Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Final Project J. Douglas Galyon Depot

For my final project I focused on the J. Douglas Galyon Depot. I used this as starting point. In this project I basically tried to find out why Greensboro is a center in the railroad system along the east coast, how the Depot reflects this, what the development in the future might be, and how different the railway system in Holland (where I am from) is from the current system in the United States, especially in North Carolina.


Greensboro is definitely a center of the railway system along the east coast. It is not called the “Gate City” for a random reason. To find out why Greensboro is a center in the railway system, we need to know a little bit more about the history of this system.

In the nineteenth century Greensboro grew tremendously, both in population and in wealth. A big part of this development can be traced down to a man you all know about, John Motley Morehead, state governor from 1841 till 1845. At that time, there were a few east-west railroad tracks in North Carolina, but none of them passed through his hometown Greensboro. He used his influence and power to curve the railroad tracks miles north so that they would pass through Greensboro. Ever since, Greensboro has been a very important part in the railway system and transportation has remained a key to the city’s development. But why did Greensboro need all this train transportation? That is mainly because of Greensboro’s flourishing textile industry. Cone Mills was known as the world’s largest producer of denim. This company owned several mills in Greensboro. It brought a lot of employment to Greensboro and, as a result, the population increased a lot. Cone Mills depended on the train transportation in Greensboro. Obviously this was very important to stay profitable.

Railroad system 1900

Present and future
Today, Greensboro still functions as a center in the railroad system, but there are significantly less passenger trains than in the early 20th century. The car turned out to be a better transportation method, mainly because of low gas prices. Also, with a car you can go wherever you want. Moving by train is only possible from a train station and to a train station. Now almost all trains riding in Greensboro are freight trains.
I think that in the future trains can be a very important way of transportation again. First, the prediction is that the gas prices will increase. In a couple of years there will be a lack of natural resources, such as gas. In the same time, the world population grows bigger and bigger. So there is more need for gas, but the supply decreases. This will definitely lead to higher gas prices and as a result the use of the car will go down. People will look at other transportation methods, such as the train. The train will be a lot cheaper then and it is also better for the environment ("greener"), which will be a big issue in the future. But, this all will not be the case if we can find another cheap recourse that can replace gas.

Railroad system 2007

Now is the question: How does the J. Douglas Galyon Depot show that Greensboro is a center of the railroad system? And is the Depot itself a center?
If you look at the location of the Depot, one can see that the Depot is located very centrally. It is almost right in the center of downtown, so it is easy accessible by people who are travelling by bus or by train. If I use Clay’s vocabulary, I would definitely describe the Galyon Depot as a beat. Every day a lot of people go in and out the Depot and it is an important building in Greensboro. People need it for transportation. Every inhabitant of Greensboro should have heard about it.
Also the shape of the Galyon Depot shows characteristics of a real center. There is a big arrival and departure hall in the older part of the building. The ceiling of this hall is very high and there are several very big lights. It is important to realize that a few decades ago there were hundreds of people in this hall at every time of the day. There are also a couple of office windows in this hall to assist the passengers. One will not find a lot of those in smaller train stations. Also the large map on the wall of the central hall in the Depot reflects that Greensboro is a main city in the train transportation. On the image you can discover that there is a north-south and an east-west track through Greensboro. Also the fact that the map includes the whole east coast itself is interesting. The creators of the Depot must have recognized the importance of Greensboro in the railway system, otherwise they would not show the map of the whole southwest in the central hall.

Comparing U.S. to Holland

Holland is more than three times smaller than the state of North Carolina, but there are twice as many people in Holland. We have a broad railroad system. If you compare it to one third of the railroad map of North Carolina in 2007, then you can see that an incredible amount of cities and small villages are connected to this system. It is even more surprising if you realize that the main use of all railroad tracks is passenger transportation. We also have freight trains riding on the tracks, but less than passenger trains. In North Carolina there are a couple of railroad tracks on which almost no passenger trains are riding. Their only function is transportation of goods. It is about the same in the rest of the United States. People in the U.S. don’t necessarily depend on trains. These differences in function, need, and value of the railroad system between the United States and Holland are mainly based on differences in other transportation methods, especially (again) the car. In Europe is the gas price, converted, about eight dollars a gallon. Obviously that is a huge amount of money. Mainly because of this most families have just one car and they try to avoid driving more than necessary. It is expensive and it is very easy to get stuck in traffic in Holland. Remember, I told you all before that the country is more than three times smaller than North Carolina, but that the population is twice as big. For example, if someone is offered a job that is like forty miles away, it is likely that the distance will be the decisive factor for not accepting the job. So it is clear that Dutch people are in need of other transportation methods. The trains system is a perfect way to reach your destination because the country is so small. Most of the times the train stations are pretty close to where you need to be, in contrast to the United States.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

#5 Overview

Hello everyone,

I have seen so many places in Greensboro this semester that I guess I can almost be a professional guide. Now it's time to reflect on all that I have seen thus far this semester.

