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As widely expected, the People's Alliance slate of incumbent Steve Schewel and newcomers Jillian Johnson and Charlie Reece sailed to a top-three finish in yesterday's primary election. With nearly 9,400, 8,200 and 6,000 votes, respectively, the PA slate finished well-ahead of the rest of the pack. (See the NC Board of Elections website for the latest numbers.) Longtime Durhamite Mike Shiflett came in at the middle tier, with just over 3,800 votes; fifth and sixth place finishers Ricky Hart and Robert Stephens each drew about 2,500 votes. For the Shiflett and, to a lesser extent, Hart campaigns, the big question will be whether a get-out-the-vote campaign could close the gap with third-placer Reece. It's not an insurmountable gap, but it would be a tough get. In 2011 -- the last year where we had the at-large seats up for grabs -- Steve Schewel, Diane Catotti and Eugene Brown all had similar vote totals to those seen by the leaders in last night's results, while challenger Victoria Peterson (I know, I know) was at approximately Mike Shiflett's vote total level. The general election vote tallies by percentage didn't change much, although only one candidate (the perennial John Tarantino) fell out of that seven-person primary round. While we can expect last night's 13,000 ballots cast to probably rise to 20,000 or more in the general election, the question will be which way the eliminated candidates' votes split. Azar's total might swing to Shiflett, but the other candidates' tallies could be a more... Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at Bull City Rising
It's election time in the Bull City, and today's primary elections for City Council and Mayor will tell us who's moving on and who's moving out when it comes to seats on City Hall Plaza's favorite dais. Frank Hyman has his usual good analysis over at The Durham News, and I'm not inclined to disagree with Frank's math: this is, as Frank says, a race for sixth place, that is, who squeaks into the last slot in the primary. With five candidates getting a lock on endorsements -- Jillian Johnson, Ricky Hart, Charlie Reece, Steve Schewel, and Mike Shiflett -- it's hard to imagine any of the five not moving on to the next round. If we're laying odds on an order of finish, Schewel is a seeming no-brainer for the top slot, as the sole candidate earning endorsements from all three political action committees (Friends, Committee and PA) plus the Indy. Things to watch in the rest of the order: How do two newcomers to Durham civic life (Johnson, Reece) do against long-time civic type Mike Shiflett? Neither Reece nor Johnson list any experience on City- or County-appointed boards, commissions or the like, whereas Shiflett has a civic resume a mile along. Shiflett, a 1999 PA-endorsed candidate for City Council, didn't get the nod this round amidst a curiosity-piquing surge in PA membership and endorsement meeting turnout. On the other hand, Reece and Johnson have run social-media savvy campaigns, raised an ungodly amount of funds, and appear to be... Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at Bull City Rising
Given all the hand-wringing going on about pocket neighborhoods and the disruption that's feared they may cause in further gentrifying Durham urban areas, the Atlantic Monthly's story "How Tasteless Suburbs Become Beloved Urban Neighborhoods" is a must-read. In it, Daniel Hertz makes a compelling argument in reminding us that, for instance: The 1,600 sq. ft. bungalows now praised as right-sized housing versus the "McMansions" feared to replace them, actually themselves dwarfed the housing stock that came before; These housing units, arriving during the conspicuous-consumption era of the 1920s, were in fact far out of reach from the average resident in a community; Zoning laws passed at the same time were pitched as a way to preserve these newly-created single-family home neighborhoods, keeping out multi-family and other arrivals that might impact the property values of the new homeowners in these neighborhoods. Most importantly, though, Hertz nails a point I've been fretting about in the recent debates on Durham change: the same people who are most worried about the Durham-character-and-neighborhood impact caused by the addition of thousands of units of new apartments, pocket neighborhoods, condo developments, and increases in density, are the same people by and large who are worried about the rate of price increases and low-affordability in Durham neighborhoods. Yet restricting housing stock, well-meaning as it might seem, is a guaranteed fast-track to low affordability. (Hi, the Dystopia of Chapel Hill!) While this is a basic supply-and-demand truism that I think works regardless of whether the new housing stock is... Continue reading
Posted Oct 1, 2015 at Bull City Rising
