Building a Green-Brown-Bridge

Recently I’ve been thinking about Barack Obama, Henry Louis Gates, Van Jones, and Greenbridge.

When tension around race comes up, our society has a really difficult time differentiating between individual incidents of incivility and patterns of bias. South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson thinks that an apology for his single act of disrespect is enough. But others see his “You Lie” comment towards the President to be part of a larger racial pattern questioning Obama’s authority. Henry Louis Gates saw being arrested in his own home in the light of a larger pattern of racial profiling. The police officer who arrested him thought he was just arresting a guy who threatened his authority.

Closer to home, Greenbridge and its developers continue to come under criticism for gentrifying Northside, and some attacks this summer called the Greenbridge developers racist. UNC-NOW and other Greenbridge critics see this project as a part of the larger pattern of African-American displacement in Chapel Hill. Not surprisingly, Greenbridge’s developers say they’re just one project impacting the neighborhood, and one that came relatively late to the gentrification party at that.

It’s incredibly difficult to bring people to a common understanding of racial tensions when they have such different perspectives about patterns versus individual events. At the national level, it’s hard to imagine that President Obama’s supporters and detractors will ever agree on the role race plays in their individual perspectives.

When this tension and conflict happens between individuals and groups who consider themselves progressive, I am truly disheartened. When wedges are placed between advocates for the environment and advocates for people of color, we all lose.

Former White House advisor Van Jones may be the country’s foremost thinker on bridging the so-called green/brown divide. When the right wing attack machine decided to play up white fears about Obama’s so-called radical agenda, they picked on Jones. Unfortunately, the Obama coalition made it all too easy. While people of color voiced their support for Jones, white environmental advocates were largely silent. Jones became expendable to the White House as soon as his support was reduced to coming almost solely from people who looked like him.

We could use Van Jones right here in Chapel Hill. Greenbridge didn’t create our local gentrification issues, and attacking Greenbridge alone doesn’t address the core problems facing Northside. We need leadership and vision that can create a green-brown-bridge… helping our advocates for people of color and our advocates for the environment to get on the same page. Now that he’s out of a job, maybe Van Jones could help us find some solutions. Let’s invite him to town for a beer summit.



Thanks for a very thoughtful post.  Although it's probably wishful thinking, if you can get him to come, I'll buy the beer.

I read "Green for All" by Von Jones back in March and I really enjoyed it and highly recommend it.  I agree with Jones' central thesis in the book that in order to be successful it is critical that various stakeholders (non-traditional coalitions e.g. environmental, social justice, & policy makers) come together in order to advocate for an inclusive new green economy.  While it may not be likely that we will be able to get Jones to come to Chapel Hill, personally (though it would not suprise me if we could working with UNC), I thought you may be interested in how he and the organization he started, Green For All, is having an impact in local communities throughout the country - including Chapel Hill.  Also, back in October 2008 the SEE (Sustainability, Energy, Environment) Committee brought forward a resolution that would authorize Mayor Foy to sign the Local Government Green Jobs Pledge.  At that time the Council passed the resolution and the Mayor signed the pledge.  Since then the Town's Economic Development Officer and the Sustainability Officer have been working through the steps as outlined by the pledge.  You can find out more information about this by going to:  I am sure if you or others were interested in learning more about these efforts you can contact Town Hall to learn more.  Thanks for this thoughtful post.   

It's not just a green-brown divide, it's a class divide.  I'm not convinced, either, that Greenbridge has anything to do with progressive ideals or environmental advocacy.

I haven't met any of the other partners, but Tim Toben is both a progressive and an environmental advocate. And even though I don't live in the OC, some of the folks here know me, so hopefully they'll cut me some slack for some of the things I'm about to say.Orange County is home to an unbelievable number of environmentally conscious citizens, and a lot of the good things that are going on in our state can be traced directly back to those folks. If other developing communities saw the need for and implemented a rural buffer, our state would have a much more promising future. But the partner to that buffer is density, preferably mixed-use density, and resource-efficient mixed-use density is the most preferable.I know there are some who have strong opinions about the politics and locating of Greenbridge, and I really don't want to get that deep into your local business. But please remember this: That facility is going to house the equivalent of an entire subdivision of homes. That subdivision would have displaced wildlife, produced an ungodly amount of construction waste headed to a landfill, added a bunch of energy and water gobbling homes, left a huge swath of impermeable surfaces for stormwater to runoff, etc.I just want you to keep these things in mind.

This is about class, and class has a history of being dependant on race.

 Green for the wealthy is not enough, and there is still no proof that making housing more energy efficient for people makes then use any less energy. In fact, they might use more when they see their bills are so low!

 This is also what happend in the trailer park over on the west end of Carrboro. The poor got kicked out and the developer even got a waiver of the affordable housing law!

So yes, let us change the subject from race to class.



Downtowns are safer and more vibrant with more people living there.

If you look at some of the statistics printed in local papers as well as Daily Tar Heel it seems as thought the gentrification of Northside had already occurred before Greenbridge was started. I have heard numbers as high as 75% rental now. I think the development is overpowering in terms of scale to the rest of the neighborhood but overall is a good thing for downtowns (Chapel Hill and Carrboror). The development does include some affordable housing units that should get permanent residency for a diverse set of lower income earners. I am afraid though that the rest of the units are so expensive that we will see a lot of them bought up by rich people and not be utilized for permanent residency but only football and basketball games or high priced rental units. I think the development will encourage more business in the area and we will see a great mix of retail and office type growth. Personally I wouldn't mind living on the top floor, what a great view it will be.Thx


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