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Bull City Rising
www.bullcityrising.com
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I've avoided posting any sort of update on where things stand with new content at Bull City Rising, largely because readers have been very indulgent with recent-past warnings that things were busy in the Real World and that content would be less frequent. But after some comments here, and particularly some kind personal emails checking in to see if everything was okay, I wanted to post a quick update here. I've long railed for the need for high-quality, financially sustainable local journalism in communities, and a big part of the reason for that is that no individual blogger can ever hope to keep up with all the news even in the best of circumstances. And when the circumstances aren't the best, well, then there's a real pinch. So what's been going on of late? Some of the time-management challenges have been local. This spring, my wife Darlene and I finished renovating a house on Gloria Ave., a full-on reboot of a historic house that needed more than a little TLC. And in the months that have followed, I've taken on some additional responsibilities at the day job, which have made for interesting new challenges, though again, less time. Several of you have written in to ask about the other challenge on the schedule -- a family illness I've alluded to from time to time here on the site, and in more detail to friends and colleagues around town. My mother continues to battle an end-stage respiratory disease, against which she's... Continue reading
Posted Sep 13, 2011 at Bull City Rising
Interesting discussion, all. A couple of points. First, I am about as much of a non-fan of Civitas and Art Pope as you will find. I do, however, give them credit for getting this information into the public record. Virginia Bridges of the N&O had a story this morning on the matter, too, though without all of the on-the-tape assertions that Civitas found. Second, I hope Im clear that I am not saying there may not have been good reasons for a change in DSS leadership. The history Robinson had in Nashville, coupled with claims in the N&O today by Bowser that there may have been significant complaints within the department, need close scrutiny. The tempest in a teapot over child care subsidies was also worrisome, especially given the resulting departure of a local non-profit leader. My concern here, though, is with the propriety of three board members deciding outside a meeting to vote to terminate Robinson and appointing one to the post. And the allegations that Bowser might have sought jobs for friends is equally worrisome. I have no quarrels, necessarily, with the outcome -- as long as the process was followed appropriately and there were no shenanigans.
I'll be the first to admit my preternatural wariness about the work of Civitas, the conservative think tank that's part of a sprawling consortium of organizations funded largely by Art Pope and responsible for the reddening of state government and in part for increased appearances by the likes of "Americans for Prosperity" here in our state. But we have damn too little investigative reporting happening around here, so credit goes where credit's due to Civitas' Andrew Henson for his story Tuesday about the termination of Durham County Social Services chief Gerri Robinson. As we noted here in our bon voyage to Robinson a couple of weeks back, the DSS chair came to the Bull City's host county after a rocky tenure in Nashville, Tennessee, and hit headwinds early in her term over a controversial child care subsidy idea -- one which was said to have hastened the departure of at least one local non-profit leader involved in early childhood support. But as commenters here noted at the time, there was a little grey-cloud asterisk hanging over the firing -- namely, the timing. The personnel change came simultaneously with the selection of one County Commissioner Joe Bowser as vice-chair of the DSS board, and with newly-appointed DSS board member Gail Perry getting called up to lead the agency at her very first meeting. Bowser arrived on the board amidst a summer of controversy, fresh off a sometimes-combative positioning on the controversial 751 South project, and amidst a rather bizarre public battle... Continue reading
Posted Aug 25, 2011 at Bull City Rising