If it's Wednesday, it's DCVB-press-release-on-a-Pizzeria-Toro-project Day around here. Partners Cara Stacy, Gray Brooks, and Jay Owens, the team behind downtown Durham’s Pizzeria Toro, have announced plans to open a small, dinner-only restaurant at 110 East Parrish St., formerly home to Monuts Donuts. The opening is projected for winter 2016. “We’ve been a fan of this space since Monuts was operating out of it,” Brooks said. “We’ve always loved the sort of super small neighborhood restaurants that, somewhat ironically, you only ever really seem to find in really large cities. There a sort of intimacy, a grown-up informality, that it’s hard to get in a large space.” The team is excited about the small scope of the space. “We’re envisioning maybe 30 to 35 seats, mostly reservation, but with a small bar and food counter that we’ll hold for walk ins. Sort of a cross between a neighborhood restaurant and a date restaurant. We’re not even sure if we’ll have a phone; we may just take reservations by email.” The team plans on naming the restaurant “Hattie Mae Williams Called Me Captain”. Brooks explained, “The name comes from an amazing woman who took care of my sisters and me growing up while my mom was at work; basically working for next to nothing during times when my mom couldn’t afford to pay for her. She used to call me Mr. President, until Robert Kennedy was shot. I was two at the time, and she decided that that wasn’t really a safe... Continue reading
Posted Sep 30, 2015 at Bull City Rising
Last week, several news outlets reported on efforts by legislators to overturn the anti-transit poison pill inserted without any public debate in the last-minute state budget. That provision -- which would have limited funding for any new light-rail system to a half million dollars, though effectively exempting the $400 million in support for the under-construction Charlotte system -- was a stinker, as we noted here, coming without attribution and flying in the face of a project thumbs-up from a new, data-driven evaluation process implemented by the General Assembly and the McCrory administration. The irony that back-room politics might thwart a system intended to take the back-room politics out of transportation decisions does not appear to have been lost on state House members, who voted 81-28 to overturn the insertion. Given that the GOP holds a 74-45 majority -- that's a pretty darn bipartisan vote, right there. Indeed, GOP representatives alone voted 40-28 to overturn the poison pill; Dems were unanimous in their support for the idea, too. (Interestingly, though, House speaker Tim Moore was just one of two representatives to abstain on the matter.) The N&O and WRAL note concerns from urban-area GOP members who were troubled by the flouting of the new transportation project ranking system that Republicans had long argued was necessary to halt the bad old days when the state Board of Transportation was rife with cronyism. The amendment has to also pass a state Senate vote today; we'll be curious to see if there's any roadblocks... Continue reading
Posted Sep 29, 2015 at Bull City Rising
Quick reply from an airport without real Internet access: I believe the local share also includes fare revenue but would need to check. There is also the projected economic growth between now and then - same argument used in the bond funding documents by the then NCTA for toll 147/540. Will look through the DEIS and otherwise later but I dont think theres likely an issue here.
On Monday, GoTriangle sent out a press release about $1.7 million in Federal funding received to plan transit-oriented development. It was a good win, second only to Seattle's funding in the FTA effort, and a sign from the feds that the Durham-Orange project had significant merit. The release was embargoed until Tuesday for publication, a common step where media outlets and PR are concerned. Ironically, GoTriangle in retrospect probably wishes they had a different type of embargo: one to keep nasty cargo, as it were, from being smuggled in as a rider to the hush-hush, back-room state budget deal. But, alas: the small number of legislators putting together the state budget -- representing rural counties almost exclusively -- sneaked a surprise into what the Herald-Sun's Lauren Horsch noted was page 386 of the budget. That surprise? A $500,000 maximum project funding for light rail projects, across the board, from state sources. For now, this has the look that it could be a deal-killer, since there's no chance that the FTA will release federal funds to construct a light rail line without significant state and local backing. But what should we look for in the weeks and months to come on this? First, a quick recap. GoTriangle's expectation has long been that a transit project would be funded half from federal funds, with local and state sources each picking up a quarter of the cost. The area's lack of a significant local funding stream for transit was one of the factors... Continue reading
