It was a quiet week in Raleigh, my hometown. Steve Noble, Called2Action's chair, says he paid $900 for that "Merry Christmas" thing he put in Moore Square. Steve, you paid too much. Couple of trees, a reindeer, a menorah ("Happy Hanukkah"), and the main event, a manger scene. ("Unto you, a savior is born.") No, not a real manger scene. A cartoon version painted on plywood. Ditto the menorah and the rest. Keep Raleigh ... what? Tacky?
Noble and his band of Christian fundamentalists came to City Hall last Tuesday looking for a fight. "This display will be in full compliance with the Establishment Clause of our U.S. Constitution," Noble said in an e-mail urging the faithful to show up, "so the City Council should have no reason to deny such a positive, pro-community request ... but without a large group of supporters, don't be surprised if they brush Christmas off again this year."
What council's he talking about? Clearly, Noble doesn't follow Raleigh's elected leaders all that closely, or he'd know that as long as you're a builder, and you're spending your own money, you can pretty much put up whatever you want, wherever you want. Skyscraper hotels? Sure. Comic-book crêches propped up with sticks? Bring 'em on.
In my hometown, we follow the non-planning principle recently enunciated by Mark Everett, chair of our city planning commission, in the case of the 42-story Glen-Tree project at Crabtree Valley. Skyscrapers really belong downtown, Everett said. However, the Crabtree site "is where it is," so how could he argue with that?
Noble's little effort, for instance, belonged in his front yard, not historic Moore Square. Nonetheless, "it is where it is," and our council approved it without a single comment one way or the other. Constitutional standards? How about some design standards? Or good taste, anyway.
Ah, well. Nobody on the council wanted to be against Christmas, even if it's the faux kind that surrounds baby Jesus with two adoring snowmen. But Noble was right about one thing. Downtown Raleigh at the holidays is as dull as dishwater--all except the Progress Energy building, which is lit up the year 'round. (Who pays their light bills? Oh, that's right. We do.)
I might've spoken up against Noble's scheme myself, but I've been too busy with my own holiday project, a CD of Uncle Bob's eTunes, Vol. 1. (The "e" is for exercise.) Ever since I joined Capital Fitness, I've become an iPod/treadmill junkie, painstakingly selecting the greatest upbeat tunes of all time for my own audio motivation. Now, I'm looking for the best 20 clean ones that the whole family can enjoy. (The work continues--I'll send you my final list if you write.)
Next year, though, I'm going to suggest that Called2Action devote itself to getting Raleigh's downtown churches and office buildings decorated, and leave Moore Square alone. That way, we'll get a genuine diversity of holiday expression, not just a phony grab-bag of silly stuff picked to disguise--but not really disguise (wink, wink)--Noble's Christian message. ("May God continue to bless our efforts to put Him first in Wake County!" he said when the thing was OK'd.)
We'll also be protecting both parts of the First Amendment's freedom of religion guarantee: not just the "free exercise" clause, which assures that Steve Noble's followers can celebrate Christmas any way they want to, but the "no establishment of religion" clause as well, which assures that they can't force their exercise on me.
But if Called2Action does try a reprise of their Moore Square show, I'm going to insist that the council include my favorite religion, which regular readers will remember is the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster ( www.venganza.org ). He--the FSM--understands intelligent design, even if Called2Action and the council don't, and showing off His Noodly Appendage would be a big step up, art-wise, from what's in our public park now.
Keep Raleigh _____
Several folks wrote in response to last week's Citizen with suggestions for completing the slogan "Keep Raleigh ___." One, apparently mindful of City Councilor Joyce Kekas' hope that we'll soon be a small Atlanta, suggested "Keep Raleigh Raleigh." Another: "Keep Raleigh Real." A Carrboro writer, convinced Raleigh's already too chain-store soaked to want to "keep" it anything, argued that the phrase should be "Make Raleigh ____." His ideas: "Make Raleigh Whole" and "Make Raleigh Ours."
Josh McIntyre, who likes it that he can go into Finch's or Irregardless and know people who know him and always say hi, says he'd go with "Quaint" if he thought it had a chance. But since it wouldn't, he suggests "Keep Raleigh Acquainted."
Remember, in Austin, Texas, one of our big competitors in the coolest-hippest-high-techy'ist cities for your bidness competition, they chose "Keep Austin Weird." Meaning, of course, distinctive.
Anyway, please keep at it. Not only is the Raleigh Independent Business Alliance (www.raleighunchained.org) interested, but so is a small group--they won't let me say who they are just yet--who want Raleigh to "brand" itself, and by so doing encourage more of our best traits while discouraging the ones that, for marketing purposes and in real life too, just bring us down. They're working on a forum for '06.
A win at Horseshoe Farm
Lighted tennis courts? Out. Recreation center/gymnasium? Out. Dog park? Out. But do bring your dog on a leash. In the battle over Horseshoe Farm Park, the 146-acre tract on the Neuse River, the citizen activists who think it's a special place that should be kept as natural as possible won a big victory Wednesday night. They persuaded the city-appointed HSFP master planning committee to drop the "active recreation" elements from its draft report, reversing an earlier decision.
The report, when it's finished, will be considered by the city's Parks, Recreation and Greenways Advisory Board, which can change it, and then by the City Council, which can do what it wants. But the vote in favor of a nature park could be influential given that the committee at first agreed with the parks department that a mix of "active" and "passive" recreational uses was best, only to change in the face of almost unanimous public sentiment against it.
Three things seemed to make the difference.
First, a series of speakers who worked on the city's Neuse River master plan in the mid-'90s argued convincingly that it envisioned Horseshoe Farm as a nature park. Parks department planner David Shouse argued that the report wasn't so clear, and that the nature park designation might've been aimed at a smaller tract to the south. He gave up, however, when Jamie Ramsey, former president of People for Parks, noted that nature parks are supposed to be "secluded," and the tract Shouse was talking about is bisected by U.S. 401.
Second, as committee member David Deans said, courts and gyms can always be added, but nature can't. Add lights and noise, he argued, and the wild turkeys--rare in Raleigh--will be gone for good.
Finally, as Deans and others noted, the city's done an excellent job of purchasing a lot of land on the Neuse for future parks needs. The mistake the committee made, they said, was thinking Horseshoe Farm Park had to accommodate every possible recreational use.
Sig Hutchinson, who heads Wake County's open space advisory committee, pointed to the nearby Durant Road landfill, which will be a county park when it's topped off, as the perfect place for a dog park, tennis courts and any other active uses the city needs.
City Councilor Russ Stephenson, the only council member who attended, thought he heard a good argument for higher impact fees on new developments (his signature campaign issue) in the parks department's position that active uses should go into Horseshoe Farm Park now.
The problem, Stephenson said, is that--because the impact fees for parks, in particular, are so low--the city doesn't have the money it would need to develop a second park in the area. So the department, seeing houses going up nearby, wanted to put them on Horseshoe Farm, not because they belong there, but because they don't have the money to develop two parks, Stephenson said.