Wednesday, November 11, 2009
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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).
The front of the Bear Rock Cafe
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
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.