Posted Sep 16, 2015 at Bull City Rising
At last Wednesday's citizens-against-crime meeting called by anti-violence nonprofit founder Rodney Williams -- and covered in good depth by both the Herald-Sun and the N&O -- there were a number of regular citizens in attendance, but the room at the north Durham Golden Corral was overwhelmingly filled with Durhamites already fully-engaged in efforts to quell violent crime. Besides Williams and Kitora Mason of the Walk For Life group, attendees included Pat James, of Durham's Long Ball Program - Durham's Triple Play, a group that uses baseball as a learning and belonging opportunity for at-risk youth; Walter Jackson, of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People; and DeWarren Langley, who's long been involved in anti-crime initiatives and frequently honored for community activism. There was Diana Powell, a jail instructor-cum-minister and a man who works to help youth become unentangled from gangs; a single City Council candidate (Charlie Reece); Larry Thomas, founder of the Thomas Mentor Leadership Academy, which engages young men to provide a male role model and leadership inspiration. There was former County Commission candidate and bail bondsman Omar Beasley, too. And from the Durham Police Department, we had Assistant Chief Ed Sarvis and Chief Jose Lopez. Still, the turnout was relatively small; 30 or 40 in attendance, perhaps, and most already engaged in anti-crime efforts, largely through civic groups that seek to provide alternative paths to at-risk youth -- or to encourage residents, when that fails, to partner with the police to report criminal activities in their... Continue reading
Posted Sep 9, 2015 at Bull City Rising
The big-hole-in-the-ground downtown isn't a 21c Museum-Hotel art project or Major the Bull's swimming pool (though the latter would be a sight to see.) It's the future site, we've been told, of Austin Lawrence Partners' city-center tower, on the old Woolworth's site formerly controlled by Greenfire Development. The developer also bought the old Jack Tar Motel next door from the widow of Ronnie Sturdivant, the early downtown investor killed at his other property on Chapel Hill St. some years back, to provide additional tower parking while maintaining the original hotel use of the building. This week brings rumblings of what's to come at both sites. This morning, a press release from the Durham Convention and Visitor's Bureau revealed plans for a diner in the Jack Tar -- with the restaurant taking and preserving that name even as the hotel finds a new moniker. Meanwhile, the Triangle Business Journal this week tackled public records and Greenfire-cum-ALP staffer Paul Smith to address a question that's been buzzing in some corners of the downtown crowd: does Austin Lawrence have their financing, and can construction begin? On the restaurant front, the folks who brought Durham Pizzeria Toro -- Cara Stacy, Gray Brooks, and Jay Owens -- have signed on to open a diner in the old "We Want Oprah" building. The diner is slated for seven-day-a-week operations and will offer everything from breakfast and plate lunches all day long, to weekend brunch. The diner is planned to have a full bar as well. Brooks... Continue reading
Posted Sep 2, 2015 at Bull City Rising
As we speculated here on Saturday, developers are indeed proposing a Publix-anchored shopping center and residential development in North Durham. Neighbors got their first chance to offer feedback in a meeting tonight at Easley Elementary School. And unsurprisingly, residents in the largely-suburban environs north of the Eno River weren't hesitant to share a range of concerns -- notably traffic, but also including worries over property values, impact to area character, and duplication of commercial activity elsewhere on Guess and Roxboro. An overflow crowd that appeared to number 250 residents or more strained to hear updates from Florida-based developer Tom Vincent from Halvorsen Development, Morningstar land-use attorney Patrick Byker, and a number of project team members working on traffic counts, site planning and other topics. A real estate program manager from Florida-based grocer Publix confirmed their intent to open a store on site, while staff from Cimarron Homes confirmed they would plan up to 70 residential units on the site in keeping with mixed-use requirements. We weren't able to take an exacting account of opinions, thanks to standing-room only ergonomics and a back-of-room vantage point; if we were to take a swag, the crowd was generally as much as three parts opposition for every one part proponent and every one part what we might call "accommodator" -- the latter being residents who saw lemons but posited lemonade, like asking the developer for extra traffic improvements or wondering about possible help to property values. Byker projected the project won't make it through... Continue reading
Posted Aug 25, 2015 at Bull City Rising
