycock Street. The Academy started in the home of the pastor of Grace Church and grew to include a middle school. It boasts a free tutoring program and has a dance program. UNCG students also volunteer at the Academy.
Wisneski and Thomas are both cautiously optimistic of how UNCG’s expansion into Glenwood is going to affect the neighborhood.
“I believe most of the confusion has been more misinformation than intentional,” says Wisneski. Thomas agrees and adds, “Lately, UNCG has been more upfront and transparent. That level of clarity makes it easier to work together. A lot of people have hope for positive economic development.”