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One little-heard provision in this General Assembly's session work: the closure of a number of minimum-security correctional facilities throughout the state as part of a cost-cutting move that could shave almost $11 million from the state's spending line this year. Among the four facilities impacted, per the N&O: the Durham Correctional Center, a facility that houses more than 200 inmates and which sits just to the northeast of the Horton Rd./Guess Rd. intersection in North Durham, right near a few shopping plazas and backing up to the popular West Point on the Eno city park. With its October closure, it turns out a small piece of Durham County history will come to an end: In 1925, Durham County built a prison for $95,000 to house 150 inmates. Constructed of brick and surrounded by a heavy wire stockade, the three-story structure was noted as being the best planned prison of its kind in the state. On the first floor was dormitory space for inmates, as well as a dining hall. The second and third floors provided space for offices and staff. The building was heated by steam and showers were in the basement. Durham was one of 51 county prisons for which the state assumed responsibility with the passage of the Conner bill in 1931. It was one of 61 field unit prisons renovated or built during the late 1930's to house inmates who worked building roads. No word on what the future of the site is, i.e., whether the state... Continue reading
Posted Aug 9, 2011 at Bull City Rising
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Once upon a time, being called nerdy or geeky? Most definitely not cool. Back in the 80s, all the cool kids were looking to work on Wall Street or in D.C., where the corridors of power did not admit the pocket-protector set. But with the Internet, mobile technology and the rise of tablets, apps and all manner of things technological, the nerdly are back. The revenge, one might say, of the nerds. And a recent Forbes blog post highlights Durham as being among the most geeky of all geeky cities, noting a National Science Foundation's ranking of our MSA as fifth-highest in the US for the percentage of workers in science and engineering-oriented occupations. In today's recession-weary economy, there's little question that those jobs offer a safer harbor (though one that's by no means free of risk) for employment security and income growth -- something that's helped our area make it through the recession with some of the lowest unemployment rates in the state. Don't be put off, by the way, at Forbes' mention of Durham, NC as the #5 "geekiest city" with a mention of the "Raleigh-Durham-Cary" CMSA following in the text. The NSF report upon which the Forbes post is based ranks "Durham, NC" as the MSA in question. That includes Durham and Chapel Hill, a four-county area that doesn't include Wake County. (Of course, plenty of the jobs in question in RTP and elsewhere have commuter residents from Wake and elsewhere driving in, though I'll continue to... Continue reading
Posted Aug 9, 2011 at Bull City Rising
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From the That-Was-Quick Department: Two separate sources have told BCR that Durham County's social services director Gerri Robinson was axed Wednesday by the department's oversight board. Chalk this one up as officially unconfirmed at this time, as the County's public information office isn't currently in a position to offer confirmation or more information -- but from what we're hearing at BCR, this one is a done deal. The DSS Board -- which, as the Herald-Sun points out this morning, picked up a new chair in Stan Holt, vice-chair in BOCC'er Joe Bowser, and a new board member in Gail Perry, all through an organizational meeting -- reportedly terminated Robinson's employment for unspecified reasons. Intriguingly, Perry, who herself is a guidance counselor at Durham's Lakeview alternative school, is poised to assume the directorship on an interim basis as of Aug. 8, with Jovetta Whitfield serving in the position in the interim, according to an email from Holt. That email went on to add: This has not been an easy process and I know this will create some uncertainty in the agency. However, rest assured that we will now move quickly to find a new Director for the Durham County Department of Social Services. We've noticed a seeming uptick in closed-door DSS board meetings of late, which can be an indication of personnel intrigue (though at least one recent meeting purported to be over a matter involving a juvenile, which is a closed-records matter in most non-criminal cases.) That included two meetings... Continue reading
Posted Jul 28, 2011 at Bull City Rising
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@Ross -- there have been persistent rumors for years that the Joint was looking in downtown. They were linked to the Cafe Zen space, before Tylers was linked to it, before Jim Anile took it on. But I suspect more smoke than fire.
@JJ: Thanks for the comment and the welcome-back. Been a crazy last few weeks on the homefront (ever-lasting renovations) and the work front, culminating with a 19-hour workday on Saturday for me and many colleagues... but also giving some time up for air and blogging in its way. I suppose when one makes an attempt at praeteritio it's only fair to note it. I would note that perhaps "still not loving it" overstates the ambivalence I have on NoCo -- wait, it's more than ambivalence. I like it, but don't like it, at the same time. How's that for being on the fence?
