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Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Durham is because Durham was 

The Clarion Content does not buy the idea we have heard espoused in various contexts lately, that there is a distinction between an old and a new Durham, a way it was and a way it is. Our thought is, that’s facetious, where we are as a community is a continuation of where were, it is only possible because of those unique circumstances, across a panorama of contexts that make Durham uniquely what it is: from institutions to architecture to individuals, this Durham is built on the Durham that was. There is a continuity.

This is a complicated narrative for many Durhamanians to face up to, transplants and long term residents alike. Those beautiful, brick and solid beam tobacco warehouses would not have been available to redevelop, if the jobs hadn’t left town. Those stately old homes would not have been available to renovate, if families hadn’t left them behind. There was an era when Durham wasn’t just quiet, it was desolate, and in many parts dangerous. Those broken windows took down neighborhoods. Durham’s reputation as unsafe dates to this era and was exacerbated by the media’s exploitation of it for their own ends. Durham’s problems were fodder for simple stories. Unfortunately, solutions were a lot more complicated and long term.

Durham is on a tremendous run. One of the recent peaks on a curve that has no clear end in sight saw our city named by the New York Times one of the forty-one must visit places in the world. Using population as a proxy, the city saw almost no change in population between 1970 and 1980. Then in the 80’s experienced a 35.5% jump in population, an additional 36,000 residents. The 90’s kept it up, the population of Durham was up a further 36.9% and 51,000 residents. Even in the decade of the 00’s when so much of the rest of America struggled to tread water, Durham grew steadily, population increasing by a further 22% and 40,000 plus folks.

But Raleigh and Cary grew even faster than that, and the Clarion Content surely doesn’t know too many Durhamanians who would trade what we have for what they have. So population is not a perfect proxy for cultural growth, Durham’s culture didn’t emerge from a vacuum. It was built on something. The Clarion Content would posit institutions and individuals.


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