A park offers a manicured moment of respite from the city’s bustle that we might return with renewed vigor to that same movement, while an an empty lot is as meaningful for what is absent as what is apparent.
In this gap between the city’s constant reaching towards the sky, questions of ownership, thoughts of history, and observations of changing urban infrastructure are - like the soil itself - closer to the surface. A park, an occupied space, a historic building: these have narratives, stories dedicated to donors and historic figures - while an empty lot stands as a monument and moment of all that is invisible and forgotten.
Here, where plants grow to waist height and flower, we can see how short the distance is between the natural and the manmade. The same soil from which flowers grow here, extends beneath the entire city. The plants that form a green square here, elsewhere burst from sidewalk seams. This lot stands as an accusation. You are not looking.
When mown, an empty lot appears as a singular green expanse. We can imagine a single story, the cropped tops of plants all appear as one green blanket. But when the lot is allowed to grow an entire ecosystem is revealed, a complex web of stories. Plants here since before the arrival of Europeans grow alongside more recent immigrants. Accidently introduced by early Europeans settlers, the common earthworm converts organic matter into soil, while european honey bees pollinate the flowers above.
The diverse ecosystem of the lot echos the reality of a city’s history. Certain tales are repeated again and again, until they become the green lawn of a city, but if we stop long enough to let the grass grow, we find a thriving network of stories that together fill the streets around us.
In the “renewal” of the Warnersville neighborhood in 1962, the Handbook of Housing Rehabilitation lays out what is expected of residents in terms of maintaining a rehabilitated yardspace:
1962 PROGRESS REPORT
Redevelopment Commission of Greensboro
The native soil of South Elm is grey with a clay-like texture, but most of it has been removed or covered by fill dirt from construction projects. The native soil is actually referred to as “residual soil” in construction industry terms, demonstrating its relative unimportance compared to imported dirt.
In Greensboro, fill dirt for construction projects has to come from another construction project that has permission to remove soil. Near Point of Interest #5 on site map, under the SE corner of the new nursing school at Bragg Street and Gate City Blvd, there is 11 feet of soil from the construction site for the Greensboro Urban Loop Bypass.
Often it’s cheaper to leave old pipes in the ground rather than remove them, so under these streets lies a network of defunct water, gas and other lines from across time. Some still function and are in use. The original 10” cast iron water main from 1887 still runs under Elm Street, carrying clean water to the South Elm neighborhood.
SENIOR CONSTRUCTION SUPERINTENDENT FOR RENTENBACH CONSTRUCTORS, INC.
(Discussing soils found on construction site for the Union Square Campus on South Elm, 2015)
Carolina Horsenettle, Narrowleaf Plantain, Lespedeza, Southern Hackberry, Pecan, American Elm, Liriope, English Ivy, Fleabane, Silver Maple, Willow Oak, Winged Elm, Common Evening Primrose,Chinese Wisteria, Rose of Sharon, White Mulberry
Virginia Creeper, Catbrier, Lambs Quarter, Bermuda Grass, Narrowleaf Plantain, Dandelion, Wood Sorrel, Lesser Periwinkle, Asiatic Dayflower, Common Chicory, Purslane, American Pokeweed, Southern Red Oak, Porcelain Berry, White Mulberry, Callery (Bradford) Pear, Privet
Benjamin Filene, UNC-Greensboro Director of Public History;
Ann Walter-Fromson, Guilford Native Plant Society;
USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database;
City of Greensboro Website: Property Upkeep Guidelines;
Remembering Greensboro, by Jim Schlosser;
David Phlegar and Zachary Petersen, City of Greensboro Water Resources Department;
Elise Allison, Greensboro Historical Museum;
Dr. Mary Ann Scarlette, Historian, St Matthew’s United Methodist Church;
Guilford County Soil Survey, 1977;
Ben Mathison, Senior Construction Superintendent from Rentenbach Constructors Incorporated;
Album of Greensboro, 1892;
Greensboro Volume II Neighborhoods by Gayle Hicks Fripp. Images Of America/Arcadia 1998;
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps;