While Chapel Hill is considered part of the Triangle of Chapel Hill / Durham / Raleigh; Greensboro, population about 300,000 and the third largest city in North Carolina is not that far away to the west, especially from Chapel Hill. It is forty-six miles from my Chapel Hill condo to downtown Greensboro and there are hardly ever traffic delays driving to Greensboro, something that cannot be said about driving the thirty miles to Raleigh in the other direction.
On Easter Sunday morning during a coronavirus pandemic it took about forty minutes to drive our Prius the forty-three miles to Gateway Research Park on the eastern fringes of Greensboro. I was going to take a bike ride without stopping to talk to anyone, without touching anything other than my bicycle.
Look at the map above. Downtown Greensboro is between the “s” and the “b” of the word Greensboro. Look how off-centered the downtown is on the city limits of Greensboro. Greensboro sprawls from downtown west and north, not to the south and east. Almost all of the retail and restaurants of Greensboro are downtown and to the north and northwest of downtown. As you might imagine this situation has everything to do with race. I am not picking on Greensboro. I like Greensboro. It is just an example of the racial patterns in suburban sprawl.
I drove from Chapel Hill to the Lee Street exit on I-40. This spot is only four miles from downtown Greensboro. Where is the Walmart? In Greensboro all the shopping malls, Walmarts, Starbucks, fancy restaurants and bars, even McDonaldes are to the north and west of downtown. On the west side this stuff sprawls out for more than ten miles. Here at the Lee Street exit there is almost nothing, just a couple gas stations and some cow pastures. These photos were taken from my car.
No supermarket. No Walmart. In fact, there is just one real grocery store (a Food Lion) on the entire east side of Greensboro. There are almost no restaurants or retail outlets of any kind on the east side.
The government is doing its part to rectify this by putting money into infrastructure on the east side. The state government sponsored Gateway Research Park buildings are on the right. This is just beyond the freeway exit. But private commercial development hardly exists.
This provided me an easy place to park. I pulled out the bicycle.
Crossing over Lee Street there were a couple more government and nonprofit buildings recently built: a YMCA and a city park called Gateway Gardens. It seemed very nice but it felt weird that there were no privately funded businesses. There was not even a fast food place.
Florida Street runs for six miles through the mostly African-American southern part of Greensboro, a part of town I had never visited before. There were miles of neighborhoods of 1960’s brick houses.
I passed several modernist churches.
On Easter Sunday during a pandemic this man was preaching with a loudspeaker in the parking lot, his apparent parishioners sitting in their cars.
Florida Street passes by the city-owned Gillespie golf course.
Even at major intersections I saw almost no active businesses. There was this dead mini-mart.
I bicycled through public housing.
I continued bicycling along Florida Street until it ended at Holden Road. As befitting the title I have given Greensboro as having the least bicycle friendly streets of any city I know, Holden Road is insanely wider than it needs to be. It was built to encourage fast car travel.
I bicycled back in the direction of my car but staying in the southern part of town, noodling through residential streets.
There was one entire block of mostly mid-century modernist houses.
Greensboro has always been a city of manufacturers; originally tobacco and textiles. There were industrial buildings sprinkled through these neighborhoods. There still were very very few restaurants or retail stores
There are two HBCU’s on the east side of Greensboro. The state-run NC AT&T seems to be booming, new construction was everywhere.
Bennett College, a woman’s college of less than five hundred students is struggling. About a year ago they had their accreditation pulled but I think they have worked out a solution at least for now.
Turning back within walking distance to downtown there is a small area Southside where the neighborhood has gentrified dramatically. Many buildings were in vivid colors.
Downtown was quite empty on a pandemic Easter Sunday.
North of downtown the company that used to be called Wrangler (as in the blue jeans) has a new name and an impressive mid-century modernist headquarters.
Fisher Park is the name of both an early twentieth century neighborhood and a park just north of downtown. I like the look of the neighborhood so much that I find myself wanting to move to Greensboro just to live in Fisher Park! Not all the houses are as big as these two; many are small bungalows.
I found a spot to eat lunch in Fisher Park (the park). No one was around. Sunflower seed butter and jelly sandwich.
There are large parts of Greensboro to the north and west but they will have to wait for another bike trip. Fisher Park extends west – east for several blocks, ending on the east at North Church Street and a set of railroad tracks. Across those tracks are the much poorer east side neighborhoods. I would have biked around these but it was starting to rain. I still had at almost an hour’s bike ride back to the car. I passed this plaque along the way on McConnell Road in eastern Greensboro.
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