One thing I do a lot is think about urban planning, place-making, and public space. Something I do just as much is ask questions. So the question I’ve got on my mind as of late is:
“Who is a city for?”
Are cities meant for people? Are they meant for businesses? Are they meant for young people, or old people, or the wealthy, for houseless people, renters, recent immigrants, generational residents, artists, people of specific or varied racial identities, or any of the many different kinds of people?
Here in Greensboro we must ask ourselves this very question. Who is Greensboro made for? Who is it currently being made and envisioned for? Who is Greensboro? Part of the answer is connected to whom we ask this question, and who is allowed to answer.
We are in a critical place in the development of Greensboro’s identity, which will be formed and reformed whether intentionally, haphazardly, or with little consideration for all those it will affect.
Recently in Greensboro the city council voted to impose a curfew on people under the age of 18 when they are in the downtown of the city. This is an example of several things; the shaping of Greensboro’s identity without everyone’s input; of closing off the commons, an already scarce resource in Greensboro; and the permission for police profiling. This curfew answers the question of who this city is for, as it seems to indicate a lack of trust in young people. This is occurring at the same time that young people are championed as the “future”. The curfew is a tool to perpetuate the villainization of and in turn criminalization of youth, specifically black youth, brown youth and working class youth. Holding onto young people in this city is something that Greensboro claims it wants to do. But which young people do we want? Is it only young professionals, middle class folks, and mostly white folks that are valued and invested in, that the city is conceived for?
This curfew also runs the risk of creating a Greensboro brain drain. If young people aren’t allowed to participate in the use of a city, in the creation of a city, then it only makes sense that we’ll feel unwelcome and policed, and keep to certain parts of the city; parts of the city that aren’t being invested in the same way as downtown, lest we forget that the city is not confined to just the downtown. Or we leave the city all together and contribute our creativity, energy, and passion in other places where there is opportunity and where we are welcome and encouraged to create. This will inevitably affect the face of our city.
When thinking about who a city is for, it is critical that we understand that we all have a right to the city, both in its physical space, but also in its creation. So I challenge each of us to go further, to demand of the city, and enact in our daily lives what it would look like to draw young people in, to draw all sorts of people in to the conversation and creation of what we each want the city to look like. We’re all responsible, but as I said everyone has to be allowed to answer these questions, to have their voice heard, instead of being pushed out by such exclusive practices like the curfew. Greensboro, what will we do?