Saunders: To make a good impression, Durham and Raleigh, cut the grass

July 17, 2013 

The city of Raleigh is fixing to spend $150,000 on a study to learn how to make the city look prettier and more inviting to people driving in.

I’d have told them for a pack of Nabs and a Coca-Cola.

For Durham, a similar, as-yet-unfunded plan, is on the drawing board. I’d impart that wisdom in three words for a fish sandwich from Leo’s Seafood.

Cut the $%#&* grass.

Okay, four words.

Despite the cities’ undeniable appeal and potential, the highways and streets leading into them look neglected and unkempt, like a guy wearing a $1,000 suit – that he slept in.

In a television interview a few weeks ago, Raleigh city planner Mitchell Silver said of the city’s southern gateway, South Saunders and South Wilmington streets, “We want it to be greener. We want it to be more attractive. Maybe some mixed-use or some more commercial, more upscale.”

Cut the grass first.

How to make Durham more inviting at its entry points, Chamber of Commerce Vice President of Public Policy John White said, “is something I’ve thought about for at least the past couple of years. The common way of going about it, I believe, is from a traffic standpoint. I believe the appeal to consumers is important.”

That would be not only the roads and greenways, but the buildings one sees upon approach.

One of the most boneheaded, ineradicable moves Durham ever made was building that white elephant of a jail right smack in the middle of town where you can’t miss it when driving past. That had to cause consternation among people running the wonderful DPAC, which is right across the street. Did you ever wonder how many visitors actually go over to the jail and ask, “Y’all got any more tickets for that there ‘Jersey Boys’?”

Since the city built its new courthouse beside it, White said with relief, “You can’t see the jail from 147.”

That’s good, but with the way some of the grass and weeds are growing, seeing the signs isn’t so easy, either. Keeping the roads and highways trimmed is not just a matter of aesthetics: it’s one of safety, too. Will the cities be liable when someone has a car crash that results from not being able to see over or through overgrown weeds or if a lion leaps out when they stop at a traffic light?

While a plaintiff’s lawyer won’t, we’ve got to cut the cities – as well as your trifling neighbor whose backyard resembles Lion Country Safari – some slack for not cutting the grass with the alacrity it requires.

Why? Because of the rain. So far this alleged summer, North Carolina has looked like Seattle – minus the Space Needle.

Kevin Lilley, Durham’s facilities manager for landscaping, said the city is currently running about a week behind schedule on maintaining the grass along city streets. The city also contracts with the state Department of Transportation to keep U.S. 15-501 barbered. The prodigious rainfall of the past three weeks, Lilley said, put his crews behind schedule.

“We have got our crews working at full staff right now to catch up. We’re hoping that by the end of July, we will be back on target for our two-week cycle,” he said. That cycle “is entirely based upon the weather, but what has happened ... is that the ground has become so soft that if we got in there and mowed with our tractors, we’d actually rut up the rights-of-way.”

Rutted up rights-of-way? Yikes.

You know how when you get a nice haircut and the barber slaps some of that blue stuff on your face and you feel ready to face the world?

A nice trim with a little off the sides – of the roads – would help both Raleigh and Durham face the world and make a better impression on visitors.

Now, give me my Nabs and fish sandwich.

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or

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