Lisa Sorg to contribute to Bull City Rising

I'm very pleased to announce that Lisa Sorg will be contributing stories about Durham here at Bull City Rising, beginning this week.

As an award-winning writer and editor at the INDY Week, Lisa has long established herself as one of the most prominent and knowledgeable voices about Durham. Lisa is someone whose perspective I've often agreed with, sometimes disagreed with, but always appreciated.

We'll both be trying this out over the next few weeks, taking on a bit of an experiment in this little blogging adventure at BCR. We're not entirely sure exactly where it'll take us, but I'm looking forward to the collaboration. And, I'm especially eager to be able to help share Lisa's reporting, analysis and experience with our readers.

One thing I've long appreciated is the camaraderie that developed in the 2000s between Durham bloggers and the local media. Editors and reporters from the Herald-Sun, the N&O, WRAL and WTVD and others have always been gracious and collegial, even as we approach stories from different angles and sometimes compete on approaches to stories.

Lisa and the INDY Week were perhaps the most collegial and engaged of all over the years, from co-sponsoring a U.S. House District 4 debate to meeting up for drinks. I hope you'll enjoy Lisa's contributions in this new forum.


DCABP endorsements: reading the early tea-leaves on fall Council elections

It wouldn't be late-summer if we weren't seeing the endorsements season getting underway here in the Bull City.

And the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People is first out of the chute with their endorsements.

No surprise, the Mayor's race: Bill Bell is the Committee's nominee for what would he promises would be his last two-year term, capping off a four decade stint in Durham elected offices.

Perhaps more intriguing: Besides a nod for the only incumbent, Steve Schewel, the Committee is also endorsing Ricky Hart and Mike Shiflett for the three at-large Council seats.

One thing connects all three of the Council candidates endorsed by the Committee: a long tenure of civic engagement and tenure in the kinds of city and county committees that often have been the development league, if you will, for elected official talent. 

The endorsement of four candidates who've all been long-engaged in Durham's traditional politics may be a sign of the Committee's desire to see known quantities in key office roles, especially in a year where a number of first-time candidates and relatively new Durhamites are running.

Interestingly, the campaign features two strongly social justice-oriented candidates; does their failure to get endorsed by the Committee send a message given recent scrutiny on Durham Police and race relations? Or, is this more a reflection of tapping known entities with long history of engagement, versus relative newcomers to civic life?

We suspect the latter -- but this could also foreshadow an intriguing campaign meme to watch, one of political elites (all three PACs, not just the Committee) in a year with a surge of grassroots political activity.

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The H-S and Durham-Orange light rail: if you're analyzing its challenges, look beyond a single back yard

Development of any sort -- private, public-sector, not-for-profit, you name it -- invariably attracts a disproportionate interest from those in its immediate back yard.

And developers of all ilks are quick to throw around the term "NIMBY" (or Not In My Back Yard) for those who would speak out against their best-laid plans.

All too often, I find it's best to be skeptical of both developers' dreamiest promises as well as the loudest NIMBYs. After all, if Nick Tennyson's age-old advice is the best descriptor of the Bull City's growth -- namely, that if there's one thing Durhamites hate more than sprawl, it's density -- then perhaps the second might be, "Folks move to the community they find perfect as-is, not as it might become."

Monday's Herald-Sun features a deep (three articles! first, second, third) look at the Durham-Orange Light Rail plan. And, as opposed to much of the natural inside-baseball coverage that we've seen on the project, the H-S here tries to pick up concerns that some project opponents have raised.

But I'm worried that in picking this lens of analysis, Durham's paper of record has picked up only a series of voices that surround one particular back yard: the southern Durham County link between Durham and Chapel Hill that one resident, bizarrely to my mind, calls the "last vestige of green" -- never mind that major hospital/campus just on yonder side!

The H-S misses a chance here to hear both from non-suburban voices with concerns over (or support for) the project, as well as from non-governmental stakeholders involved in the STAC committee and other planning groups.

And quite frankly, that's a big whiff, because when the opponents quoted in the H-S talk about their localized opposition -- what some might call the NIMBY argument -- I find their concerns more relevant (even if I disagree with their positions) than when they make transit arguments writ large.

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Bull City Connector: straightening out the "knot," shutting down earlier

The current design of the Bull City Connector's route resembles a string with a knot in the middle of it -- that is, the roundabout connection around Five Points, Chapel Hill St., and the like in order to reach Durham Station, the city transit hub.

It's not uncommon to watch visitors (and even residents) scratch their heads around Five Points, trying to figure out which stop they need to take in order to get on the bus.

While the route's path through the station helped keep DATA transfer riders in the mix, it likely also lengthened the route's time and impacted on-time performance.

Come August 15, though, the Connector is slated to become a more direct route, running more closely along the Main Street spine through downtown, and extending further west into the sciences district on Duke's West Campus.

Still, the changes have one other effect: curtailing 9pm to midnight service on Fridays/Saturdays, as closing time drops to 9pm across the entire route.

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On Ninth Street, and Durham's never-ending search free parking

I can't help but have a certain amount of cognitive dissonance when I read the fast-multiplying news headlines these past few days about parking in the Ninth Street area.

Mind you, I'm writing these lines while midway through a two-week business trip to China, in the sprawling Shanghai-Suzhou metroplex in China's fast-modernizing eastern provinces.

