Mused 8: Walking Ninth Street

by: Aaron Mandel

We want to see everything in binaries. Black and white. Good and bad. It is oversimplification, our heuristics become lazy.

Because, while there are dualities, pairs that make sense together, they are very rarely binary, the world is rainbow of hues, and few things are simply good or bad.

As I walked along Ninth Street south from Club Boulevard this week, I was reminded of such. For example, I have heard lots of criticism of the Solis apartments; too close to the street, out of character with the neighborhood, brown, ugly, and they did themselves no favors choosing a name that could be a play on words with “soul-less”.

Yet today, I counted nine, clearly occupied, balconies on the Ninth Street frontage side alone.

the beginnings of Solis on Ninth Street

the beginnings of Solis on Ninth Street

Solis under construction on Ninth Street

Solis under construction on Ninth Street

Solis under construction Green Street side

Solis under construction Green Street side

Solis nearly finished

Solis nearly finished

Solis opens

Solis opens

Are the merchants on Ninth Street unhappy about all these new residents? Vaguely Reminiscent and One World Market, will they be customers?  What about the restaurants? Banh’s and Dale’s, will they be diners?

¿Quien sabe? But I’d be hard pressed to bet against it.

I continued down the block and into the Erwin Square Commons, home to Harris Teeter, Burger Bach, and Juju among others.(1) There, after doing a little grocery shopping, I was preparing to walk back up the block, when I was struck by something that I hadn’t noticed previously, there wasn’t a single public place to sit down in the entire shopping plaza. Sure, Burger Bach, Juju, and even Panera have places for their patrons outside, but in what was once a massive field, there isn’t a single public seat.(2)

photo courtesy of Open Durham

photo courtesy of Open Durham

7 short years later from Google Maps

development seven short years later from Google Maps

However, just outside the perimeter on the west side of Ninth Street, there was an uncovered public bench. As I sat in the heat, I pondered for a moment about that open field, was it really public space then? Or was it an undeveloped lot, but, owned by someone?

I don’t know.

Right around the corner at Broad and Markham, Duke has served a harsh reminder that we frequently overestimate what we think is public space.

Duke East Campus tree slaughter

Duke East Campus tree slaughter

Say goodbye to these beauties

Say goodbye to these beauties

Duke Softball field 5

They have committed what the radical Gaian environmentalist in me wants to call a mass killing. Ripping out, destroying, and finally masticating nearly a dozen, hundred plus year-old trees on East Campus. It is their property. And they are going to build a softball field.

Duke Softball field 8

Duke Softball field 9

Duke Softball field 10

In this, capitalist reality, Duke, a private entity, generously allows residents of Durham to use the perimeter of their East Campus to walk and bike.

It is a hard construct, solidified by the force of law: the capitalist paradigm of private property on a sphere of limited size. We live on a globe whose surface area has been entirely mapped and claimed by one sovereign power or another.

Take solace that we are together in this shared conundrum; how to care for the planet and care for ourselves.

We discussed a good idea on the podcast the other day with Stephanie Leathers and Daria Drake which I practiced on my walk along Ninth Street, greeting people in passing.(3) Saying “Hello…” and “How are you?” when crossing paths in the public sphere.

Good news! People, young and old, have been responding.

It is a small step, a tiny reminder, we are all in it together.


Read old Mused columns by Aaron Mandel here.


(1) I was walking to the grocery store. It is a demonstration of how far we have yet to go. At least by walking, I didn’t consume gas, but I still bought my lunch and goods from a chain store that is part of the Food Inc. It reminds me of a story of an environmentalist, I believe I read in The Sun Magazine. It could have been elsewhere and I don’t recall the name of the person. They were an esteemed speaker and professor warning of ecological destruction for many years. Say, most of the last forty. They spread many important ideas and ecological concerns. The person had an energy efficient house, walked and biked to work whenever possible, shopped locally and with a careful eye to how and where products were sourced. Yet, this person worried, and as they explained in the article, that all the good efforts they had put in over the years, were likely outweighed in the planetary eco-equation by the jet fuel expended when the esteemed professor flew to conferences and the like over the course of her academic career. It is hard.

(2) This isn’t my hope for the future of Durham development.

(3) I traveled to New York City last week where I was reminded that in certain places, this saying hello to, acknowledging everyone, is entirely impractical. We have to search out and practice other demonstrations of our common humanity.

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.


  • Reply July 31, 2016

    Amy Campbell

    As the child of a 9th Street business owner, I’ve been following changes on the street for years (now from afar). According to my dad, business at the Regulator has been up lately, which I personally attribute to the completion of some of these developments. More residents in the neighborhood means more customers and more foot traffic for the store. And, while parking is still a big issue for the 9th Street business district, hopefully the increase in density will lead to more people walking, biking, and taking public transportation. All good things for us. It’s not necessarily good for store owners that occupy rented space, though, as their rents are rapidly increasing as property values in the area go up.

    Also, the field in question was always owned by Erwin Square, it was never public space. Now that there are more people living in that area, I think it would be great to reserve some land for a small park. I know several of the developments over there have built-in green space, but as you aptly point out none of it is publicly accessible.

  • Reply August 3, 2016


    I enjoy your musings Aaron.

    One thing not mentioned regarding all the housing getting built and density. People living in these new spaces are (or will be) Durhamites and part of our community. Going to work. Raising their kids. Meeting friends. Coming to the local events.

    I would wager they are happy to be part of the community. Happy to have home here. And for those that made a choice to move here, happy to find a place that matches their values.

    I suppose we should celebrate that they chose to come here and welcome them, rather than building a wall to keep them out, as one of our Presidential candidates has proposed. For what are they, but immigrants of a different nature?

    Who holds a legitimate claim to the community and what tenure is required. One year? Five years? Must I be born here? Do I get a score adjustment if I speak with a southern drawl? If I listen to NPR? If I have a COEXIST bumper sticker on my car?

    When am I allowed to “other” the newcomers?

    Close the door behind you friend.

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