We’re fortunate to live in a community with many resources and services. That’s a large part of what makes southern Orange County so appealing to newcomers, and so hard for natives and Carolina graduates to leave.
But our community isn’t perfect. We don’t have it all. The way we live is changing, and so our community and the things we want to see in it have to change, too. How we currently live and how people will live in 50 years are sure to be different. It’s important that we keep this evolution in mind in making decisions now that shape our community later.
We should start today to identify what’s missing in our community. For example, community conversations have already identified a desire for things like an arts district, more robust public transit options, more green space, housing options that are affordable for everyone, retail choices that don’t require driving to Durham, and commercial space to support microenterprises and makers.
But these things won’t happen overnight, and not without other changes in our community. Expanding and achieving a higher level of local access to goods and services requires smart urban policy informed by a variety of opinions including those from young professionals, shift workers, current students, and other residents.
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We could make more of the rich cultural environment we have here with an arts and entertainment district from Morehead Planetarium to the Carrboro Farmer’s Market. Successful events such as the 2nd Friday Artwalk and the recent Shimmer: The Art of Light event cross boundaries and successfully bring throngs of people out to both downtowns. Because a unified district would cross town lines, we’ll need smart, coordinated urban policy to foster this innovative idea and others like it, which encourage downtown business and enhance our community’s local flare.
With new transit tax revenues coming in, we’ve seen an increase in public transit service, especially on routes serving shift workers who rely on our buses to get to and from work. Carrboro will soon, for the first time, have direct regional service to Durham, too. And the strong collaboration between UNC and the towns continues to support the Tar Heel Express and similar shuttle service to the Carrboro Music Festival. What if we continued to build on these successful services to provide more direct connections across town, like on Saturdays between the Carrboro and Chapel Hill Farmers’ Markets? As we look to the future and changing trends in car ownership, we must plan to provide more frequent, reliable transit service, including both light rail and bus rapid transit options.
We’re fortunate already to have a large number of parks given our land area, a growing greenway network, and beautiful open spaces on the UNC campus. But we must continue to adequately provide green space as we become more urban — and not just for passive recreation. As we work to close the missing links in our pedestrian and bicycle plans, our greenways in particular are crucial to expanding and enhancing connectivity for the increasing number of non-car commuters. Paved greenways are one of the best ways to strengthen this connectivity.
Our community prides itself on being a welcoming, diverse, and vibrant place. To live up to our values, we must implement the solutions required to make living and doing business here more affordable and accessible. We have to add new housing to meet market demand and work to provide housing for those most in need. Adding new housing choices with easy access to transit, jobs and retail is the best way to do this. We also have to add reasonably priced and flexible commercial space for emerging enterprises, entrepreneurs, makers and other small business types both in our downtown cores and on transit routes.
Smart planning and collaboration between our local governments, UNC, developers, and residents enabled us to achieve all that we have today — and we need more of that to continue to develop the cool stuff we value and that brings visitors and new residents to our community.
Travis Crayton and Molly De Marco are editors of the blog OrangePolitics.org and live in Chapel Hill. You can write to them, as well as respond to this column, at firstname.lastname@example.org