Attorneys for a Florida-based developer proposing a 30 acre mixed-use project on Guess Rd. in North Durham have scheduled a neighborhood meeting for Tuesday night to brief nearby neighbors and associations (as required by Durham's Unified Development Ordinance.) Halverson Development Corp. is eyeing an assemblage on the southeast corner of Guess Rd. and Latta Rd., north of the Eno River and intends to ask City leaders for a zoning change to allow mixed-use in order to develop "single family/townhome residential development" along with 68,500 sq. ft. of commercial development. The materials sent to neighbors ahead of the meeting don't go beyond showing a grouping of 11 properties that are eyed for the rezoning, and doesn't show how homes, townhouses or retail would be divvied up on the site. But like a moth to a flame, there's two things that keep drawing our eyes back to the letter: "Halverson," and "68,500." Halverson, based in Boca Raton, develops a range of retail, but disproportionately seems to have Publix Super Markets in their pipeline -- including other Publix-anchored mixed use efforts. And 68,500 is definitely right in the range of Publix-anchored shopping centers. Publix's motto, seared into the brains of all once-and-present Floridians, is "Where Shopping is a Pleasure." If our hunch is right, we suspect they may be able to learn that in Durham, land-use isn't a pleasure (for anybody). ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ First, please indulge a momentary diversion of topic from your humble author. And this will come with... Continue reading
Posted Aug 22, 2015 at Bull City Rising
I'm very pleased to announce that Lisa Sorg will be contributing stories about Durham here at Bull City Rising, beginning this week. As an award-winning writer and editor at the INDY Week, Lisa has long established herself as one of the most prominent and knowledgeable voices about Durham. Lisa is someone whose perspective I've often agreed with, sometimes disagreed with, but always appreciated. We'll both be trying this out over the next few weeks, taking on a bit of an experiment in this little blogging adventure at BCR. We're not entirely sure exactly where it'll take us, but I'm looking forward to the collaboration. And, I'm especially eager to be able to help share Lisa's reporting, analysis and experience with our readers. One thing I've long appreciated is the camaraderie that developed in the 2000s between Durham bloggers and the local media. Editors and reporters from the Herald-Sun, the N&O, WRAL and WTVD and others have always been gracious and collegial, even as we approach stories from different angles and sometimes compete on approaches to stories. Lisa and the INDY Week were perhaps the most collegial and engaged of all over the years, from co-sponsoring a U.S. House District 4 debate to meeting up for drinks. I hope you'll enjoy Lisa's contributions in this new forum. Continue reading
Posted Aug 18, 2015 at Bull City Rising
It wouldn't be late-summer if we weren't seeing the endorsements season getting underway here in the Bull City. And the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People is first out of the chute with their endorsements. No surprise, the Mayor's race: Bill Bell is the Committee's nominee for what would he promises would be his last two-year term, capping off a four decade stint in Durham elected offices. Perhaps more intriguing: Besides a nod for the only incumbent, Steve Schewel, the Committee is also endorsing Ricky Hart and Mike Shiflett for the three at-large Council seats. One thing connects all three of the Council candidates endorsed by the Committee: a long tenure of civic engagement and tenure in the kinds of city and county committees that often have been the development league, if you will, for elected official talent. The endorsement of four candidates who've all been long-engaged in Durham's traditional politics may be a sign of the Committee's desire to see known quantities in key office roles, especially in a year where a number of first-time candidates and relatively new Durhamites are running. Interestingly, the campaign features two strongly social justice-oriented candidates; does their failure to get endorsed by the Committee send a message given recent scrutiny on Durham Police and race relations? Or, is this more a reflection of tapping known entities with long history of engagement, versus relative newcomers to civic life? We suspect the latter -- but this could also foreshadow an intriguing campaign meme... Continue reading
Posted Aug 16, 2015 at Bull City Rising
