Google Street View

Back in April, I spotted the Google Street View car tailing me as I pulled into my neighborhood. As it passed my house, I hopped out and got ready to snap a pic as it made it’s return trip from the cul-de-sac at the end of my road. The driver paused for a sec to let me take a photo (with my Google Nexus One, incidentally).

Street View has recently updated with the new photos. I was captured in a couple of ’em. The last pic is one of me sitting on my sidewalk waiting for the car to return.


Q: Is that house next door to yours painted with cat poop?
A: I’m pretty sure it is. Cat poop is on the list approved by the HOA.

Q: Is your street name really that long?
A:  Yes. And Harps Mill Woods Run intersects with Harps Mill Woods Road. It’s a bunch of fun. It’s also printed on the road exactly as it appears in these photos.


Raleigh's Unified Development Ordinance

I make it a point to attend my CAC’s monthly meetings. Citizens Advisory Councils are the connecting point between Raleigh’s citizens and our local government. The meetings serve as a way for citizens to communicate with the government and as a way for the government to inform citizens. CACs are the only advisory boards to the city council that aren’t appointed. They’re completely independent, setting their own agendas and electing their own officers. A typical meeting of my CAC will involve presentations from the Raleigh Police Department on crime trends in the area, information from Parks and Recreation regarding local events and hearings concerning rezoning cases within our CAC.

At this month’s meeting, we had a change of pace. Members of the Department of City Planning organized a workshop to help us understand Raleigh’s new unified development ordinance (UDO) project. The UDO will replace the existing complicated and outdated zoning ordinances.

What is the UDO?

The basic idea of the UDO is that each parcel of land in Raleigh will have a code applied to it that will describe the type of use permitted (commercial, industrial, residential, etc.), the allowed height of buildings (in number stories) and the type of frontage the parcel will have. Frontage addresses how the building relates to the street and specifies the required distance from the street that buildings on the parcel must maintain as well as the character of the part of the building facing the street. In some cases frontage may even specify that there be a buffer of trees between the building and the street. The UDO puts a lot of emphasis on mixed-use properties.

Once the text of the UDO – the ordinance itself – is adopted, the process of translating the zoning of existing parcels into the new classification begins. This is tricky because city planners want to make sure that when they apply the new zones, they don’t conflict unnecessarily with what actually exists on the land. They also want to be careful not to ‘up-zone’ a property, which would increase the taxes paid by the land owner as well as open up the possibility of the owner using the land for undesired types of development. When there are questions about how to apply the new zone, planners often refer to the Future Land Use Map that’s part of the 2030 Comprehensive Plan. This map shows the type of use that Raleigh desires in an area in the future (for example, planning for an area to move more toward residential uses or toward commercial uses). The Comprehensive Plan is a long-term “vision” document intended to guide growth.

Rolling up our Sleeves

At our CAC meeting, we broke up into groups and tackled the translation of an area in our CAC from the old zoning rules to the UDO. Planners were available to answer our questions and give advice as we consulted the current use of the area and the future use maps to decide what UDO classifications we’d use. It wasn’t easy – we had a block of land that has a shopping center on it as well as a pocket of residential homes that have been been cut off into a “pocket” as new roads and development grew around them.

The exercise was very satisfying. We got some hands-on insight into the complicated issues that Raleigh planners face. I think it’s great that they made an effort to bring us into the process in such an interesting way.

NIMBY? – Support Your Local Greenway

Update: Please read this page before emailing me about this article.

Over a decade ago, soon after I moved into my current home, I attended a homeowner’s association meeting where the new neighborhood swimming pool was a hotly-debated topic. A small, but vocal, minority actually suggested that the pool should be filled with concrete. The argument was basically “upkeep of the pool costs too much and I don’t plan to use it, so get rid of it”. Certainly, it’s easy to make a case for how a neighborhood pool increases your property value. Our pool has become a hub for activities throughout the year. Looking back on that meeting, I laugh at the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) attitude so strongly voiced by that minority.

Last night, I had the displeasure of witnessing a similar display of  fingers-in-my-ears-I-can’t-hear-you from citizens opposing routing of a greenway along the sidewalk across the front of their property in North Raleigh. Some things that I actually heard said:

  • “I don’t want the cyclists that ride on the greenway peeing in my front yard and using my water spigot!”
  • “It’s not going across your front yard, so shut up!” (directed to a neighbor that said they’d welcome a connector path that’d let them safely reach other parts of the city)
  • “If the greenway goes through our neighborhood, that means that the crime rate is going to up!”
  • “Great – now we’re going to have a bunch of homeless people living in our neighborhood!”
  • In response to the answer to a question about who will maintain the cleanliness of the trail (the City of Raleigh will): “I’ve driven past a pile of beer bottles [on a nearby road] for two weeks – the city hasn’t picked those up!” (When I asked her why she hadn’t, her reply was “…and get out of my car? On that street?”)

The group was really pretty rude. Some would hardly let their sympathetic on-the-same-side neighbors finish a sentence, let alone the city representatives that were present to hear their grievances (BTW, the Park & Rec representatives did an excellent job of maintaining level-headed-ness in spite of the verbal abuse). There was also a lot of reference to anecdotal “I knew someone who lived near a greenway and someone stole all of their kids toys” rhetoric, but not much fact.

Research has shown that having neighborhood access to a greenway increases property value and has no impact whatsoever on the crime rate or homeless rate in your area. None. The trails are often credited with deterring crime. The Rails-to-Trails conservancy put together a comprehensive and well-written pamphlet that summarizes the experiences of 372 communities with large trail networks.

