From the Editor’s Desk


From the desk of the Editor:

Aaron Mandel

There is a hearty debate about Durham’s development past and future underway. Now that is true on many levels of engagement, but in this case I refer to the particular eruption on two Facebook accounts, that of Open Durham (and founder Gary Kueber) and that of Preservation Durham. I would be curious to know just how many folks are following this debate. Since I do not have a personal Facebook account, I am only tangentially engaged.

However, I am deeply enmeshed/immersed/vested in the discussion of Durham’s future and development’s role. Sometimes there is a feeling in the air that each and every transplant wants to be the last one allowed into the city. It is not an uncommon psychology. The more people who find out about your hip secret thing, the less of a hip secret it becomes.

And with mainstreaming comes mainstream money.

I am a transplant and I love Durham.

Durham loves itself, this makes it all the more important that we engage all of our citizenry as widely as possible about the discussion of our city’s future. I am sure many of my fellow transplants from less well-preserved metro areas can preach chapter and verse on the evils of Strip Mall Hell.

Route 22 ring bells for anyone? Route 46?

photo with love from North Jersey

photo with love from North Jersey

Truth is, in fact, that’s where some of the uglier off-the-radar development projects are happening right now in Durham. If Open Durham is at least making the case for the preservation of historic buildings in downtown, who is defending the trees coming down by the hundreds along NC Hwy 751, just across 54, and along Fayetteville Road, just south of the Southpoint, and along Old Chapel Hill Road, just west of the Shannon Road Post Office… And on and on.

Durham's rural trees and roads are threatened

Durham’s rural trees and roads are threatened

The fear of Durham County turning it’s rural corridors into the hideous, plastic, cookie-cutter mess that 15-501 South in Orange and Chatham County have become is very real. Durham has some great rural roads and they shouldn’t all fall prey to the bulldozer’s blade strictly for the sake of dollars signs.

Kickin Grass “Backroads” (a Chatham County paean)

In downtown Durham, the nexus of debate between Open Durham and Preservation Durham (someone please do this) one could literally create a photoshoot entitled “Cranes over Durham.” And this is just the tip of the development iceberg for what is slated to be built over the next twenty-four months.

I would speculate that what set off Open Durham’s amazing Facebook rant, complete with every bit of photographic evidence you could want, was the meeting over the fate of the Liberty Warehouse adjacent to Durham Central Park. This warehouse is slated to be torn down and replaced with small, modern, expensive apartments and retail shops. (No word yet on how a 391 space parking deck somehow remains invisible in the conceptual drawings says on our man on scene, a neighborhood resident.)

conceptual drawing

Conceptual drawing…look how small the bus is for an idea of scale.

There are some legendary stories and amazing relics in the building. The current plan calls for demolishing the existing structure.


northeast side

other side

other side

Worse the current timeline seeks no public input beyond Preservation Durham’s help creating historic walkways…think a Hayti Heritage Center is funded after Hayti itself is demolished. Same concept.

In another popular Durham developer sop for the public move, they are offering to preserve the bricks from the building they deconstruct. How Disney of you! Who needs the original history?? Let’s have a facade instead. The same tactic is in play for the eminent domain confiscation of the pocket park in the Holland Street alley. They are going to destroy the park, but re-use the brick!

Um, hooray?

Looking at the past, I can understand why this might make a preservationist like Gary Kueber, who has seen many Durham treasures ripped down without debate, so frustrated. He makes his case with great eloquence. Clarion Content correspondent and thinker Toriano Fredericks sent me a terrific piece Kueber penned here.

Development is such a sticky wicket. I surely agree with Kueber that Durham’s ad hoc decision making has seen tons of cool old buildings demolished to little return. How do we solve that? Count on the politicians? The city fathers?

When Kueber talks about these issues, I can assure you that he has done his research, extensively and then some. I covered his terrific talk, “Durham: A Roaring Old Place” at The Carolina Theater in November 2012. Ironically, many members of Preservation Durham, whom Kueber has been taking to task this week, backed and attended that talk. Internecine fights are always the worst.

The question with the Liberty Arts warehouse (still home to the Liberty Arts Sculpture foundry) is can a compromise be found. Is there alternative dispute resolution available?

How does the citizenry make its say as valuable to the city as the developers? Tax dollars? Votes? Public meetings? Protests?

The debate is healthy. The future is unclear. Durham can be an awfully made place. But the two and a half degrees of small town separation serves us well, we know who the players are. They must be required to operate with transparency.

Everyone who isn’t a transplant went to high school here. We all have a vested stake. Should some of the stakes or votes really be worth more than others?

Conversely, do we have to have a Noah’s Ark ethic and preserving each and every old building? Isn’t change inevitable?

What about the social justice issues of affordable housing in Durham?

What say you?

The Clarion Content encourages your comments. Please extend the discussion and leave a reply at the end of this column.
“From the Editor’s Desk”

is written by our Editor: Aaron Mandel



Clarion Content Editor Aaron Mandel, photo by Jessica Arden Photography


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Aaron Mandel

Aaron Mandel is a writer and an accomplished public speaker. He is the publisher of the Clarion Content. For more than a decade, the Clarion Content has covered Durham’s arts, politics, music, and cultural milieu. From breaking news stories to the hottest local acts, the Clarion Content is on the scene. The Clarion Content published more than twenty distinguished guest columnists and garnered nearly a million views. Mandel is a volunteer for the Durham Mighty Pen Literacy Project and serves as the President of the Board of Sustain-A-Bull Durham, a local small business collective with more than 200 members. He writes regularly on the Clarion Content and has been quietly writing fiction since the 4th grade. Mandel has been published in the Raleigh News and Observer. He has also produced numerous art shows, including, “Durham under Development”. He was a featured speaker at “The State of Publishing” conference. He has presented to Durham Chamber of Commerce, “Chamber U” on the “New Media”. He has also served as the play-by-play announcer for the D.B.L., a Durham youth basketball league. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Religious Studies from Indiana University in Bloomington. An avid policy debater at Indiana and a Nation Debate Tournament qualifier, Mandel was also a member of the New Jersey State Champion two-person Policy Debate Team. He has lived in North Carolina, New Jersey, California, Texas, Illinois, Colorado, Indiana, and Baja California, Mexico.

1 Comment

  • Reply February 1, 2014


    The fate of Liberty was sealed the minute the city did the downtown overlay and allowed, by right, 6 stories on that land. It would have taken unprecedented foresight to realize this was the moment additional preservation protections were necessary. But neither the city, nor Preservation Durham, nor preservationists spoke up then. So here we are.

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