Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Developer Character

I ran across two examples last week that illustrate how developers can either imbue sense of place or desecrate it.

A community’s unique sense of place is about the distinct weave of the “built” (man-made,) “natural”, “cultural” and “value” (temporal personality traits) characteristics that compose its character.Open Durham

These elements are often referred to as “place-based assets.”  To thrive, the “built or man-made” element must live in harmony with and complement the “natural” and “cultural.”  This requires developers who honor, respect and, in the words of Dr. Scott Russell Sanders, “long to love the places in which we live and live in places worthy of love…”

Now for my two examples, both in my adopted hometown of Durham, North Carolina, a community with both an incredible and scientifically well-documented sense of community pride and a distinct sense of place:

  • First, an illustration of both the fragility and vulnerability of that sense of place.  Reminded to remove some vacated houses, a developer has also deforested an entire hillside along Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd between SW Durham Blvd and Mt. Moriah Road, denuding it of any aesthetic value as well as carbon sequestration, run-off prevention, pollution removal as well as lowering future rental rates and property values.

There is certain to be some finger-pointing over codes and buffers but hopefully, state and local ordinances will be updated to value trees as more than just pulp and incentivize compensatory urban reforestation including large specimen replacements in both the public interest and as good economics and property stewardship.

  • Now for an example of a developer who understands and reveres and contributes to sense of place:  Gary Kueber not only heads Scientific Properties and specializes in adaptive reuse of historic buildings but in his spare time posts thousands of historic photographs of buildings along with well-researched background information about related people, places and neighborhoods on a blog titled Endangered Durham.

Gary, a former physician-turned-urban-planner-turned developer has created and launched a new website called Open Durham which not only organizes but also inventories and maps all that he did in Endangered Durham plus he permits others with similar interests and concerns to create and add content.

Being a developer isn’t easy, I’m sure.  I’m also certain that regulations and ordinances can always be improved and streamlined.  But gutting them as Republican majorities in the U.S. House of Representatives and the NC General Assembly are trying to do with hundreds of votes in the past year is not only reckless, it is stupid economically.

Developers must accept the fact that people don’t just buy homes and rent offices.  They live and work in the communities and neighborhoods where developments exist and at the very essence, they also “long to love the places in which we live and live in places worthy of love…”

It isn’t the laws that protect water, air and forestation that should be eliminated, it is developers who won’t respect them.

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