It's official: Duke to move 300 employees to the Durham Centre
Creekside reassignment: On schools being good by being well(-off)

A night at the Carolina, or why I still love Durham

The fact that an uptick in violent crime this month has had understandable reverberations in and among the Duke community -- not surprising, since robberies, assaults and shootings are typically concentrated in several segments of the community that don't directly border the Gothic wonderland.

Unfortunately, the response of some student commentators have been perfectly predictable. One Chronicle columnist has made it a regular sport to bash the Bull City this past year, providing such joyful nuggets about Durham life as "the bar scene is pretty weak," "if you think Durham is already great--well, then you should probably be drug tested," and "I am beginning to wonder whether the Duke-in-Durham experience has really been worth the risk."

(It should be noted that I started caring a great deal less about this young scholar's ruminations about Durham after his full-column cogitation on -- I am not making this up -- his roommate's dog becoming intoxicated on alcohol multiple times this school year. "College wouldn't be the same without the inevitable weekend bacchanalia. But when your innocent, excitable dog is hung over the day after a big party along with you, has your debauchery gone too far? .... After all, he's a big dog-roughly 70 pounds-and has gotten drunk a few times before....")

On the flip side, some Duke students have written into the Chronicle to express the need for Dukies to continue to engage with the Bull City community -- as seniors Ellen Bolen and Cy Stober did on Friday.

Students made broad generalizations about Durham being unsafe and one student suggested to "just build giant fences around the school." Statements such as these perpetuate the "us vs. them" mentality. These crimes were not just committed against Duke students, but against the Durham community as a whole.... A Duke student has the right to feel safe, but so does every citizen in Durham. Durham is a great community and it has a lot to offer to those who are willing to commit to it.

Not surprisingly, the reaction in the comments section was hostile... much of it, in all likelihood, coming from folks not even associated with the university. Much of it was the often-seen, borderline racist linkage between issues of safety and Durham's diversity, with one commentor noting that Durham "is just a scaled down version of New Orleans," where poor African-Americans suffered from "corruption of the human soul caused by the 'entitlements' of the Welfare Society." Others tried to dance around the issue more elegantly, but often came back to slightly more eloquent versions of this pithy comment: "I'm tired of BS -- of having to appease the locals of this sh!thole."

Why bring this up now? Because these comments were on my mind as my weekend began after work on Friday, and I found myself ruminating over the negativity that hangs over the Bull City in so many people's minds. And that's never a good feeling; it only tends to fill one's mind with one's own sourness.

Stewing in my thoughts, I decided to head out to see a movie that night (the Blade Runner re-edit that's made its way to the Carolina Theatre.) It turned out to be the best decision I made all week.

Arriving downtown, I parked over by the CCB Plaza; heading out into the chilly night, I arrived at the Carolina only to find a monumentally long line stretching down into the outdoors, thanks to a ticket printer that had gone on the fritz.

Now, in most cities I've lived in, a crowd would be pretty irascible standing out in freezing temperatures waiting to buy a movie ticket. But the crowd was in a surprisingly good humor, chatting it up and waiting for updates.

Ahead of me in the crowd I spied Duke prez Dick Broadhead and his wife Cynthia, standing about five back from the box office, talking with others in line who noticed him queued up to buy a ticket. The Brodheads purchased tickets to a showing and headed off into the crowd, ready to check out a film at the arthouse cinema like all the assembled grad students and professionals and retirees.

I spent a decade attending and working for Harvard, and let me tell you: you never saw Larry Summers or Neil Rudenstine going out to the Loews Theatre or Sony Janus to catch a flick. The Harvard president barely walked anywhere, for that matter. A university-owned limo sat in the middle of Harvard Yard; its custom license plate simply read "1636," a reference to the year of the university's founding, in typically arrogant Harvardian fashion.

A lucky Harvard student could get Larry Summers to autograph their $1 bill, in reference to his immediately previous, and far more successful, tenure as Secretary of the Treasury. A lucky Duke student can chat up their president at the movie theater. (Or, later that weekend, could have run into him at the Uplift East Durham tour, which he and his wife quietly attended, again unaccompanied and unshepherded by the throngs of yes-men and potentates that surrounded Larry S. at every one of his public engagements.)