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In one of the opening scenes of the dreadful, horrendous, abysmal, and also badly-acted film "Main Street" -- there's a reason, friends, you haven't seen this straight-to-DVD movie in theaters anywhere -- Amber Tamblyn's character drives her late-80s beater car up in front of the Bargain Furniture building downtown, checking her voicemail. (If I were Tamblyn, I'd be waiting to hear a message from my agent, apologizing for booking me in a piece-of-crap film.) The shuttered furniture store makes a perfect backdrop for Main Street's message of Southern discomfort, of old money gone broke and new money gone toxic; it's a symbol of desertion and loss and emptiness. But no longer, it seems. There's activity downstairs and possibly up for the building, long controlled by Raleigh entrepreneur Greg Hatem and Durham architect and developer John Warasila. In an ironic turnabout, the American Underground -- the incubator space that's nicely humanized a pit of a basement in the Strickland and Crowe buildings at Am'bacco -- may be expanding to the upper floors of 309 E. Chapel Hill St., while an a Durham location of the Raleigh barbecue restaurant called The Pit may be opening up on the ground floor. BCR heard a couple of months back that Capitol Broadcasting's Michael Goodmon was looking for more room for the Underground, which has been a very popular addition to the American Tobacco Campus. Even with the recent announcement that the LaunchBox Digital incubator's founders were moving in different directions (though one of the... Continue reading
Posted Jul 18, 2011 at Bull City Rising
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Durham's Daisy Cakes -- the popular food truck (well, food Airstream) eatery -- has found a home downtown for a brick-and-mortar expansion of its mobile cupcakes biz. It's not the first Durham food truck to go wheel-free; that honor belongs to Only Burger. It's not the first downtown bakery to bloom from an irregular-hours Durham Central Park niche; that'd be Phoebe Lawless' awesome Scratch Bakery. And it's not the first "cupcake bar" announced for downtown Durham -- that'd be The Cupcake Bar from Durhamite and former Greenfire staffer Anna Branly and her sister, pegged for Scott Harmon's Five Points revamping. But that doesn't make it any sweeter to learn that Daisy Cakes has formally signed a lease for space in 401A Foster Street, the industrial building rehabbed by Scientific Properties that's also home to Piedmont, Urban Durham Realty and the Bull City Arts Collaborative. BCR's learned that the Foster St. space will be the home for Daisy Cakes, which put out a Kickstarter project last year looking to raise $20,000 in pledges towards a brick and mortar location. (The news, received from a source on Saturday, was confirmed in a tweet by the DaisyCakes folks that day.) And the choice of locales shouldn't be a surprise, given that a Central Park-area location has been the goal for the small business' owners since they launched a fundraising campaign towards a permanent locale. The Airstream of gooey tastiness currently plants itself north of the Farmers' Market most Saturdays, at the (we still... Continue reading
Posted Jul 18, 2011 at Bull City Rising
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Yesterday's announcement that CenterFest would be taking a year off to refocus, regroup and retool its mission seemed to me to be a great step towards making North Carolina's longest-running street arts festival a signature draw for a revitalized downtown Durham. We may get more details in a press conference today (BCR's Matthew Milliken will have coverage), but what's known from yesterday's press release and media coverage is that CenterFest's pause is intended to allow the festival to be expanded with a goal of making it what organizers at the Durham Arts Council are calling a "national caliber signature event for Durham." And while a visioning process is needed, a range of possibilities is evident; "edible arts" (presumably focused on Durham's burgeoning and nationally-known food scene), local beers and wines, craft and art demonstrations, and "showcases" for technology, gaming and design are all possible. So too could be higher-profile musical performing acts, including the possibility of major artists performing at the event. It's a welcome change, and one that couldn't come at a better time. The complaints about CenterFest in recent years have been pointed, focused in part on the banal, hot surface parking lot on Foster St. where the festival has moved in recent years. It provided a much-simpler logistical configuration for the DAC than was seen when the festival filled the inside-the-loop City Center district before, or took to the West Village area for a brief decampment during downtown streetscape work. And while the quality of the artwork... Continue reading
Posted Jul 7, 2011 at Bull City Rising
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@Rob -- Yeah, I modified the post to note that early this morning. Still, with Schewel staying in the race, I still suspect you could see some interesting shifts at play here... particularly if voters who last time around may have been Catotti + Brown + 1 preference-pickers now find themselves adding Schewel to that mix. Ironically, if it were to be Catotti, Schewel plus Brown/Ali -- that swing vote becomes more pivotal than ever, in some ways.
