Finding Shared Experiences in Durham

Before moving to Durham, I lived in New York City.

(side note: prior to living in NYC, I used to hate when people went on and on about how great the city is. I hope you forgive me for one example of something I appreciated about NYC and just know that I had my fair share of issues with the city as well)

Looking back, one of the magical aspects of the city is the subway system. New Yorkers love to complain about it and in many ways, they aren't wrong. It has a ton of logistical problems: overcrowding, old infrastructure, financial issues. In the summer, it's hot and smelly and you sweat through your clothes. In the winter, it's still hot and sweaty and you are wearing a winter coat!

However, there is no better opportunity for people-watching than on a NYC subway car. You see Wall Street traders in suits, blue-collar workers, students, people of all races and from different countries of origins. You hear languages, some that you can place ("I think that's French!") and some that you can't quite figure out. From families, to college kids, to the elderly, to packs of tourists, everyone rides the subway.

Riding the subway is a shared experience for all New Yorkers. They complain about it, strategize about the best routes, and talk about how long it takes to get from one part of the city to another. They know that the New Yorker on the other side of the conversation will always be able to relate. Subways are unifying.

When I first moved to Durham, I wanted to explore. On a warm summer day, I was walking around Golden Belt/Northeast Central Durham. I always love to pop into grocery stores. It gives me a great sense of the community that lives in the area, plus they usually have good air conditioning!

I was just leaving Los Primos on Alston Ave when a seemingly concerned young man approached me. "Are you alright?" he asked. "Do you need directions?"

I am not going to pretend that I don't "see race" or that living in NYC somehow made me oblivious to this type of interaction. This African American man was wondering what a young white man was doing in the neighborhood and genuinely wanted to help point me towards my destination (which, in his mind, obviously wasn't in this neighborhood). It was a different type of experience from what I was used to.

I was an outsider in this neighborhood. With the growth of Durham, this community runs the risk of changing rapidly, though. People who used to call it home become could become the outsiders. Gentrification has a way of skipping over the ideal of an integrated, diverse neighborhood, where all types of people can live and thrive. No city has solved this problem, but perhaps more shared experience could be one piece of the solution.

Of course, Durham will never have an arterial network of subways, nor should it. Durham has its own identity and needs its own shared experiences, its own points of pride. When Runaway Clothes coined DURM, that branding became a shared experience. Cheering for the Durham Bulls is a shared experience. Mixed income housing has the potential to create shared experiences. However, we need more. We need ways to enforce the idea that our "tribe", our "pack" includes all citizens of Durham.

I don't know what future initiatives will have the power to bring Durham together, but as I listen to the goals of Durham's leadership and listen to conversations around town, I think we are up to the task of figuring it out.

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