Once the ticket line started moving, folks bought their tickets and snacks and headed into the screenings. Cinema One, filled with a hundred or so film-watchers, had more the feeling of a cocktail party, with Durhamites running into friends, stopping to chat, catching up on the week's news before the previews started.

For my part, I ended up talking with a delightful woman about, of all things, living in Durham and why we loved it here. (She regaled me with all the reasons why, though she visited Raleigh and Chapel Hill often, she never wanted to live there -- only Durham.)

A few minutes later, in walks a friend of mine from the neighborhood, there to see the movie with several pals of his. I join him and catch up on news from some of our mutual civic interests before the film starts. I'd shown up at the movie alone, but ended up having more chances for conversation than I would have expected.

At the end of the film, my friend and his buddies headed off to Bull McCabe's for drinks, while I headed home to catch some sleep. But I found my mood markedly improved from where it had been when the weekend began. In fact, walking back to the CCB to pick up my car, and standing amidst the well-lit tower and the Major the Bull statue, I couldn't help but think how different living in Durham is from anywhere I've lived before.


It's the connections with people that make this such a truly unusual city, and that have made this my home. There is rarely a lonely moment in Durham. Running into someone randomly is, in the places I've lived before, a fairly rare occurrence; in Durham, it's hard to go to a restaurant, or movie, or store without meeting and chatting with a few people you know.

This happens in part because Durham is a small town -- but, more to the point, because those who choose to live in Durham tend to be active and engaged with the town. They're involved with non-profits, with their neighborhoods, with their school. There's few people I know here that I don't know from two or three different contexts.

It's this socialization that helps makes Durham special... and that stands in ironic contrast to the latest craze over the idea of "fencing in" Duke's campus.

After all, Durham's interconnectedness is not likely high on the priority list of your typical college undergraduate. College students everywhere are typically, by their very nature, more focused on their own lives and campus life than broader issues of community. They arrive for a few years and then depart, on to new communities. The connections that so many Durhamites make with each other center around a geography; those made by students more typically revolve around an alma mater, relationships that will last over a long distance.

Sure, college students volunteer intensively for community outreach efforts -- and I see more of that energy from Dukies than I have in other places. But college students everywhere tend to be more internally focused on those campus relationships than community ones.

I suspect that's why it's hard for our friends the Chronicle columnists, or just about any twenty-year-old for that matter, to see the wonder of Durham. Some of the things so many of us love about the Bull City just aren't yet salient for them. Far more predictable are the aforementioned complaints of "too few bars" and "not affluent enough" that you might expect them to mutter about the Bull City.

After all, Durham isn't your typical college town, and likely never will be. It's also not your typical American city -- it's smarter, it's more diverse, it's more introspective, it's more rational and less fundamentalist, it's (as I've argued) more of a community than most "communities" are these days. It's also not chock-a-block with nightclubs, bars and Abercrombie & Fitch, either.

So, will the aforementioned Chronicle columnists ever understand why I rave about Durham while they rant about it? Someday, maybe, but probably not right now. After all, I probably wouldn't have been so jazzed about Durham at age 21, either. At age 31, I wouldn't choose to live anywhere else.



Well said, Kevin. I feel the same way you do about Durham. A relative of mine is visiting me in Durham next week. He lives in a beautiful, safe, homogeneous, very affluent suburb of a southern city. Will he understand my love of Durham? You've given me some things to think about as I attempt to understand and relate my infatuation with this place.

Peter Krause

Marvelous observations, Kevin. Right on the mark. I've been here twenty-seven years and am never surprised when people say; " I wouldn't want to live anywhere else." When I was going to college in western Massachusetts, all I wanted to know was where the best "happy hour" was (South Hadley :)) and my compatriots rarely ventured out "in the wild," even there.

It's disappointing to see the sensationalistic diatribe emanating from the Chronicle but hey, they have to cry about something... The "guided" freshman walks to Brightleaf are but a small step in coming to appreciate all Durham has to offer.

Thanks again, and yes, the Carolina is a very special place.


