I could smell Spring as it sprung a few days ago. It is an early morning smell I recall from my job as a morning delivery paper boy fifty six years ago.
It is the quietness I also remember from my youth. This map of the quietest and noisiest places across the contiguous United States shows that my native Yellowstone-Teton nook of Idaho is still very quiet.
In fact, it is amazing how quiet the West is compared to the Midwest, Northeast and South, as shown on the map in this blog. I’ve been intrigued since first spotting it in a blog posted last month on Discover and now in High Country News.
Durham, North Carolina where I have now lived for 39% of my life --longer than any other place -- is relatively noisy, but you wouldn’t know it on our early morning walks down through a city park and then up the steep slopes of what we affectionately call Mt. Rockwood.
About a mile and half from downtown Durham, Mt. Rockwood is a ridgeline that appears to be the highest elevation between Chapel Hill and the even higher Red Mountain in northern Durham. Where I live now is not only noisier, it is also 4,789 feet lower than the ancestral ranch where I was born.
Durham County is the 17th smallest land area in North Carolina but created for a city of the same name that is now the fourth largest in population. It has been the epicenter now for two different manifestations of the New South.
Initially, proponents lobbied to name it Mangum County in honor of a Willie P. Mangum, a U.S. Senator from here who had stood firm against hardliners in the state legislature, in favor of a national compromise regarding slavery.
In his day, it was Democrats who had been the regressives in control.
Durham was selected as the name making it synchronous for the city for which it was created, the only place in the state where a county and city by the same name are both found in one location.
While much of the state was overrun by marauding gangs of the KKK, Durham had emerged after the Civil War as a center for the progressive South and an accepting sanctuary for people fleeing the violence in rural areas.
In the 1950s, northern Durham spawned another U.S. Senator William Umstead, this time elected as governor of North Carolina who before he died in office set in motion the development of Research Triangle Park here.
Building on a long history here for innovation, RTP marked Durham’s emergence as the center for creativity it is today, and a magnet for talent and relocating businesses and corporations from around the world.
Today, another wave of regressives, Republicans this time, are devoted to dragging Durham in reverse along with other urban areas by pitting rural against urban as a metaphor for when those of this mindset in another political party, pitted white against black.
Regressives also tried this approach in the 1920s, pitting rural against urban, rolling back voting rights and openly being hostile to women and immigrants.
Public opinion polls show that only about 18% of Americans today think this way but is it coincidence this is also the percentage of Americans who deny climate change and worry “not at all” about the environment?
They sure make a lot of noise.
Probably also not a coincidence, this happens to be the same percentage of the American workforce in general as well as in North Carolina specifically, shown to be “actively disengaged,” meaning they are:
“employees not just unhappy at work; these employees undermine the accomplishments of their engaged coworkers.”
Maybe a quick follow up or cross-tab would confirm that all of this noise comes from the same 18% of Americans.
Protected by clever redistricting, those in elected office here are doing everything possible to deconstruct cities such as Durham by overriding popular ordinances to curb blight such as billboards as well as design guidelines to protect neighborhood property values and sense of place.
Now they have their sights on tourism, also known as visitor-centric economic and cultural development. Cities such as Durham work hard to be appealing including to the millions of North Carolinians who visit here annually on daytrips.
The purpose is twofold: fuel the local business climate and expand the local tax base, something the state’s largest cities forget when they provide subsidies to draw events in excess of the tax revenues they will generate.
People live in rural areas instead for many reasons, the quiet, being closer to nature but also to avoid paying taxes for services urban dwellers seek.
Now regressive want to redistribute the wealth cities generate by letting rural North Carolinians “have their cake and eat it too” - enjoy the benefits of trips into cities without helping to provide for that environment and then take their sales taxes back home.
So how does 18% of a population pull down the other 82%? Clever redistricting for sure. And a lot of voters who fail to hold their elected officials accountable for harm they do to others including fostering warfare between lifestyles.
But even more enabling are other elected officials who fall for clever introductions written for bills but fail to read for legislative intent and consequences, settling instead for horse trades.
In the end, tyranny and regression in this country never work for long. But it always takes decades to repair the damage.
We need a little more noise in North Carolina.