Why we love Durham

Staff WriterJune 27, 2009 

The other day, your correspondent was honored to be a guest on WUNC's "State of Things" program. The topic of conversation was Durham's presence on a magazine's Top 10 Places to Live list.

Host Frank Stasio, Kevin Davis of "Bull City Rising" blog renown and yours truly spent 12 minutes talking about our adopted hometown, always an enjoyable thing to do. Serious or snide, there's just so much to talk about.

And, as our 43 years' voluntary association with Durham testifies -- to borrow an old slogan from a previous hometown, Gainesville, Fla. -- "We Like It Here."

Still, one must recognize that, while it was awfully nice to see "Durham" standing alone among U.S. News's Top 10, without the customary "Raleigh/" prefix, such lists are a dime a dozen these days

And, where towns are concerned, they usually pick up on press-agenty hype like cheap houses, high incomes and stuff to do in your leisure time, as if anybody had any of it. Wherever a hot property may be, list-makers work and live someplace else.

Someplace that doesn't have a brontosaurus.

It's fair to say that nothing, at least in recent memory, has so moved the folks of Durham as mutilation of the old dinosaur statue at the Museum of Life and Science.

From the moment word went out about the bronto's mutilation, there has been a torrent of comment, sadness and anger that very quickly coalesced into action leading to this week's word the old girl -- or boy -- is going to get put back right.

Observers from Beyond might find that all pretty silly, but what it says is just what makes Durham a best place to live for those of us who actually live here.

This place is home. It means something to us.

In all the attention directed to what's new, improved and imported in town, the fact remains that Durham is the place a lot of people grew up and grew old. (Well, middle-aged.) It holds memories and associations that people -- in the sense of "folks" (if you don't get the distinction, ask a Southerner) -- hold close and dear, want to pass on to their grandchildren.

Who'd a-thunk a worn and weathered and scientifically incorrect old dinosaur could mean so much.

Think about the museum without the Ellerbe Creek Railroad. Think about downtown without the Carolina Theatre or Fayetteville Street without St. Joseph's.

The bronto is one of those icons of stability that say home is still there. As they go, home becomes just a place you used to live.

That's something it would be very good to keep in mind as our builders and boosters follow trends from on high. Durham isn't immune to turning into some place like everywhere else. Our N.C. 54 corridor is shaping up like Northern Virginia and North Raleigh; and our Bull City has no particular claim on adaptively re-used factories and warehouses or downtowns going condo.

Those aren't what make a town a home. Dinosaurs are -- pun intended.

jim.wise@newsobserver.com or 932-2004

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