The first weekend of June, Eazy-E and I adventured to Denver for a beautiful wedding. It was the second time I’d ever been to Colorado. The first time, I was one year old and became deathly ill to the point my Oma was ready to murder doctors on my behalf. Family first!
We stayed on the 20th floor of a downtown apartment that belonged to our friends. Our schedule during the trip allowed for only so much deviation. Most things we needed were within walking distance. She had bridesmaid responsibilities for most of the weekend. That left me to my own devices.
I don’t travel much. I’ve lived in Durham all my life, so when I get the chance to explore new cities, I want to take in the scenery. There are a handful of things that I look for, based on the things I’ve observed in Durham. Progressive issues like transportation, environmental health, arts & culture, pedestrian safety.
I promise I’m fun.
The Ringer, my favorite media company, often breaks down situations by “winners” and “losers.” To pay homage, I’ve assessed my trip in the same format.
WINNER: PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
My stance on public transit has been made clear. In writing. In videos. For being a progressive, blue sanctuary in a reddish-purple state, our infrastructure choices have been suspect at best and it starts with transportation.
We left the Denver airport (and the Lizard people, which we’ll discuss later) and immediately hopped on the rail car into Union Station. The walk to our apartment was roughly 15 minutes. Without luggage, we were a five minute scooter ride away (add to discuss later).
Denver had it all covered. Between light rail, fleets of scooters (for better or worse), miles of bike lane, and a substantial bus system with dedicated streets, you could get across town in no time without even having to use Uber, let alone a personal car. Granted, we were staying in a convenient location to go vehicle-less, but isn’t that the point of smart urban design?
What we were told by people in the city is that the abundance of public transportation we were experiencing is relatively new. It’s hard to imagine the city government didn’t benefit tremendously from the legalization of marijuana and its increase of the tax base. North Carolina, maybe it’s time to join the future and also take advantage of well-to-do white grad students and their vices? Light rail has been a topic of discussion in Durham since my dad wrote about it as a NCCU student in the late 80s.
If we want to consider the Triangle a legit alternative to places like San Francisco, New York, Seattle, etc., we’re going to have to dramatically improve our transportation infrastructure. Just a few weeks ago, a cyclist was hit at an intersection in Durham. It’s time we get creative and support a diversity of transportation needs for the sake of all our citizens.
LOSER: ELECTRIC SCOOTERS
As much as I loved my trip to Denver, I still have PSTD from almost being bulldozed by some kid vaping on a Spin e-scooter. Durham just got its own nightmares-on-wheels. I’m less than thrilled. Yes, I’ve tried them. They’re fine. Are they worth the mental and physical health of anyone walking on the sidewalk downtown? The one use case that I could see these being valuable is essentially making them the park-and-ride. Leave your car on one side of downtown and scooter over to the other in a matter of minutes. Just stay out of my bike lanes with all that swerving.
Creativity shouldn’t be sacrificed for speed and easy money, and people shouldn’t be subjected to the tired old boring excuse for an apartment building we have here in Durham. You can hear the echos of staple guns clapping and if you are standing close enough, you can smell the Elmer’s glue they use to put together these cardboard cutouts called Bell West End and BullHouse.
In Denver, you had your typical set up: a few high rises here and there, some apartments modeled after a 5 year old’s first Lego set, and so on. I wasn’t surprised. What did catch my attention were the less-traditional models: front porches underground, solar panels installed on the rooftops. In such a “creative” city like Durham, why can’t our real estate developers think outside the boxes their building for other people to live in?
Look, I understand. I ran a business. There’s a degree of maximizing profit that is undeniable, if that’s what you’re in it for. It’s my understanding that Durham isn’t. We don’t prioritize profit over creativity and equity, and yet, I can’t tell any of the apartments, well, apart. Where are our standards? Where are the innovators? And why are we not prioritizing those architects who think differently?
Years ago, this is what we feared most. That Durham would become Anywhere, USA, its resources sucked up to fulfill the dreams of some ambitious tycoon from up north with too much time on their hands and no imagination. Capitalism would run its course and when they were done with us, they’d pick up and move, leaving the same restored car garages and old warehouses empty and abandoned. The cycle continues.
LOSER: LIZARD PEOPLE
WINNER: LEGAL CANNABIS
Seriously. What are we waiting for?
All the aforementioned winners like public transportation and affordable housing, and even the unmentioned potential winners like public schools and green technology, are all on the other side of legalization. I understand the hesitation of those who don’t want North Carolina to become a “destination” but if not this, then what?
Blah, blah. “Weed turns your brain to mush.” So does alcohol.
Blah, blah. “The science isn’t conclusive on marijuana.” You know what it is conclusive on? Alcohol, and we still sell it to millions of people everyday.
I know the drill. I know what weed does to your body, to your psyche. To be honest, we could probably all use a hit right about now.
I’m beginning to understand the importance of traveling. Perspective is vital to a discussion about what’s right and wrong for a city. Durham is amazing! I couldn’t have asked for a better place to grow up but it’s not unassailable. We’ll have to learn from other cities, and the transplants their sending us, if we want to continue evolving into a city we can be proud of.