Viva la Durham! Great post

Regarding the Duke students, they aren't all bad, but who cares anyway? Let them stay on grounds, when north campus happens that will be even easier for them.

And I've tried reaching out… I just wasn't that impressed or energized by the experience.


I think the difference between your raves and the columnists rants is that underneath them there is a fundamentally different commitment... you really want Durham to be great, and so you thrive on every sign of that and WORK rather than simply complain about its struggles. Many young students who are at Duke have every intention of eventually being somewhere else. So for them, Durham is a product on the shelf--will they buy it for what they instantly perceive it to be, this very second, or will they say "I don't like the package and features."

I was in Durham this weekend for an interview at Duke, and I have to admit, that my newfound love for everything Durham is very different than my attitude back when I worked my way through school with a job at Northgate Mall. Then, it was all about the frustrations of the moment... racism, crime, etc. Over the past year, as we have been working toward a return to Durham, my outlook toward it has changed dramatically--partially because of redevelopment and progress. But, I think it is also because I am now hoping to plant my life, my family, my work, there in Durham.

So, keep up the good work here on the blog; hopefully, by this fall you'll have another neighbor who loves Durham.


Beautiful - just beautiful. I was getting ready to respond to that idiot columnist at the Chronicle, and realized I wouldn't be able to touch your eloquence. I hope he reads this - if he can read, that is.

don't eat alone


My wife and I moved here a little less than two months ago from the Boston area. What you say about Durham resonates with me, even in our short time. I'm looking forward to being here for many years.



At the risk of sounding like a sycophant, I'd say that YOU, Kevin, are a reason why I love this town. You, and Gary at ED, and Jim Wise, and all of the other community activists that make learning about and living in Durham such a fun adventure.

And you're completely right about knowing people from multiple contexts -- folks are engaged with this community in a way I haven't seen much before. The people I see at the Farmer's Market are the same I see at a Hayti jazz concert are the same I see at City Hall, asking questions about the civic project du jour.

Thanks for putting an eloquent description to what we all witness daily.


I sold my extra Ween ticket to a woman from Jersey who, natch, attended Duke. Grad school. She applied to a dozen or so schools; Duke was the only university she applied to not located in the North.

So what does a Jersey girl who applied to one Southern school want to do after getting her PhD? Hopefully stay in Durham...she loves it here.

Data point of one, I know. But I thought it was cool.


Thank you for addressing the poisonous stuff from the Chronicle. I'd be disheartened if I thought it was reflective of all the students, but I know it is not, as I have observed the many, many students over the years who have volunteered in the neighborhoods near campus and in the greater community, as well as all those who choose to stay or return to Durham.

Those who whine and complain may learn how to make a living at Duke and they may go on to enjoy a lot of material things, but they will have learned nothing about how one makes an authentic life in the greater world. If ever those complainers face something outside their isolated cotton-wool world, they will lack the skills of the authentic.

I am very impressed with the Brodheads and think Duke is lucky to have them. They are *real* people. I serve on two boards with Cindy and she always shows up prepared, with keen intellect and good humor. She does a whole lot more too! Unfailingly gracious, they had barely unpacked at Hart House before they were hosting a fundraiser for Preservation Durham. They have made themselves a part of Durham in the truest sense.

Durham is a place where we must and do confront the uncomfortable things. Those of us who do this come to appreciate the essence of and greater value in diversity and community.

One's values can grow and change as one begins to see beyond the cotton-wool. Life teaches the willing student, and Durham is a great teacher. I love being here for what Durham is teaching me to become. Like many, I get frustrated with the failings and shortcomings, but also like many, I cannot imagine being at home anywhere else. Here, I can be a part of the solutions, and that matters to me more than I can say.


As yet another recently relocated former Bostonian, I couldn't have said it better myself.


[What fletchfoto said.]


Kevin - Is the following statement of yours really true?:

". . . those who choose to live in Durham tend to be active and engaged with the town. They're involved with non-profits, with their neighborhoods, with their school."

It just doesn't make sense to me. Doesn't Durham have over 200,000 residents? If you are just looking at the subset of the population that IS involved with non-profits, neighborhoods, or other similar activities, then I can believe that you frequently run into the same people, but this subset seems to be a very small percentage of Durham's overall population.