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Diane Catotti's decision not to run for re-election to the City Council meant the board might lose a key progressive voice, even as two other staunch Durham liberals, David Harris and Steve Schewel, looked to run for the at-large seats. But could Diane Catotti's surprise decision to run for re-election after all mean that voters might have a straight-ticket progressive slate this fall? And what does that mean for the re-election chances of Farad Ali and Eugene Brown? Continue reading
Posted Jun 28, 2011 at Bull City Rising
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Driving by the beseiged Liberty Warehouse this afternoon, I was pleased to see some new signage going up on the building. Last time someone stuck a sign on the building, it was a "CONDEMNED" sticker in light of roof damage back in May -- damage that led several non-profits paying below-market rates to have to find new digs for their organizations. Over a contentious few weeks, Greenfire Development faced condemnation proceedings based on leak complaints by at least one tenant; saw (a few weeks later) an actual partial collapse of the roof after a rain storm; found itself in the center of the bulls-eye for public criticism over the building's condition; and pressed back on accusers, noting it has rehabbed and brought many once-dilapidated buildings back to productive use, and saying that the Liberty's collapse was related to other roof problems that weren't apparent from visible inspection. A demolition-by-neglect hearing set for June, though, was cancelled after Greenfire pledged to restore the building's condition. Today's signage? Banners from BELFOR Property Restoration, which bills itself "the worldwide leader in disaster recovery and property restoration." BELFOR -- whose portfolio includes a range of residential and commercial services, including drying and dehumidification, water and storm damage remediation, mold remediation, and environmental services -- has offices in Raleigh, Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Hickory and Wilmington. BELFOR is the leading global restoration and repair company. We analyze and restore fire, water and storm damage of every kind and on any scale. We enable business and private customers... Continue reading
Posted Jun 27, 2011 at Bull City Rising
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When Durham city officials finished rebuilding downtown's streetscape a few years back -- a move that helped not only to improve aesthetics, but to prime the district for private-sector building improvements, space upfits and a range of new businesses -- many residents in near-downtown neighborhoods pressed anew for a share of infrastructural improvements, too, to spur on the same improvements. Five different plans were designed, ranging from the low millions in areas like West Chapel Hill St., East Main St. and Old Five Points to the $30 million-plus tab for redoing a long stretch of Fayetteville St. But as BCR's Rob Gillespie noted here last year, City officials decided in 2010 to prioritize the Angier/Driver corridor as a sole recipient of Durham's limited neighborhood streetscape revitalization funds, in an effort to show immediate impact, as opposed to several years' worth of necessary but intangible planning studies. That move's had supporters along with detractors. But there's no denying one thing: it sure means that the City has something to get shovel ready. And along the way, it means Durham will avoid what a project consultant told a couple of dozen Durhamites tonight called a "patchwork quilt" approach to neighborhood business district fix-ups -- a patched sidewalk here, new curb there, new streetlights elsewhere. Assuming that City Council supports the choice of an eventual low-bidder for the $2.5 million project in a likely late fall vote, the project should be under construction this year, with a summer 2013 finish. One multi-million question... Continue reading
Posted Jun 13, 2011 at Bull City Rising
@Rob: I didn't see the City Council resolution as calling for delaying the vote, but for delaying the tax hike until another county goes along. I actually think this makes a lot of sense. If neither Orange nor Wake goes this year, *and* if Durham approves the tax -- suddenly, we're greasing the wheels for other communities. It's a lot easier to sell a sales tax vote in Orange or Wake if Durham, the geographic midpoint of the proposed system, has already bought in and if the voters in another county see that there are quick wins from immediate funding if they move forward. Ideally I'd like to see that delayed-implementation sunset if neither county moves in 2-3 years; after all, we need to at least get moving with improved bus service, even if we don't have the funds to pay for rail without other counties' help.
@John M.: To me, "concentrating" LIH in an area applies more to places like Cleveland-Holloway that have disproportionately high levels of such housing as a percentage of units, than to bringing initial affordable housing to an area. As Natalie notes, with the withdrawal this seems moot for now.
@Tina: I agree with the source of your sentiments and understand where you're coming from. I live two blocks from Brightleaf Square and while it's a wonderful street, it's the presence of (not absence of) urban structures near it that helps give the street its character. There's no sense in living downtown if you don't want to live near density. As others have noted, DD-S2 and DD-S1 are "step down" districts designed to transition from density to smaller-scale residential. BCR earlier showed a map of the subject area in discussing the property across the street from it in this post: http://www.bullcityrising.com/2011/05/brownstones-lux-townhouse-site-up-for-sale-will-denser-residential-or-a-parking-lot-follow.html Except for the Durham School of the Arts property, the subject area (where the Residence Inn would go) is a one-block area from Lamond to Morgan. The RI site is limited to 4-6 stories, but 100' structures would be allowed across the street from it. I'm not an expert in urban design by any stretch, but on the face of it that kind of stepdown (100' to 50' to single family homes over a block or so) sounds about right to me. One big, big improvement: DD-S2 and DD-S1 take away density caps. On the site that would have been the Brownstones, there would have been a limit of 13 units on a 0.8 acre site, which isn't very urban. Now, you have height and form restrictions, but essentially unlimited density. My take on this: we have made some progress with zoning... though we're not there yet, the latest rules give a lot more room to bring needed density downtown.
