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Sprawl wins by KO, plus sexed-up Republicans 

Last week, WFAE-FM's Charlotte Talks With Mike Collins hosted a public forum, the theme of which was Charlotte's growth, city planning, and different visions for the city's future. Much of the discussion focused on whether Charlotte could be saved from growing into a big, sprawling mess.

Listening to the discussion was like déjà vu, a repeat of something you vaguely remember happening a long time ago. To host Mike Collins' credit, he voiced what many people, including some panelists, were thinking at the time: Isn't it a bit late for Charlotte to avoid sprawl? No kidding.

The reason for the sense of déjà vu is that these kinds of discussions happened with some regularity a decade or more ago, when various architects, teachers and pundits advanced the anti-sprawl "urban village" concept of planning. Even back then, the discussions were on the verge of being too late. Since those days, some successful examples of urban villages have cropped up around Charlotte -- think Birkdale or Baxter. But they've been overshadowed by the speed and enormity of the city's expansion and the spread of new tacky suburban developments, as the city metastasized like a case of urban lymphoma.

During last week's forum, one member of an urban planning firm said he believed Charlotte has a chance to avoid the fate of "cities that have already destroyed themselves" with sprawl. My first thought on hearing this was, "What city is this guy living in?"

Maybe the planner was trying to drum up business; who can blame him? But, come on, the smart planning vs. sprawl battle, if it was ever really a battle in Charlotte, is over. The winner was sprawl, by a quick knockout.

The urban planner's hopeful statement might have sounded true 10 years ago. Today, though, the prospect of Charlotte avoiding sprawl could only sound true to someone who hasn't been caught in rush hour traffic on I-77, or hasn't noticed the areas located, oh, say, north, south, east and west of the city, where former pastures and woods and small communities have been replaced by miles and miles of ugly strip shopping centers, gas stations, uninspired housing, and endless stoplights.

Finishing the city's and county's transit projects quickly (yeah, I know, that won't happen) could conceivably reduce some traffic congestion. Plowing under some of the chintzy, largely foreclosed developments on the outskirts and turning them into parks wouldn't hurt, either. But the truth, I'm afraid -- and it's painful to write this -- is that any dream of "saving" Charlotte from sprawl is, at best, a fantasy, like chaining up your dog after he's been run over.

We reported last week on The CLog -- Creative Loafing's news blog (www.theclogblog.com) -- on new sex scandals in the ranks of the South Carolina GOP. The information about the new S.C. "sexocrites" was first reported by a couple of Web sites, one with a near-perfect record of accuracy, and the other with the evidence in hand. Maybe by the time this is printed, the mainstream media will have caught up, but in case they haven't and you're not a big blog reader, here are the stories:

Michael Rogers of blogActive, a site that has specialized in accurately outing gay politicians who oppose gay rights (think Sen. Larry Craig and Rep. Mark Foley) "confirmed" what politicos in South Carolina have "unofficially" been talking about for some time: Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer is gay, despite his aggressively anti-gay politics. Bauer's sexual preference has been one of the primary reasons Gov. Mark Sanford hasn't been kicked out of office, as the GOP pols in Columbia -- and the prigs of the religious right whose wrath they fear -- are so horror-struck by the prospect of a gay Republican governor, they don't know which way to turn.

In addition, the FitNews Web site reported that Kristin Maguire, chair of the S.C. Board of Education, a self-declared devout evangelical Christian who homeschools her four children, was also a prolific writer of hardcore erotica on the Internet, posted under the name Bridget Keeney. FitNews sent Gov. Sanford its findings; Sanford met with Maguire; and soon, the erotic works of "Bridget Keeney" started disappearing from the Web. A couple of days later, Maguire resigned her position as head of the state school board, citing (of course) a need to spend more time with her family.

To this writer, if Bauer is gay, or if Maguire wrote erotica, that's their private business. Their behavior became newsworthy, however, because of their blatant hypocrisy, as has been the case in nearly all the recent GOP sex scandals. Frankly, if these pent-up, repressed folks could ever come to terms with their own sexuality (God-given, no less), they and their party would be healthier ... and probably not as twitchy, either.

Big News: Deliver Us From Weasels, a collection of 50 of John Grooms' best columns and articles, will be published in November by Main Street Rag Press. The book will cost $14.95, but it can be purchased in advance through Oct. 26 for $10 including shipping at www.mainstreetrag.com/store/ComingSoon.php.

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