by Thomas Herron
A Day in the Life is a rotating invitational column. Writers are asked to offer some idea or observation about our world, filtered through their liberal arts field, the study of the which promotes active citizens and a vibrant democracy.
“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” –Joni Mitchell
Uptown Greenville is much uglier than it should be: sprawling aprons of tarmac, some long enough to land airplanes on, swelter during summer and bounce heat back into the atmosphere, dangerously so in the long-run. Polluted water runs into our storm systems. Uptown is dominated by asphalt, gravel and concrete urban deserts that are toxic to the environment and to our sense of civic well-being.
It is the liberal arts, and ECU’s place in it, that promises a remedy. In particular, we need to re-envision our growing town according to pastoral principles. The pastoral is one of the foundations of the visual and literary arts and a cornerstone of a good liberal arts education. It is a way of living and learning that fosters communal thinking along environmental lines. It is what Greenville needs to be green again, and ECU is leading the way in this regard.
Once again, we’re up against it.
50 new Guardian Angels are needed by June 30.
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I have not met anyone who admires a parking lot. Look at what they replace: either green fields and woods or —in the case of Greenville’s downtown (i.e., Uptown)— fine old houses and lawns that once formed the town’s dense, walkable center. Many of these buildings were neglected for years while the suburbs grew, until they were finally flattened by demolition, the growth of the courts and municipal bureaus, legal services, private office buildings, and the sprawl of ECU administrative buildings in the 1960s and ’70s.
As a result, between Fifth St. and the Tar River downtown, any tree or attractive building that still pokes its head up from the black-and-gravel, office-park wasteland around it feels like a lucky mushroom in a well-mown lawn. Some buildings that have withstood the slow crawl of destruction and negligence, such as the boisterously columned William H. Long house (200 E. Fourth St.), a national historic landmark named after former mayor William H. Long (mayor from 1901-03), are tasteful temples to the past, but their indwellers fled long ago. Like the plucky and attractive Greenville Art Museum, they are repurposed shells of private homes, fine institutions but ruins of what once was: a well-to-do community in Uptown.