I have definitely learned a lot about understanding the built environment. Before I was just looking at the environment, now I try to understand and explain the built environment. For this I use Clay's vocabulary, which helped me a lot during this semester, but I also try to apply everything I learned in this class so far. I ask myself questions, such as "Why does this building look like this and how is that related to its function?", "What would be the ultimate use/infill for this piece of land?", and "What are the values imbedded in this built environment and in what way is that expressed by the environment?"

Because of all the things I learned in class, I am definitely more interested in the world surrounding me. It is not anymore "just" the notion of a beautiful building or a nice place. Now it is an inspiring place to think about. What makes this building nice? How does it invite people to visit it? My perspective and perspective of the world has changed a lot during these few weeks. Also, I learned a lot about the American city, especially because I am a foreigner. I helps me understand the way of thinking of Americans about the environment.

I am thinking about directing my focus to the J. Douglas Galyon Depot for my final project. I have always been very interested in trains. Back in Holland we have a very broad public transportation system of which train transportation is an important part. I want to find out how the train and railroad network is managed here in the United States. And believe it or not, I have read Sonia Nazario's book "Enrique's Journey" and that also gave me inspiration to deepen further into this subject.

#4 Roadways

Hello everyone,

To go from one part of Greenboro to the other, we needed to drive of course. Along the way we did observations and formulated hypotheses about the differences in environment and about the functions of the buildings and open spaces along the road.

First, we drove on the interstate on High Point Road. I could discover a lot of retail stores and industrial places. Some industrial buildings have big parking lots next to them, I guess mainly for employees and visitors of the retail centers which are close. I also saw a couple of hotels along the way, such as Holiday Inn Express and Hilton Garden Inn.
Then, we exited to Wendover Avenue. There is a lot of variety in buildings and spaces along this road. On the first part we saw a lot of car dealerships. These dealerships are easily accessible because they are located close to the big roads and interstates. Then, after a few industrial buildings, there appeared a residential area with houses, schools, and retail spaces. This residential area doesn't look as prosperous as the neighborhoods we observed before. Some businesses I saw on the way on High Point and Wendover were CVS, the Office Depot, and Sheetz. If I compare the area around Wendover to the Elm Street, I see a lot of differences. Elm Street is downtown, the street is narrower, there are a lot of restaurants and little shops. Wendover is outside of downtown, around Wendover I see lots of open spaces and parking lots, and I see a lot of industrial buildings and big retail centers. The scale is so much larger.

When we drove on Battleground Avenue in the afternoon, there was also a lot of retail. Two stores I saw were Target and Party City. The second part of Battleground Avenue, Old Battleground, has a lot of retail too, but it all looks older. Some stores look really dirty and solitary.

#3 Open Spaces

Hello everyone,

In the early afternoon, we drove to Battleground Park, which was represented as the open space for the day. It is a very nice park with a lot of history imbedded in it and it still is of great historical value to the city of Greensboro.

At this place there was fought a Revolutionary War battle in 1781 between major general Nathanael Greene and the British army. Although Greene was eventually defeated by the British army, he was able to keep his army strong. The story is that he was a very brave man. Now he is the symbol of Greensboro. There is not only a statue of him in Battleground Park, but also downtown on the rotary intersection and there is a street named Greene Street downtown. At certain places in Battleground park there are statues of the famous people who fought the battle. The fact that there is a sort of monument on the battle side indicates that this place is of great important and value for Greensboro. In this case memory, history and respect are of greater value than the expansion of the city. I think that is a very good development. Too often it is otherwise.

Battleground Park is not only a historical place; it is also a place to relax, experience the quietness, and enjoy the nature. When we walked in the park, I saw a lot of parents with their children in the park. In my opinion it is very important that children know something about the history of Greensboro. I think that discovering the roots of the city you live in is certainly an important element in the discovery of yourself and your own roots, and questions like: where do I belong in this world?

Nathanael Greene

#2 Residential

Hello everyone,

After Greensboro's retail spaces, we went to the neighborhood around the White Oak Mill complex. This neighborhood is very different from the neighborhoods we studied earlier.