The pouring, dousing, heavy rain outside with hail bits flying, and flooding on local roads like University Dr., Alston Ave. and the like? By itself, nothing to worry about. An isolated moment of nature's fury, nothing more. Add to that breaking news today that the American Tobacco Trail's Phase E is going out to bid on Tuesday, May 31? Truly, taking this news in toto: a sign of the apocalypse! Yes, the long, long, long delayed "missing link" in the ATT -- which will connect from the trail's current end at NC 54 down to I-40, cross I-40 at the Streets of Southpoint Mall with a pedestrian bridge, and then provide a smooth surface to the Durham-Chatham Co. line, joining up eventually with regional trails all the way to Cary and Raleigh -- is moving forward after nearly a decade's time has passed since the first segment opened. The initial American Tobacco Trail segment through Durham was the first part of the rail-trail project to be built; now, as Wake and Chatham have moved forward, Durham's final segment will be one of the last. The move comes after the completion of a number of environmental permit reviews. Technically, the project is expected to be let for bid on May 31. A pre-bid meeting with contractors follows, with the City opening bids at the end of June. NCDOT will then review the bid -- one of the priciest segment of the work, after all, is the pedestrian bridge crossing the Interstate... Continue reading
Posted May 27, 2011 at Bull City Rising
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The day-to-day saga of the Liberty Warehouse continued today with an update from the Triangle Business Journal's Monica Chen, who reported an update on the building's condition that emanated from Greenfire Development head Michael Lemanski. In the story, published this afternoon at TBJ, a "drainage system" with design issues and accumulated "deterioration" problems described as not visible under ordinary inspection were blamed, though a final analysis is still due in several weeks. And Lemanski tells the paper that the roof collapse had nothing to do with any management issues or failures on the downtown developer's part: Lemanski had a response to chatter of Greenfire’s management of the buildings that some say contributed to the roof cave-in: “There have been rumors that there have been neglected property maintenance, but that has not been determined to be a cause of the event.” If that remains the case after the final data is all in, it'd be an important rebuttal to a message that's emanated in the public sphere in recent weeks -- though an explanation that will nonetheless seem to have to overcome public opinion and the perception, at least, of Occam's Razor. After all, the roof collapse weekend before last came just a few weeks after a portion of the building was condemned by the City for, as The Durham News' Virginia Bridges put it, a "rotted roof and excessive water penetration," with local non-profit Liberty Arts saying that they had to evacuate water from their area at every rainfall. Coincidence,... Continue reading
Posted May 24, 2011 at Bull City Rising
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@Jonn -- Thanks (tho with Mom in the shape she is in, likely to still be hit-and-miss here for a bit). And worth noting that the H-S is reporting that one of the folks behind Crooks Corner are looking to open a cocktail bar/wine bar kind of concept in 200 N Mangum near Dos Perros; not sure if thats the old HSPD space, or the space where Eno publicized their opening before they decided not to open there after all.
