Thursday, July 09, 2009

Population Growth Without Losing The Community’s Soul!

Durham, North Carolina, both the city and county by that name, have grown by 100, 000 people since the early 1980’s when today’s quickening Downtown revitalization was first ignited by the redevelopment of two historic, brick tobacco warehouses into the anchor for a dining, shopping, office district called Brightleaf.

That’s a doubling in population for the City of Durham, the 16th fastest growing community in the nation last year according to the census and the fastest growing major community in North Carolina during the 1990’s.

To put that in perspective, though, the single city-county has grown by 130% since Research Triangle Park was carved out of Durham pinelands 50 years ago, just four miles from Downtown Durham. What makes this significant is that Durham, while the fourth largest city in North Carolina, is shoehorned into the 17th smallest land area of any county in the state.

This has shaped sensitivity to raw growth several decades before communities which only recently became aware. Instead of the “horse race” often characterized in news stories given insufficient time to provide prospective or to weight growth figures to developable land, Durham activists and increasingly officials and planners have focused instead on steady growth…growth that is sustainable…growth that but preserves quality and unique sense of place, growth that has socio-economic diversity and tolerance.

It’s interesting to note that that’s exactly the type of community being sought by the creative class or knowledge workers. Being big is obviously very important to many communities, each seeking to emulate the other until they become cookie cutter replicas. But for creative class communities like Durham, the challenge isn’t how big, but how to grow without destroying the soul of the community.

Durham is a welcoming and caring community by nature and individuals and families who are drawn here, for the most part, want to retain the community’s character and place-based assets, a challenge that grows more complicated each year.

Tourism development has become an obvious answer. The community has rapidly emerged since promotion began 20 years ago into a destination that now draws more than 6 million day and overnight visitors for purposes other than work or school.

Fortunately the great restaurants, shopping, museums, theaters, conference facilities, sports events, and festivals for which Durham is increasingly known are also key to resident quality of life and the community's soul.

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