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.
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)
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.
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.
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.