The first thing that attracted my attention was that the houses are all pretty modest. They are workers cottages. Especially in the past, the people who lived in this area worked for the White Oak Mill company. The Cone family (owners of the area) decided that they wanted to build a little village for the employees surrounding the mill company. That was very convenient and efficient, both for the workers and the company. It is like a miniature town. All the houses have a center chimney and there are no sidewalks at all. It seems like the houses and the environment are decorated very functional. The workers have to work hard and fulfill their duties. There is no time and necessity for social events or any originality. You can conclude this from the lack of sidewalks and the fact that the houses have the same shape inside. Furthermore, there is a lot of space between the houses in this neighborhood. That is characteristic for a suburban area of a city. Near the houses is an area with churches: the Masonic, Baptist, and Presbyterian Church. The latter one has its own graveyard. One seperate section of the graveyard is for members of the Cone family.

Presbyterian Church

Another residentail part that we visited during our big fieldtrip was the Loewenstein Residence. We had lunch in this amazing house. It was probably the most impressive house I have ever visited. The current residents are Richard and Jane Levy, who are related to the Cone family. The first thing that attracted my attention was the amount of windows; there are a lot of them. This makes the house very light inside. The position of the windows is very interesting. It regulates the light and shadow in different seasons of the year. The art both inside and outside the house was overwhelming. It was a great experience to look at the pearl necklace and the "crashed" airplane.

The house from inside, looking at the back yard (look at the windows!)

The airplane masterpiece

#1 Retail

Hello everyone,

On Saturday, November 7 we had a big field trip in Greensboro with HSS 105. First, we looked at the main retail spaces in Greensboro: Friendly Center and Four Seasons.

Friendly Center
We met at Friendly Center. This was the place for our first observations. Friendly Center consists of an older and a newer part. It became immediately obvious to me that there are a lot of electronic shops in the original part of Friendly Center, like Radio Shack and Ritz Camera. Overal, it seems like there are shops for people of every age and people with different interests. It seems like this part serves a wide public. The fact that the shops are not very expensive also supports this statement. In the newer part of Friendly there are actually even more electronical shops, for example Apple and AT&T. It seems like this part is more expensive, the stores look fancier, and they serve a smaller public: the upperclass. It is more like a lifestyle part. Most pedestrian paths are next to the shops under a roof, but there are also pedestrian spaces that cross the streets or parking areas. Some of them are decorated with trees and benches (see picture). That looks very nice. There are a lot of parking areas. This is not strange, since lots of people visit the Friendly Center each day. There is one block with shops that really sticks out, because it is made of brick. That is a new expansion of Friendly Center. All the other shops are made of stone. Furthermore, I consider the Bear Rock Cafe as a shop that sticks out. It has a different shape than the other stores surrounding it (see picture).

Map of Friendly Center

Friendly Center seen from a parking lot

The front of the Bear Rock Cafe

One of the pedestrian spaces leading to the other side

Four Seasons Mall
After Friendly Center we drove to the Four Seasons mall. This is a very big (3 story) shopping center. It is very busy. Everything looks very nice and you can see that the owners really thought about the arrangement of the mall. Four Seasons has a great variety of stores. There are also kiosks and eating areas. One can find everything there for a reasonable price. That is one of the reasons that a lot of people from other cities make their way to Four Seasons. Another reason is that the mall is very close to the interstate, so the accessibility is very good.

The United States Post Office

Christmas decoration in the center of the first floor

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

On the Other Side of the Tracks

Hello everybody,

In the class of Thursday, October 29 we went to South Elm street to observe the stores located on this street. We got extra diagrams to compare our findings with the existing stores in 1925, 1975, and 2000. In this way we are able to draw a conclusion about the development of South Elm Street and its function.

When comparing, the first thing that became obvious to me was that there were more stores back in 1925 and 1975 than now. There are a lot more open spaces now, mainly roads and parking lots. One reason for this could be that certain stores were not necessary (and as a result not profitable) anymore. Especially the last few decades technology and industrialisation increased a lot. It is not strange that some companies couldn't keep up with the progression. Also, generations change. People from this generation have very different interests than people from 1925.
I guess I have to combine my previous observation with the fact that there are a lot of new parking spaces on South Elm Street which were not there a couple of decades ago. There has been a large growth in traffic over the decades. That involves the need of parking spaces. So we can speak of infills; businesses and stores disappeared, parking lots were created.

Although, a couple of businesses are still there, such as the Southern Railway Company and the Salvation Army. These companies have always been important for the city of Greensboro and, in my opinion, will always be important. That is why they still exist. Trains are a main transport method and the Salvation Army is there to help poor people. Besides, there are a lot of antique stores located in this street. I guess that is just typical for this area. Obviously it is not a street to go to if you need food. I liked it though, because the street and most of the stores looked very nice.