Development of any sort -- private, public-sector, not-for-profit, you name it -- invariably attracts a disproportionate interest from those in its immediate back yard. And developers of all ilks are quick to throw around the term "NIMBY" (or Not In My Back Yard) for those who would speak out against their best-laid plans. All too often, I find it's best to be skeptical of both developers' dreamiest promises as well as the loudest NIMBYs. After all, if Nick Tennyson's age-old advice is the best descriptor of the Bull City's growth -- namely, that if there's one thing Durhamites hate more than sprawl, it's density -- then perhaps the second might be, "Folks move to the community they find perfect as-is, not as it might become." Monday's Herald-Sun features a deep (three articles! first, second, third) look at the Durham-Orange Light Rail plan. And, as opposed to much of the natural inside-baseball coverage that we've seen on the project, the H-S here tries to pick up concerns that some project opponents have raised. But I'm worried that in picking this lens of analysis, Durham's paper of record has picked up only a series of voices that surround one particular back yard: the southern Durham County link between Durham and Chapel Hill that one resident, bizarrely to my mind, calls the "last vestige of green" -- never mind that major hospital/campus just on yonder side! The H-S misses a chance here to hear both from non-suburban voices with concerns over (or support... Continue reading
Posted Aug 3, 2015 at Bull City Rising
The current design of the Bull City Connector's route resembles a string with a knot in the middle of it -- that is, the roundabout connection around Five Points, Chapel Hill St., and the like in order to reach Durham Station, the city transit hub. It's not uncommon to watch visitors (and even residents) scratch their heads around Five Points, trying to figure out which stop they need to take in order to get on the bus. While the route's path through the station helped keep DATA transfer riders in the mix, it likely also lengthened the route's time and impacted on-time performance. Come August 15, though, the Connector is slated to become a more direct route, running more closely along the Main Street spine through downtown, and extending further west into the sciences district on Duke's West Campus. Still, the changes have one other effect: curtailing 9pm to midnight service on Fridays/Saturdays, as closing time drops to 9pm across the entire route. Two areas are affected by the change. First, the BCC will no longer turn south on Erwin Rd. at Ninth St. to pull past Duke's Central Campus. Instead, the bus will stay on Main St. until Anderson St., when the connector will turn south instead to meet Erwin Rd. This change brings the bus past some newer points of density -- the Crescent Berkshire apartments (gotta love those quick REIT buyouts), Hilton Garden Inn, and other developments at the old Erwin Mills site. Next, the bus will... Continue reading
Posted Jul 20, 2015 at Bull City Rising
@Aaron: I'm not disputing that the government-driven development environment in China is radically different from what we have in the US. At the same time, for reasons that have much more to do with funding, political will and (I suspect) organizational inertia than anything else, we take forever to actually build and do things. Witness this quote from the Herald-Sun today ( "Marvin Williams, director of the City of Durham’s public works department, said depending on where the prospective sidewalk is being built it can take anywhere from six to nine months, up to five or more years to complete. And most of the projects within Durham come in on the longer scale — about two years to complete. And it looks as though that time frame isn’t going to budge. “That’s how they’re moving these days,” Williams said." Say what you will about comparing the US and China; that it takes one of our smaller, more "nimble" cities as long to build a freakin' SIDEWALK as it does to build thousands of kilometers of high-speed rail or subways, is an embarrassment. And note this affects roads just as much as it does transit, sidewalks, and the like. We can all think of good reasons for the status quo. But the status quo is pretty awful, all-in. Looking further at that article, the Fayetteville St. stretch quoted in the H-S would run, assuming a 5' width, almost $150 a square foot. To. Build. A. SIDEWALK. That's not far off the per sf. cost to CONSTRUCT A HOUSE. The H-S notes that City Council was stunned by the cost of the process. Hopefully this will be more than an eye-opener -- it'll be an incentive to see if there's any way to fix an insane process.