The most-popular item for viewing on the Triangle web site of the LoopNet commercial real estate system last week was the announcement of a lender forced estate auction, noting an early June date when 48 different apartment units in the Bull City will hit the auction block. The count includes twelve units in three quadplexes on Atka Court, the tiny cul-de-sac near Holloway St. where thirteen year old Shakanah China was killed in a drive-by shooting last week -- the latest violent episode on the street, the N&O noted, where a homicide occurred in 1995, a survived shooting took place in 2009, and where DPD calls for service have reportedly been common. The Atka Ct. units are swept up in what appears from the LoopNet posting to be a partial unwinding of the real estate empire of Bobby Roberts, the one-time Durham developer who claimed in a much-covered court case in the late 1990s that he had built more than five thousand homes in Durham in a career dating back to the 1950s. The 79-year-old Roberts died last summer; less than a year later, these forty-eight units are hitting the market. And like Atka Court, which residents say has long been plagued by shootings, some of these properties are or are adjacent to properties that have seen more than their share of crime problems, a search of news reports suggests. Twelve units will be auctioned at the Brentwood Park complex on Junction Rd., which saw at least two shootings, one... Continue reading
Posted May 20, 2011 at Bull City Rising
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When it comes to downtown Durham development, the recession has slowed the commencement of major new projects and slowed the news cycle in general, though the upfit of existing retail spaces and the like has continued to move along smartly. Which makes it all the stranger how active Tuesday was in downtown Durham news stories -- one quite worrisome to many, the other remarkably bullish, pardon the pun. The troubling story, no surprise, is the latest turn in the Greenfire Development saga over the Liberty Warehouse, Durham's last remaining standing auction house for tobacco, though inactive for that use for decades and now serving as office and business space for a range of largely non-profit organizations. But "last remaining standing" risks being anachronistic, with City partial condemnation actions over leaks and squabbles with tenants followed by this weekend's rain soaking leading to a roof failure. On Tuesday, the City forced the lock-out out of all tenants, leading them to scramble to find new homes. Meanwhile, Tuesday also noted the big reveal (in the form of ex-Herald-Sun reporter Monica Chen's story in the Triangle Business Journal) that Capitol Broadcasting had filed site plans for the expansion of American Tobacco -- including both Diamond View III and the long-awaited wrapper building for the east parking deck. CBC real estate VP Michael Goodmon notes that the filing is procedural at this point, and that there aren't tenants linked to the project and a construction start date isn't ready. The wrapper buildings could include... Continue reading
Posted May 19, 2011 at Bull City Rising
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What do the Full Frame program guide, the Durham Farmers’ Market broadside, the menus at Watts Grocery, and this Independent Weekly cover have in common? If you've seen a connection between all of them, that's no surprise. They're all the work of the same downtown Durham-based designer: Dave Wofford, the sole proprietor behind Horse & Buggy Press, a graphic design and letterpress printing studio housed within the Bull City Arts Collaborative. Horse & Buggy Press is coming up on its fifteenth anniversary this year. The last eight years have been in Durham, and the last five have been in the Bull City Arts Collaborative. An event this coming Friday will celebrate the five-year anniversary of the BCAC. As print designers go, Dave is truly a Jack of all trades. He works both with modern technologies such as automated offset and digital printing, and uses what some would call “archaic” mechanical technologies such as the hand-fed Vandercook letterpress which he himself prints on in his studio. His various technologies are accompanied by a wide range of roles (such as art director, designer, production coordinator, and letterpress printer), and his work ranges in scale from business cards and letterhead all the way to collectible, fine press book editions which are often hand-bound and created in part with custom, handmade paper. The phrase he uses on his business card is “Design, Letterpress Printing & More... for the Jet Age and Beyond.” One of his more interesting projects is just getting underway and involves... Continue reading
Posted May 18, 2011 at Bull City Rising
An email release from the Durham County Health Department last week noted in an understated way that the department was inviting public comment on a proposed rule that would ban smoking in a range of public spaces. There's nothing understated about the proposal itself, however, which would ban smoking in some public parks, akin to a recent municipal move in Raleigh. But would go significantly further, it seems, to address tobacco use in a range of non-park public spaces. Certain parks, all city/county owned property, outdoor bus stops, and sidewalks outside hospitals and public spaces would go smokefree if the County Commissioners approve the proposal. Parks per se wouldn't be included in the ban, but a park with playground equipment would see the "recreation area" and a 150' swath around it banned from smoking; so would City athletic fields. All other unenclosed areas owned by the City and County would ban smoking, as would all enclosed and unenclosed bus stops; for unenclosed, defined as the area from the bus stop sign to the end of the bus' length. Hospital grounds would also be off-limits for smoking, something that Duke-operated hospitals at least already enforce -- but significantly, sidewalks abutting hospitals, or those bordering City/County property for that matter, would also go smoke-free. The downtown transit station, which has a tendency to be seemingly surrounded in a smoky haze even when buses aren't making their half-hourly discharge, would be expressly noted as a non-smoking zone, too. No criminal penalties would exist... Continue reading
Posted May 17, 2011 at Bull City Rising
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