In the latter -- a New York City-sized metropolis that comparatively few westerners have ever heard of -- the shiny new Metro is practically clean enough to eat off of and, at about three dimes for a one-way ride, crazy affordable. 

Sure, cars flock to megamalls like the city's new Aeon complex on its eastern side, where a Chinese hypermart and an entire floor catering to neonatal and natalist young families sits cheek-by-jowl with a Burger King and the globally-inescapable, freakishly same-tasting Starbucks. But Aeon is also steps from a bustling subway system, with quick connections to buses that run with 10-minute headway.

The edge-city where my work is based also has 15-minute headways on an excellent, easily-parsed, cheap (16 cents/ride) bus system. The terminus of that system is the high-speed rail line, where electric bullet trains depart every few minutes for downtown Shanghai and its domestic airport and to other parts of the country. A few dollars can get you across 30 miles of congested, 25 million-soul metropolitan landscape in less 18 minutes flat.

Meanwhile, in Durham, it will take transportation planners, federal and state officials, and elected representatives twice as long to even get a half-assed aboveground light rail system through the design and planning stages. To say nothing about how long it will take to fund it. Or to build it - if it's funded.

Is it any wonder, then, that in a city as self-congratulatory as we Durhamites and Chapel Hillians can be, that we're still obsessed with keeping parking free and building as much of it as we can stomach?

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Shiflett to join Azar in bid for City Council at-large seat

In an announcement to a range of Durham listservs and residents tonight, Mike Shiflett disclosed his plan to run for one of Durham's at-large City Council seats in November's election.

Shiflett -- a longtime Northgate Park resident, PAC2 and Durham Businesses Against Crime activist/chair, and transportation/transit guru, among a long list of civic accomplishments -- is the second person we've heard to throw their hat in the at-large race ring.

INC president and former non-profit head Philip Azar has already signaled his candidacy as well.

Look for Shiflett to formally announce Tuesday at noon at downtown's Major the Bull statue.

(Disclaimer: I'm proud to consider both Mike and Phil friends, a point that's worth mentioning given the conflicts of interest a race involving acquaintances and friends will inevitably entail.)


As Catotti, Brown depart, who'll fill their big shoes?

One of the challenges I'm sure folks in government face is that, while everyone wants a piece of you when something goes wrong, everyone takes your work for granted when things are going right.

With last week's announcement that Diane Catotti is stepping down from City Council after three four-year terms -- coming on the heels of Eugene Brown's similar announcement a couple of weeks back -- Durham's City Council is about to lose two experienced, veteran leaders.

It's perfectly natural for Brown and Catotti to be ready for new challenges and some time off after twelve years on the Council.

But to those who've paid less attention to City happenings in the past few years than, say, in the early 2000s, it's easy to forget that the City's veteran legislature is undoubtedly one of the keys to the City's success. And in looking at the elections to come, will we come to realize we've taken experience for granted?

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Wexford, Durham.ID seek incentives for renovations and parking decks in special City Council meeting today

The front page of today's Herald-Sun neatly captures two items that are both newsworthy and, quite unintentionally, at odds with each other.

On the one hand, we have the arrival of Walk [Your City], a campaign with philanthropic backing to encourage downtowners to "park and walk" by reminding us all just how close so many of Durham's urban amenities are.

And then on the other hand, we have this afternoon's special City Council meeting, intended to get City Council approval for City economic and workforce director Kevin Dick to negotiate economic incentives to pay for the renovations, along with new parking decks. 

So how are we getting to Durham's future? Behind the wheel, or on foot (or bike, or transit)?

It's an easy and somewhat false dichotomy; for now, the iron-triangle between commuters, their employers, and property owners likely means new developments still need copious surface and structured parking. 

But, what's the role that local governments should or should not play in subsidizing downtown development, at this point in Durham's expansion?

And, with car interest on the decline and technological change looming, is a future that contemplates so much parking akin to hoarding scythes in the dawn of the mechanized combine age?

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Public and private: Who controls downtown Durham's agora, and its cool?

A couple of days ago, we tweeted out a link to an article by Matt Hartman, a Durham-based writer whose article on downtown Durham and gentrification appeared this week in The Jacobin.

The thesis of Hartman's piece is that downtown's "cool" is a cultural asset created by Durham pioneers and which, through its exploitation and marketing by developers seeking to revitalize empty buildings and vacant land alike, is being expropriated by capitalism.

Perhaps not a shocking thesis to appear in a magazine that describes itself as a socialist voice for the left. And not an uninteresting one; it's definitely worth a read, wherever your views sit on the political spectrum.

While his argument is an interesting one, I'm not sure I agree with all his conclusions. Still, Hartman's argument about the need to understand the nexus between public and private entities and to develop successful public spaces is certainly worth some discussion.

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N&O, H-S veteran Jim Wise announces retirement


It's literally the end of a Bull City era in print journalism: Jim Wise has covered his last City Council meeting.

JimwiseAnyone who's picked up a newspaper in Durham since, oh, the Reagan administration has had a pretty good chance of having read or been influenced by his work.

A dedicated student of Durham and regional history, Wise has always had the unique opportunity to take something out of the current headlines and tie it back to some other time in history -- even back to the 19th century hardscrabble founding of the Bull City, when needed.

And his voice will be missed.

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