October 31, 2014

Reyn Bowman was the leader of the Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau for many years, and even after his retirement a few years ago, he has continued to share his thoughts & wisdom via his blog. The other day he posted a long entry that contained, among many highlights, these two paragraphs:

Organic “real places” aren’t created as much as enabled by developers when they are sensitive to scale and work with a light touch so as not to disturb sense of place or force out small, local businesses such as the developers of Durham’s Brightleaf Square did there and then along Ninth Street.

Developers without those sensibilities are drawn to these areas but without officials who are attuned to activist neighbors and small businesses and who are unafraid to say no, places can be quickly overwhelmed, relegating historic structures to little more than an amenity.

I read that yesterday, the morning after I’d had a txt exchange with a friend regarding the imminent move of Blue Coffee, the local black-owned coffee shop downtown, which is moving because the decrepit motel in which it’s located is about to be renovated by a Colorado-based company, the same company proposing to build a 26-story tower downtown.

In that txt exchange, I said something like “I’ll be crying quietly when the ground floor of that building winds up with a Starbucks and a Qdoba.”

I know I am via my very existence a gentrifier – I’m a white upper-class male (a DINK, even), living in a new-ish condo building that’s just 2 blocks from a working-class neighborhood on the edge of downtown. There’s probably a difference of only a few degrees between me and the people who’ll be living in the next wave of condo buildings, the one replacing the Liberty Warehouse, and that 26-story building downtown.

But I don’t think it’s naive of me to say that I moved to downtown Durham explicitly because the businesses in the downtown core are predominantly locally-owned, and I have done my best to support those locally-owned businesses. Which hasn’t been difficult, because they make delicious food & drinks, and show good movies, and do good work.

So I think I’m allowed to express my apprehension & concern, like Reyn, that the next wave of development that is already beginning has the potential to mark the beginning of the end of the Durham that I moved here to be close to.

(When the developers of that 26-story tower showed off their renderings to a crowd of interested, not-quite-friendly Durhamites last year, one of the street-level elevations showed a retail space occupied (via not-so-random whim of the architect or developer) by a Godiva shop. Oh joy.)

I hope that Reyn is wrong when he writes:

The problem isn’t as a respected friend recently prophesied that revitalization efforts have reached the “tipping point,” but that Durham officials seem totally unprepared that the greater challenge will be to manage success.

Mayor Bell, and City Council, are you listening? are you prepared?

October 31, 2014

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