The following two articles were published (by different newspapers) in quick succession: the first on August 8, the second on August 13. Both are about Durham.
I’ve supplied the lede sentences, and article links, for each below.
- “Public school teachers, low-level city workers, even journalists can’t afford many, if not most, of the 2,400 new apartments and condos being built in central Durham.”
From “Durham development: What’s being built where and who can afford it?”, Lisa Sorg, Indy Week.
- “Like firecrackers exploding around downtown Durham, clusters of small businesses are popping up and enlivening one desolate block after another.”
From “Surfacing: A Corner of Durham, N.C., Comes to Life”, Ingrid K. Williams, The New York Times.
Throughout the week of Project Change, it’s odd (and hard), pedagogically, to balance discussion about real-time events, trends, and articles with real-time personal immersion—in Durham, and within the group of 21 PChange students. After all, the students don’t have access to social media or personal technology (they could, hypothetically, pick up a newspaper somewhere). I found this particularly challenging, this past week, with the unfolding events in Ferguson, MO. These are events that touch on a multitude of interconnected issues—including race, justice, and the organization of public space—that continually and intentionally surface during Project Change, often in connection with students’ personal experiences.
That said, the above pairing of articles came up during a conversation about the types of things students noticed throughout the week (things like gentrification) while working on a community garden with Reinvestment Partners. RP is a multi-pronged organization that advocates for economic justice and empowerment in Durham. Right now, they’re creating a food hub and food corridor along East Geer St., which forms part of a traditionally low-income, majority-minority neighborhood.
It’s no coincidence that Geer St. runs into the cultural district Ingrid Williams, with the weight of a New York Times pronouncement, describes as “surfacing.” If she walked up Geer, toward Reinvestment Partners’ office near N. Roxboro, she might call that segment “neglected.” After all, where are the NYT-approved signs of urban progress—the string-lit beer gardens, the runners’ clubs, the warehouse-chic? During a Durham scavenger hunt last week, we had the Project Change students look for (and interpret) “old things” and “new things,” and how they related to “art spaces,” “places to eat,” and “gathering places,” in Durham. How often they coexisted, how often they overlapped—pseudo-rustic signage, new construction abutting abandoned shops, murals on old buildings with new site plans.
Williams’s article is in the travel section; it’s geared toward tourism; it aims to generate a conversation, for outsiders, around desire, around an assumed familiar metric of “cool” and “good.” I want to go there! But I think about how the NYT article, bound by its genre, fails to mention the ~$50mil luxury condo and retail development that’s begun to displace the historic Liberty Warehouse at the corner of Rigsbee and W. Corporation. As Sorg points out in the Indy piece, many locals—all of whom presumably hold the right to access Durham’s cultural center—won’t be able to afford living there. I can’t afford living there. I think of a recent CityLab article about how high-rise apartment dwellers typically feel safe and “cozy” in their respective fortresses, but unsafe in the surrounding neighborhoods. I drive around downtown Durham and see umpteen simultaneous apartment developments. All seem to have a suspiciously similar drab aesthetic, far from Durham’s historic architectural styles; sore thumbs in their respective neighborhoods. I wonder if these new residents will converse with neighbors beyond their building.
Between articles about Ferguson and Durham, and between eight days of Project Change, I’m thinking a lot about framing conversation. Which voices, and which stories, cast the net and create the frame? Is said frame equitable? Who gets easy access? Who doesn’t? How can conversation be framed in unique and unexpected ways, and how does this framing influence “the information” itself? I like to think that the pairing of these two articles about Durham—one from a major national newspaper, one from a local alt-weekly—casts a wide net for several conversations that need to happen. The thematic content and tone of each piece speak to the mere existence of a conversational spectrum. I’ve been similarly inspired following Marcia Chatelain’s #FergusonSyllabus project—a means to expand the net by crowdsourcing articles and resources, both for students and the general public, related to the events in Ferguson. It provides tangible products, but also says, more broadly, this is complicated; let’s err on the side of conversation, and move with it in turn.