Debates about urban development projects are dominated by the interests of the rich and powerful across the country, and our communities have suffered. There’s a new luxury apartment complex down the block, but no one you know can afford its rent. Black and brown residents get priced out while the town watches helplessly. Ever-increasing traffic means our streets are less and less safe and the natural wonders we love grow increasingly scarce. Unless you can afford a million-dollar house, nothing seems within walking distance. The economy is supposedly recovering—so where’s the wealth?
Against this backdrop, you might think that Carrboro’s proposed Bolin Creek Greenway would be a breath of fresh air—an absolute no-brainer. The proposal is pretty simple: We can turn an existing 30-foot-wide clearing—a sewer easement already used by utility trucks—into a safe, green space that allows more of our community to access public land our wealthy neighbors already enjoy. It would connect residents with a safe, walkable route to several of the local schools, Chapel Hill Public Library, and stores around University Place, all while reducing area vehicle traffic—and therefore our town’s carbon emissions. This proposal would make one of our town’ largest remaining green spaces more accessible, especially for physically-disabled residents, through an ADA compliant path. You can read more details on the proposed greenway here. Unfortunately, this easement is not currently paved, making it less safe and less accessible for routine foot and bike traffic, and because there is no defined path, current use exacerbates erosion along the whole easement. So, why not build this greenway?
The greenway was first proposed 20 years ago—in 2003. In 2009, the greenway was approved. Two small portions have been finished – one in Wilson Park and one that allows kids in Northern Carrboro neighborhoods a safe bike and walk route to school. A separate Bolin Creek Greenway in Chapel Hill, discussed around the same time, was approved, designed, built and is now used by thousands and will be expanded thanks to grant funding. So, what happened here, in progressive Carrboro?
Sadly, our small town isn’t immune to the same dynamics that have plagued urban development debates nationally. This public land runs behind the backyards of some of our wealthiest neighbors. Some of them maintain a facade about environmental concerns, attempting to portray the greenway as something that would cause environmental damage instead of mitigating the damage caused by the existing and necessary easement—the truth is that they simply don’t want to have to deal with the eyesore of working-class residents enjoying the public green space they view as their backyards. Incredibly, some of these supposed conservationists fired up a private plane to film a faux-environmentalist “documentary” attempting to discredit the greenway. Just recently, another nameless “environmentalist” tore down pro-greenway posters and signs put up by the Town of Carrboro soliciting feedback on the greenway and littered them along Greensboro Street.
Area residents deserve better discourse than this. That’s why grassroots activists like our local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America have gotten involved. We’ve talked to thousands of Carrboro residents, and the overwhelming majority want our town to complete the greenway. We deserve a township responsive to the interests of everyone who lives and works here, not just those with access to private planes. We deserve democratic use of all of our town’s resources and a public input process responsive to the needs of working-class residents. We deserve infrastructure that allows for climate resilience, safe recreation, and an accessible community for residents of every age and income level. We deserve a town that stops losing the forest for the trees.
This piece was written by Nick Lytle and Wamiq Chowdhury, who are residents of Carrboro and members of the North Carolina Triangle chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.