What is Durham’s Identity?

Cities have different identities. Back in 2008, Paul Graham (Entrepreneur and Venture Capitalist) wrote an amazing post about the messagethat a city conveys. New York’s identity centers around making money. Cambridge/Boston’s identity is knowledge and education. Los Angeles has fame and Washington D.C. has power.

How does the new construction in downtown Durham influence the city’s message? What is Durham’s identity? WeWork announced that it iscoming to Durham and will be a tenant One City Center, downtown. I don’t know if WeWork had previously been considering Durham as a location for one of their co-working offices. However, the construction of One City Center created a space that made sense for them. It enabled WeWork to be a part of Durham’s rapid growth.


It remains to be seen, exactly how influential WeWork will be on Durham’s identity, but it has the potential to champion this city as a startup/innovation hub. WeWork has a relationship with Techstars, a startup accelerator with programs in cities across the globe. It wouldn’t be surprising for Techstars to create a program in Durham once WeWork opens. Combine that with AmericanUnderground’s multiple locations, as well as smaller co-working spaces such as Mothership, and Durham moving further towards an identity of innovation seems plausible.

Of course, there are many other identities that could emerge or have already emerged in Durham. The official city logo, until recently, included the phrase “City of Medicine”. Durham has been in the conversation for one of the best foodie cities of the south. Liberty Arts wants Durham to be to go-to city for metal working/sculpting in the arts. To me, the most powerful Durham identity is one of inclusive community. Durhamites care about each other. I have noticed strangers striking up friendly conversations around town. I have also been struck by the new Mayor, Steve Schewel’s dedication to making sure all Durhamites, regardless of race, religion, orientation, or socioeconomic status, get to participate in the city’s prosperity. Perhaps the identity is destined to be a combination of these messages.

As Durham grows and changes, its identity grows and changes along with it. The new construction and the new buildings, from One City Center, all the way to the new County Fare barn in Lakewood influence the direction and the message the city communicates to its residents and visitors.

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