Greensboro to High Point, 3/5/11

If you want to go by car from I-40 to downtown Greensboro,  Lee Street would be a major route;  only four miles of divided highway to downtown Greensboro.  There are numerous traffic lights.   I rode by bike through the four mile stretch that goes past waves of what look to be tract housing from the sixties, small to medium sized one story houses on regular size lots.  Halfway to downtown, there is one large apartment complex on the left that I suspect is public housing, but it does not look unkempt or otherwise fit the stereotype of what many think public housing looks like.  On my bicycle, I never felt out of place or unsafe.

In this four mile stretch, the eastern gateway to Greensboro, there is a curious omission.  Immediately at the interstate interchange, there are two gas stations and one small business.  Then it goes four miles without one commercial establishment before it arrives in downtown Greensboro.  Not one.  No shopping mall at the freeway interchange, no strip malls of grocery stores and drugstores.  Nothing.  Not even a Mini-Mart.   This is North Carolina, land of the strip shopping center.  The other side of Greensboro, the western side, sprawls out over a distance of at least ten miles, a frequently tacky world of every shopping destination one can think of, as well as wrecks of the previous waves of strip malls.    Here on the east side, it looks like no one ever even tried.  So it is a good thing that the government has stepped in to attract office business and jobs on this side of town, by building a nanotechnology center and Gateway University Research Park.   But there can no reason other than race that private developers have treated the area like it had some kind of disease.  For this area is known as the African-American side of Greensboro.

The ride from downtown to High Point was not as dangerous as expected.   High Point Road doubles as alternate US29, frequently a wide two lanes, and going through historic Jamestown, which started as a late eighteenth century Quaker settlement.

High Point was its own trip.   Downtown is completely taken over by the wholesale furniture industry, taking most retail spots as well as several quite large buildings exclusively for furniture showrooms.  At least its downtown appears to have some kind of purpose, rather than the abandoned hulks that litter many such cities.    As in those other types of cities, there is little if any sign of street life, an almost complete lack of restaurants and stores.  Finding the “real” High Point can be difficult without guidance.      High Point University has a beautiful campus, with beautiful students, but something seems creepy about it.  It has no blemishes.  There seem to be no businesses around it.  Arriving High Point on a bicycle without an agenda, one has trouble finding kind of neighborhood that I would imagine knowing people in, or finding somewhere were I would like to have lunch.  I had to call High Point native John Ripley on the phone.  He pointed me in the right direction, a neighborhood of medium to very large houses, and a street of several locally owned restaurants.   The lunch place was low cost, tasty, and even healthy.   I rode by the house he grew up in.  But I never would have found such a neighborhood without him telling me where to look.   It is only a small part of High Point.   What does it mean about our cities, or us,  that we only feel comfortable in very small parts of them?

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