Monday, January 09, 2012

Durham’s Achilles' Heel

Durham NC, my adopted hometown, has an Achilles' heel.  It's not what you might think from some news reports.  By 4 to 1 residents feel or safe or very safe in their community including 5 to 1 among women and 5 to 1 among those who feel very strongly one way or the other.

The Achilles' heel isn't public education either.  By 8.5 to 1 residents have a high or very high image of Durham public schools, including  6 to 1 among newcomers who've been here three years or less despite being subjected to water cooler myths perpetuated by realtors in nearby communities and people who work but do not live in Durham.Durham image watch

Durham's vulnerability certainly isn't community passion, where residents are 15 times higher than the benchmark, nor is it community loyalty where residents are three times higher than the benchmark.

Durham's Achilles' heel is aesthetics, not related to its unique sense of place and architecture but to simple curb appeal in publicly maintained areas, which residents rate four times lower than the benchmark.  Emblematic, by 3 to 1 Durham residents disagree that Durham roadsides and medians are well kept.

The concern is not just about litter although the presence of litter is a predictor of not only more litter but underlying neglect. Resident concern about aesthetics includes the lack of mowing, overall landscaping and the general appearance of roadsides and medians including unrepaired ruts and damage too systemic to be overcome by some cosmetic flower plantings here and there.

The concerns are also about the aesthetics of the community as a whole, including both the City and County not just particular neighborhoods such as downtown.  Any remedy will also involve subsequently motivating the North Carolina Department of Transportation, which is responsible for many roads in Durham, to follow suit.

Resident perceptions of the community as a whole are informed in contrast by how extraordinarily well kept various Durham assets are such as Duke University, The Streets at Southpoint, Northgate Mall, Research Triangle Park, several Downtown districts and the co-owned airport.

Aesthetics is an Achilles' heel and critical for any community to address because research has shown it to be one of the top three drivers of community attachment, pivotal to attracting and retaining talent and economic vitality.

The good news is that just as curb appeal is critical to holding or increasing the value of an individual residence or commercial property, greatly improved aesthetic upkeep by the City and County can be viewed as self-funded by the increased property tax valuation it will generate for local government as a return on investment.

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