Greensboro’s authenticity transcends slogans
A Washington Post column last week described Greensboro bluntly as an “intersection of slapdash American city boulevards.” It derided Greensboro for no longer hosting NCAA regional basketball tournament games because of the Republican state legislature’s HB2—the bathroom bill—and sarcastically mocked that “Greensboro still has a rabbit show.” Yes, we do.
A few days before, Syracuse University basketball coach Jim Boeheim announced his pleasure that the ACC basketball tournament was not being played in Greensboro, its previous home of many years, by declaring that Greensboro had no value as a media or sports center.
Residents, officials and media cheerleaders scrambled to defend Greensboro. The City government directed an official ‘you are a loser’ tweet to Boeheim, the mayor vaguely protested that Greensboro does too have value and the News & Record opinion page offered Greensboro native son newsman Edward R. Murrow, deceased since 1965, as proof, or something, that we are a media center.
In 2000, a group of foundations commissioned a study that concluded Greensboro was “pleasantly mediocre.” Since then, Greensboro’s movers and shakers have been obsessed with having the city recognized as important beyond its significance.
The result has been to infect the public consciousness with a collective inferiority complex. We writhe at the smallest slight and cling to the most meaningless of measures to calm our insecurities: “We are the twelfth best city in the nation for french fry lovers”—or some such nonsense tout local TV stations with regularity. We convulse obsessively over the gawdawful notion that we could catapult ourselves out of our perceived inferiority if we just had the right “brand.”
We have plenty of problems that go misdiagnosed and incorrectly addressed for which the greatest fault belongs to a largely unimaginative power structure of bureaucrats, elected officials and their patrons propped up well beyond their sell-by date by incurious and timid local media. Branding is not our problem.
Here is the thing, though. Greensboro is a great place in many ways that simply do not lend themselves well to slogans and soundbites. We may not be for everybody. Adrenaline junkies, social climbers and attention seekers especially may find Greensboro lacking. And, to be sure, Greensboro’s benefits are not evenly accessible geographically or economically across the city but, broadly speaking, there is a real human authenticity here that is better told in the substance of a novel than in the slogan of a billboard or a tweet. With an open heart and open mind, one can live a rich and genuine life here with relative ease.
One big reason for that is a lack of risk. The chances of suffering a calamity, natural or man-made, are slim here. Greensboro is a physically and psychologically safe place. It is easy in Greensboro to let your guard down and not be sorry for it. Children grow up breathing easy here. Adults remain calm. As the study said, it is pleasant.
Gliding through Greensboro snuggled in her atmosphere of ease and comfort, it is easy to find satisfaction in the physical beauty of the place and in the amity of her people.
Construction of the northern portion of the urban loop threatens the bucolic solemnity of the adjoining Guilford Courthouse Military Park and its woods. Surely the days of seeing deer and hawks there, as I did on the day of writing this column, are numbered. And plans on the drawing board for Country Park portend a transformation from a rare urban natural oasis to a human playground. Nonetheless, Greensboro remains beset with with abundant trees and flora and there are numerous opportunities for relaxing or exhilarating outdoor experiences in parks and public spaces in and near Greensboro.
The trails around the lakes on the northern edge of the city are special places. They are perfect for exercise or quiet contemplation. There are other natural spaces within a short drive too. Rivers, woods, lakes and streams. Spending time in natural environments is good for people, and it is easy to do that here.
It is not hard to meet people and make new friends here either. Whether initial meetings happen at a church, in a bar or online, Greensboro has good social infrastructure—accessible places and happenings that make dating or just “doing something” together easy and affordable. Be with people or be alone, either way it is hard in Greensboro to be lonely.
The people you meet here are interesting. Like any place, we have our share of hucksters and pretenders who, themselves, are interesting even if annoying, but there are a lot of people living in Greensboro who are interesting because of their authenticity—not famous or even illustrious, necessarily, but interesting because they are cultivating their own genuine lives with enthusiastic compassion and dedication. Add a healthy dose of warmth and congeniality and human connections flourish here.
Greensboro may not be exceptional in the many ways one can compare one city to another. We are, in fact, an “intersection of slapdash American city boulevards.” But that doesn’t mean we are not remarkable. It is possible to experience—hard to avoid, in truth—exceptional wonder here. It is a great place to be a human.
We are not a technology hub, a sports mecca, a manufacturing center or a media capital. We do not set records. We do not make stars. We do not make blockbusters.
We make good people™.
We can worry about putting that on a bumper sticker, or just relish living it.