Did you run into the same number of acquaintances when you were riding the DATA buses?


As a Duke Undergrad, I'd like to thank you for writing this in such a fair and balanced way. I'm an oddball among my collegues I suppose, in that I love Durham. It makes me sad that the community, having been burned by students before me, is often not as ready to embrace me as I am to embrace it...
Anyway, the point is, you are right, Durham rocks.


I chose to live in Durham because it is gritty and real and full of stories. I moved here from Philadelphia several years ago and, while I did so kicking and screaming, it was one of the best decisions I've ever made in my life.


So I'm a grad student at Duke who lives in downtown and enjoys it. I agree with the positive things you say about Duke, but there are complaints to be said as well. The city is to blame and has no excuse for the thug who shot and killed the grad student being out on the street. He should have been in jail. I also think Durham would benefit from a more active nightlife. I do think the downtown area has too few bars and nightlife options for singles. For how many great restaurants it has, it certainly has a lack of nightlife comparitively. How many single people on this list commented about much they like Durham? I would like to know.


Kevin, what a wonderful piece. I lived in Durham for 6 years and then moved to Southwest Missouri. We went there because the job was good, the crime rate was low, and the weather was about the same. It took about 2 months for us to realize what a mistake we had made. There was NO diversity, most people attended the same evangelical church denomination. The best college sports they had to offer was the Southwest Missouri lady bears. It was very difficult to find friends with a similar world view or any world view. I couldn't wait to get back to the Triangle and if I have a choice, I will never live outside of North Carolina again. Durham is like any southern family. So what if there are a few crazy cousins-that's what makes life interesting.


I was looking forward to my night out at the Carolina Saturday--but my movie was cancelled due to the other big show :(

We still managed to make a fabulous Durham night of it, spending the rest of the evening satisfying our thirst at Bull McCabes. Damn, i love being able to see a movie, eat, and drink within a couple of miles of home.

I *heart* Durham.


"The city is to blame and has no excuse for the thug who shot and killed the grad student being out on the street."

Actually, i don't believe the city is responsible for the judicial system that allows low bonds to be set for violent criminals. Most city officials have been agitating for years to get the state to provide a couple of extra magistrates and upgrade the computer system, which the judges and magistrates have been saying is necessary to prevent this kind of thing.

Whether or not you agree with that analysis is one thing, but you can't place the blame for that on "the city."

As far as nightlife, money talks. There's still not enough people willing to spend their money going out for a night on the town in Durham to inspire other people to open those establishments. Having a bunch of morons constantly telling the world what a dangerous dump Durham is won't help in that regard either.


Of course the murderer is to blame. But after that, it's the city, as Kristin Butler's column makes clear:

And lest you think this is a liberal / conservative issue, the non responsiveness of the DPD has been extensively covered by our own Samiha Khanna, the reporter who broke the Duke Lacrosse hoax (and a perceived "enemy" of the liestoppers crowd).

Chief "J-Lo" is a joke, as is the rest of the department with the exception of Sgt. Gunter. They can't even agree to *investigate* procedural reform because their insurance company held their feet to the fire. Too bad the voters don't.


Great Going Durham for home growing the two recent murderous thugs who decided to become tourists in Chapel Hill and slaughte the UNC student body president in the middle of the street for a few dollars... Normally this type of violent cfrime has been confined to your own area, but I see that y'all are now all about reaching out to the neighboring communities!


Mad props to the Durham PD for this capture. Will the gangland mayhem never cease?

(There, I've filled my quota for the week).


Might have helped if the parole board in the county to the east had been a bit more efficient, too.
"Murder Suspect Was in Court 2 Days Before Carson's Death
Demario James Atwater

Posted: Today at 4:30 p.m.
Updated: Today at 8:59 p.m.

Raleigh, N.C. — One of the murder suspects in the shooting death of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's student body president was in a Wake County courtroom on a probation violation two days before her shooting death.

But Demario James Atwater's hearing was rescheduled because of a clerical error, Clerk of Superior Court Lorrin Freeman said Thursday.................."

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