I applaud the vision that Raleigh has for the future of our city. Since the mid-80’s, Raleigh has deliberately set aside land for green spaces and secured easements for routing of trails throughout the area. We have a great city Parks & Rec department that works with affected communities to find the best fit when routing trails through existing neighborhoods. And Raleigh’s citizens obviously value this mission as is evidenced by the passing of the bonds that fund these projects.

OK. I’ve got that off my chest. I’ve been pretty ticked since attending that neighborhood meeting. But here’s what I hope you take away with you today: there are a lot of great parks, green spaces and trails in our city. They benefit us all financially and from a quality-of-life point of view. Go outside today!

Oh, yeah – not sure where to start? Check out my blog about area parks and greenways.

Project : Recycled Bottle Tiki Torches

This weekend, I built a couple of tiki torches based on this article that I discovered via LifeHacker. I made mine from a couple of Bombay Sapphire bottles. I had trouble finding some of the hardware mentioned in the article, but the folks at my friendly Ace Hardware helped me experiment and find an excellent solution. I bought a couple of eye-bolts that had a diameter a little bigger than the neck of the bottle. I secured the bottles with lock-washers that were just the right size to mate with the threads on the Sapphire bottle. They were just wide enough to keep from passing through the eye bolt. Simple, easy and very minimal.

The yellow torch liquid looks great inside the blue Sapphire bottle. I also made an extra torch (to put on the table) from a bottle of Leblon Chacaça.

BTW – I love Ace Hardware. Every time I go there, the staff is just the right amount of helpful. When buying parts for this project, the AH employee spent at least 20 minutes with me, wandering the store, trying alternate ideas. They’re great.

Presentation Tips: More from Lawrence Lessig

I posted back in March about Lawrence Lessig’s “Keynote Ballet.” Lessig gives beautiful presentations. He uses simple slides in a way that illustrates his points without boring his audience. I occasionally find myself counseling clients to skip bullet-heavy PowerPoint decks in favor of an approach similar to Lessig. Please take a moment to watch this presentation – even if it’s just the first minute or two. You’ll get the idea.

Stuff You Should Know

I’ve recently added a new podcast to my roster. Stuff You Should Know is brought to you by Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant from How Stuff Works. The boys give you the lowdown on such subjects as the evils of high fructose corn syrup and how face transplants work. Clever and geeky, funny and well-read, Josh and Chuck educate while demonstrating a love for language and stats. Averaging about 20 minutes, episodes are great content for killing time while running errands or driving to the office.

Listen via iTunes or via your podcatcher of choice.

Root Canals – Some Practical Advice

I recently needed to have a root canal. My first reaction, of course, was fear. “Root canal” has become the poster-child for All Things Painful and Bad. Turns out, it wasn’t really that bad. It’s about as invasive as getting a filling – it just takes longer. The Novocaine shot is really the only part that hurts. Here are some tips if you find yourself in the same situation:

Before the Root Canal

  • Don’t waste any time: An abscess (a bad infection inside your tooth) reduces the pH of the surrounding tissue. This impedes the effectiveness of local anesthetics (like Novocaine). When you hear a horror story about a root canal, it’s probably because the tooth was really infected by the time they made it to the doctor.
  • Don’t drink alcohol: This might just be me, but having a drink just made my tooth hurt worse. I attributed it to increased blood flow to my head. Who knows. Regardless, having a drink seemed to make things a lot worse.
  • Treat the pain: I’m not a doctor. Let’s be clear on that. I did, however, find some things that helped with the pain:
    • Take more Ibuprofen: Again – I’m not a doctor! But you can probably take more Ibuprofen than is indicated on the packaging. I found that I needed to keep a written log, though, of what I took and when. A toothache has a way of making you stop thinking rationally.
    • ‘Swish’ with rum: Although I don’t recommend drinking alcohol when you have a toothache, I did find that swishing some booze around in my mouth did an OK job of acting as a local aesthetic. This might be placebo, but it helped me. Orajel did absolutely nothing for me. The pain is inside the tooth. Seems like if the rum worked that the Orajel should. Not in my case.
    • Keep the head elevated: When you sleep, use an extra pillow. Too much blood to the head = painful throb = no sleep.

During/After the Root Canal

  • Find a dentist/hygenist that you like: You’re going to have to listen to the dentist and their assistant make small talk for about two hours. If your dentist is a jerk, this is just gonna make things worse. It doesn’t hurt if the dentist/hygenist is cute.
  • Pack your iPod with tunes: plan on going to your happy place. Your dentist may be irritated that they have to nudge you every time they need to talk to you, but screw it – it’s your mouth we’re talking about here. They’ll get over it. Be sure you can work the pause or volume with one hand so that you can stop the music when they do need to talk to you, though.
  • Take it easy for a day: You just got a root canal. Your boss will cut you some slack. “Root canal” has magical properties. Stay home and watch TV all day.


My friend John Golden is talented and an all-around nice guy. Don’t believe me? See for yourself.

YouTube – Post-it portrait of Biff Henderson

Back in March of ’06, my friend Charles was on Letterman, showing off his Post-it skillz (yeah, that’s right skillz). Charles is the brains behind the operation, not the guy that keeps hogging the limelight.

Memo to myself…

Memo to self: Avoid horrifying compound words if I’m ever brainstorming on a product name.