Everything dies, baby that's a fact.
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back.
- Bruce Springsteen
OK, sure, The Boss is better associated with New Jersey than Durham. But aren't all those wisecracks about Duke being the University of New Jersey at Durham enough to make him at least an honorary member? (To say nothing of the fact that his daughter apparently went to college at Duke.)
Still, it's been a while. I've been spending a few days on this blog thingee, see, dusting off the cobwebs. If you came here for "authentic china nike jersey" or "louboutin sneakers" deals, sorry, the spam comments are all gone. (Oh, BCR also doesn't suck to read on a cell phone these days.) But hopefully you'll start to see a few things that look familiar.
Springsteen's beloved Atlantic City, sad to say, has not fared as well as Durham in recent years. Heck, since this blog went on hiatus in 2011, AC saw a casino open to swelling crowds, then struggle and go bankrupt in only two years.
Compare that to what you see when you look down the list of blog stories published in the weeks before our first goodbye. (Hey, some place called DaisyCakes is opening -- swell!) Over the intervening four years, downtown Durham has bloomed even further, even faster than before. Restaurants fill downtown spaces that were dead or dying. There are enough hotels to... well, I'm not exactly sure. Suffice it to say: Durham will not be running out of hotel rooms anytime soon.
And of course, most controversially: we have apartments. Hey, have you noticed? There's a room or two or a thousand for rent. Hope you like granite counters!
Durham's a booming place. But all booms have their challenges. One needs to look no further than Atlantic City -- or Durham itself -- to know that.
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Once a charming resort town, the jet and car challenged Atlantic City's supremacy. New Jersey leaders fought deep poverty with what they were sure would be a proverbial ace in the hole: legalized gambling! No need to go to Las Vegas, East Coasters; just come down the old Shore. And that worked, for a while in the 1980s and 1990s.
Until, of course, every other state saw an opportunity for tax revenue. Once again, Atlantic City's dominance was under fire. Heck, no sooner had Massachusetts axed their moralistic Blue Laws than did the Bay State start looking at opening its own casinos.
Similarly, Durham faced this same challenge once before in its relatively brief existence.
All these funky buildings becoming cool places are -- as every person reading this blog probably knows -- only here because they, too, were built in a boom. And that boom was tobacco, wafting into every nostril and pressed into every pocked and rolling (literally, in cigarette form) out of every one of the factories that filled downtown along the North Carolina Railroad corridor.
As Don Draper knows, though, no fashion stays forever. And indeed, tobacco became deeply unfashionable; American smoking rates peaked after World War II. Proud headquarters decamped for New York and other places far away. Factories slowly closed. American Tobacco was abandoned in the 1980s; today's West Village, a decade later.
The very boom that once had Durham spoken of in the same breath as "Chicago" among post-Civil War cities had been snuffed out.
Yet just as the lavish old resorts of southern New Jersey become transformed into glass-and-Trump resorts, so did those Durham buildings that survived the bulldozer start turning into something new.
Of course, the recovery hasn't been for everyone. The good jobs, the best jobs for those with a blue-collar skill set, sputtered out. They transformed briefly, in the visage of Northern Telecom phone sets and IBM PCs. Yet most of that work, too, is gone.
And the wreckage of homes and lives in East Durham show it. Newspaper articles from the 1990s talk about East Durham's decline, as working-class factory men and women and their families struggled in uneasy retirements in the modest mill houses they lived in amidst what were company neighborhoods, if not company towns. As property values declined, crime and drugs seeped into the fabric of the communities, and the fabric of neighborhoods changed.
Today they are changing yet again. A house on Driver St. that I toured years ago, when friends in the just-christened Old East Durham were getting a home tour together, was in ramshackle state such that even I, a lover of old homes, could not imagine it ever being rescued.
Earlier this year, the restoration -- championed by Preservation Durham, which for years advocated for the house until it was renovated -- was complete, and the house sold quickly.
Like the factories downtown, the house was beautifully renewed.
As with downtown's factories, renewal is a better option than demise. Yet outcomes like this have and will also, inevitably, raise the specter of gentrification, a problem Durham has certainly wrestled with in the past four years far more than it did in the first five years I wrote BCR.
To some, gentrification is a means of renewing a neighborhood that had hope and resources before Durham's long malaise shut it down. To others, gentrification is a sign of a social and economic failing, of Durham evicting those who had found shelter, no matter how undesirable, in the wreckage.
There's a kernel of accuracy in both views, I am sure. And ultimately the answer lies somewhere in between.
And the answer will be every bit as ephemeral of the life, and decline, and death, and rebirth, and stalling, and decline, and rejuvenation, of every city that's ever lasted.
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My hope and goal in writing this blog, as always, is to share reporting but also opinion on where we are and where we are heading down that path.
I won't bore readers with a long narration about all the places I disappeared to over the past few years. Briefly put, the strain of closing out my late mother's affairs; the ongoing "joys" of renovating an older home; and juggling professional responsibilities all created barriers to getting started again.
Life's slowed down over the past year or two. Still, it was hard to start writing again.
Part of that is due to the time commitment: a web site can be a bottomless sink of one's time. (I should note that the relaunch will be at a pace of writing that is, shall we say, a bit slower than at the site's 2010 peak. We'll see what the future holds.)
Then for a while, frankly, I found myself with little to say. Durham has been moving, generally, in a very good direction. Compared to the inanity of some 2000s-era County Commission and school board meetings... pleasant, even.
Over time, though, it's inevitable to find things that, well, bother you. Like an itch, you can ignore than for only so long until you scratch. When you're a writer, there comes a point to pick up the virtual pen.
Durham is, after all, a place I love and put down roots. I think we were great at celebrating what made us different and great, even a decade ago.
Now, people are listening, have listened. And people are moving here, in a seemingly increasing flow. Heck, the City of Durham last year ranked third among cities, after Austin and Orlando, in population growth by percentage.
That influx is a sign of success, yet also challenges our perception of who we are, and raises fears about who we might become.
To me, Durham doesn't peculiarly belong to those of us who've been here a decade, any more than it does to those who have lived here their whole lives -- or who moved into a downtown condo a couple of years back. (So pioneering, you vocal scamps, you!)
It belongs to all of us, to the new and old alike.
We're at a time where there has been, and will be, more conflict over the decisions and repercussions of that growth. From traffic, to zoning, to our schools, to how to mitigate where possible the impacts of change.
I don't expect I'll have all (or many) of the answers, but I look forward to at least asking the questions, and to readers continuing the conversation in the comments.
Glad to be back. Thanks in advance for reading.