Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"A Neighborhood With A Soul Can Make A Vibrant City Even Better"

The new ranking for Durham in Men’s Journal reminded me of an exchange with a consultant a few years back. I was cornered in a small office in City Hall and this guy had clearly been brought in to shore up a project.

Because my job is to ask questions, I was perceived as a threat to the project. Dismissively, he told me we needed the project because Durham didn’t have any entertainment districts. I replied, “that will sure be news to Brightleaf, Ninth Street and The Streets at Southpoint.”

This guy snapped back, “I mean something upscale, like a real city. Those places are for kids.” He obviously wasn’t at all familiar with organic, eclectic districts like Brightleaf and Ninth Street or had been greatly misinformed.

I suspect he was smarter than that and was here with one mission and that wasn’t to tell his clients what they didn’t want to hear. I got the impression he was following an approach enthusiasts often use to build support for a project by diminishing, denying, and denigrating any viewpoint that sheds light to the contrary.

Very un-Durham and we’re very fortunate the project got done at all. As an aside, this is why it is imperative for cities and counties to have a peer review of any feasibility work or at the least of third-party analysis by public authorities like DCVB.

But regardless of agenda or intent, this guy was also dead wrong and he must have known it. In Richard Florida’s first book, he literally describes places like Ninth Street and Brightleaf as indispensible draws for the Creative Class. And Creative Class and upscale certainly aren’t mutually exclusive.

If that didn’t connect the dots, now Watts-Hillandale, which noted along with Ninth Street District actually located in adjacent Old West Durham, has been ranked one of the best neighborhoods in the Southeast and one of only two in North Carolina (the other is in Asheville).

But the article leading off the rankings included a quote that also sums up why that consultant was dead wrong:

“A neighborhood with real soul can make a vibrant city even better. And enclaves of unique vitality can breathe life into unsung workaday towns – Men’s Journal.”

That says it all.

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