As Charlie (one of the candidates) notes in his comment, the field is indeed burgeoning. The shoes that Diane and Eugene are leaving over are big ones -- but it seems to look like a big opening door, too, to many prospects. It's nice to see a growing list of candidates for the race, along with Reece, Azar and Shiflett. It does indeed appears that at least two women are filing to run -- Jillian Johnson, and Sandra Davis. Also, Dr. Juan Alva, a physician who's operated an urban medical clinic since the 1980s in East Durham and is of Hispanic descent. Add to that a filing by one Ricky Hart, and the likely re-election run of Steve Schewel, and you have a pretty full slate. While I don't know all of the candidates personally, based on the experiences, professional backgrounds, and affiliations of a number of them -- we should indeed have a very interesting opportunity for dialogue on Durham's future. This is to say nothing, of course, of the long-expected-but-did-we-ever-believe-it announcement that Mayor Bell would not seek elected office beyond this last run for mayor. Given that two folks have filed to run and/or established campaign finance committees, you can never call any race for mayor a done deal... but: one imagines that barring some completely out-of-left-field event, Mayor Bell would be just as difficult to unseat in this race as any since his definitive win over Thomas Stith some cycles back. More on the filings:
I can't help but have a certain amount of cognitive dissonance when I read the fast-multiplying news headlines these past few days about parking in the Ninth Street area. Mind you, I'm writing these lines while midway through a two-week business trip to China, in the sprawling Shanghai-Suzhou metroplex in China's fast-modernizing eastern provinces. In the latter -- a New York City-sized metropolis that comparatively few westerners have ever heard of -- the shiny new Metro is practically clean enough to eat off of and, at about three dimes for a one-way ride, crazy affordable. Sure, cars flock to megamalls like the city's new Aeon complex on its eastern side, where a Chinese hypermart and an entire floor catering to neonatal and natalist young families sits cheek-by-jowl with a Burger King and the globally-inescapable, freakishly same-tasting Starbucks. But Aeon is also steps from a bustling subway system, with quick connections to buses that run with 10-minute headway. The edge-city where my work is based also has 15-minute headways on an excellent, easily-parsed, cheap (16 cents/ride) bus system. The terminus of that system is the high-speed rail line, where electric bullet trains depart every few minutes for downtown Shanghai and its domestic airport and to other parts of the country. A few dollars can get you across 30 miles of congested, 25 million-soul metropolitan landscape in less 18 minutes flat. Meanwhile, in Durham, it will take transportation planners, federal and state officials, and elected representatives twice as long to even get... Continue reading
Posted Jul 9, 2015 at Bull City Rising
In an announcement to a range of Durham listservs and residents tonight, Mike Shiflett disclosed his plan to run for one of Durham's at-large City Council seats in November's election. Shiflett -- a longtime Northgate Park resident, PAC2 and Durham Businesses Against Crime activist/chair, and transportation/transit guru, among a long list of civic accomplishments -- is the second person we've heard to throw their hat in the at-large race ring. INC president and former non-profit head Philip Azar has already signaled his candidacy as well. Look for Shiflett to formally announce Tuesday at noon at downtown's Major the Bull statue. (Disclaimer: I'm proud to consider both Mike and Phil friends, a point that's worth mentioning given the conflicts of interest a race involving acquaintances and friends will inevitably entail.) Continue reading
Posted Jul 6, 2015 at Bull City Rising
@John - reasonable people will disagree (and you're eminently reasonable.) When I talk about developer handouts, I mean the kind of wholesale, developers-can-do-no-wrong atmosphere I grew up with in Orlando, where developers make huge donations and face no challenges on their projects. E.g., a 751 South would have been a gimme in any other community. In those communities, City Council is basically an expressway to what bigger-business wants. Has the Council favored downtown redevelopment? Sure. But while the developers involved are, by the nature of the beast, bigger players, my own opinion is that the Council hasn't been unreasonable. And to be real for a moment, the HPC blocking development on a West Village surface lot struck me as a puzzler at the time. This Council has long pressed developers to try to reach accord with neighborhoods on projects; has appointed civic-minded folks (not developer shills) to boards like the DPC; and, while the administration is putting a turd on the table for the new Police HQ, is getting pushback -- including from some of our soon-departing Council members. That you don't agree with the Council's decision is perfectly okay, but doesn't translate to their being developer shills. Durham, downtown and elsewhere, is far better than it was 15 years ago, or a decade back when downtown was an empty hulking shell. No disagreement on non-profits and their interests, but credit to a number of Council members -- and groups like INC -- for pushing back on the likes of the East Durham transit equity issue you raise.
One of the challenges I'm sure folks in government face is that, while everyone wants a piece of you when something goes wrong, everyone takes your work for granted when things are going right. With last week's announcement that Diane Catotti is stepping down from City Council after three four-year terms -- coming on the heels of Eugene Brown's similar announcement a couple of weeks back -- Durham's City Council is about to lose two experienced, veteran leaders. It's perfectly natural for Brown and Catotti to be ready for new challenges and some time off after twelve years on the Council. But to those who've paid less attention to City happenings in the past few years than, say, in the early 2000s, it's easy to forget that the City's veteran legislature is undoubtedly one of the keys to the City's success. And in looking at the elections to come, will we come to realize we've taken experience for granted? Durham's City Council, in my time observing it, has stood out from other elected boards in places I've lived on a couple of fronts: the members by and large are experienced; have civic and private-sector leadership experience; they analyze issues on their merits; and special interests take a back seat. This doesn't mean I always agree with their positions or their votes on issues, but it's hard not to respect the background from which they come on issues, and particularly the deep experience they bring to their roles. Our mayor is... Continue reading
Posted Jun 30, 2015 at Bull City Rising
The front page of today's Herald-Sun neatly captures two items that are both newsworthy and, quite unintentionally, at odds with each other. On the one hand, we have the arrival of Walk [Your City], a campaign with philanthropic backing to encourage downtowners to "park and walk" by reminding us all just how close so many of Durham's urban amenities are. And then on the other hand, we have this afternoon's special City Council meeting, intended to get City Council approval for City economic and workforce director Kevin Dick to negotiate economic incentives to pay for the renovations, along with new parking decks. So how are we getting to Durham's future? Behind the wheel, or on foot (or bike, or transit)? It's an easy and somewhat false dichotomy; for now, the iron-triangle between commuters, their employers, and property owners likely means new developments still need copious surface and structured parking. But, what's the role that local governments should or should not play in subsidizing downtown development, at this point in Durham's expansion? And, with car interest on the decline and technological change looming, is a future that contemplates so much parking akin to hoarding scythes in the dawn of the mechanized combine age? ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Before we start talking about parking, let's start by acknowledging that the rebirth of the Chesterfield, and the potential redevelopment opportunities of the Durham Innovation District, are staggering in their size and as momentous as the other big-site massive redevelopment projects that we've... Continue reading
Posted Jun 24, 2015 at Bull City Rising
A couple of days ago, we tweeted out a link to an article by Matt Hartman, a Durham-based writer whose article on downtown Durham and gentrification appeared this week in The Jacobin. The thesis of Hartman's piece is that downtown's "cool" is a cultural asset created by Durham pioneers and which, through its exploitation and marketing by developers seeking to revitalize empty buildings and vacant land alike, is being expropriated by capitalism. Perhaps not a shocking thesis to appear in a magazine that describes itself as a socialist voice for the left. And not an uninteresting one; it's definitely worth a read, wherever your views sit on the political spectrum. While his argument is an interesting one, I'm not sure I agree with all his conclusions. Still, Hartman's argument about the need to understand the nexus between public and private entities and to develop successful public spaces is certainly worth some discussion. Let's start by looking at Hartman's view of Durham's history, which seems to start in a classic gentrification analysis: abandoned spaces, available at a low cost and made into creative enterprises, then overwhelmed by second-wave gentrification so as to allow capital to benefit from what labor built. This argument is not novel. What I found more intriguing is Hartman's assertion that the culture of Durham -- Durham grit, as it were -- was created by the community, then used by developers seeking to commoditize the vision. The notion of privately owning and profiting from a public good is... Continue reading
Posted Jun 22, 2015 at Bull City Rising
Susan -- I'd take Jim over me any day! As I said in the hiatus-cum-sabbatical post four years ago, we need sustainable models for local coverage because the "citizen journalist" model is not long-term sustainable. Jim's a classic example of the importance of paid, professional, accountable, knowledgeable journalism in the community. I've been working for a month or so on some of the back-end changes and clean-up needed to relaunch the site, and drafted the comeback article Thursday night last week -- which made it so strange to me, too, to see news of Jim's retirement in an Mark Schultz email on Friday.
It's literally the end of a Bull City era in print journalism: Jim Wise has covered his last City Council meeting. Anyone who's picked up a newspaper in Durham since, oh, the Reagan administration has had a pretty good chance of having read or been influenced by his work. A dedicated student of Durham and regional history, Wise has always had the unique opportunity to take something out of the current headlines and tie it back to some other time in history -- even back to the 19th century hardscrabble founding of the Bull City, when needed. And his voice will be missed. Wise, who started writing for the Herald-Sun in 1981 and moved to the News & Observer in 2005 after new owners Paxton Media cut a quarter of the staff after their $125 million acquisition of the Rollins family's paper. (Yes, newcomers, someone paid that much for a newspaper in an MSA of less than a half-million people. In 2005. That's half what it would later cost Jeff Bezos to buy the Washington Post in 2013, and almost 50% more than what it cost to buy the Boston Globe that same year. Timing's a, well, you know.) He was a great pick-up for the N&O, as Wise has ably anchored the reporting crew and contributed great commentary to the McClatchy outfit. A Duke (class of '66) grad himself, Wise stuck around Durham for almost his entire adult life. Over the latter stretch of his career, Wise became known... Continue reading
Posted Jun 16, 2015 at Bull City Rising