Chapel Hill: Opinion

Editorial: The kingdom on the hill

Once upon a time, five years ago, the leaders of a small kingdom on a hill assembled in a local inn fronted by an ornate fountain to listen to a former member of the court who had traveled to near and distant lands.

A malaise had settled on the kingdom. The leaders, who liked alliteration (having at times called themselves the Public Private Partnership and later, the Community Leadership Council), hoped the learned traveler could help them restore their luster.

But instead of reassuring the assembled, Sir Ted of Abernathy delivered a sobering message:

The kingdom on the hill had lost its magic.

Oh, the kingdom was still a good place to live, with an esteemed university, fine shopping and public academies where the children of those who could afford the land’s expensive homes and taxes could obtain an education of the highest caliber.

But the kingdom was no longer attracting enough new people, not to live and increasingly not even to patronize its noted dining and entertainment establishments.

Surrounding kingdoms had poured gold into their public squares, Sir Ted of Abernathy said. This investment had attracted merchants and entrepreneurs who in turn attracted the finest chefs, artisans and musicians whose powerful magic at first rivaled and then surpassed that of the small kingdom on the hill.

And so the leaders of the kingdom set to work.

They began to remake their public square in the image of near and distant lands they visited. Overnight, it seemed to many villagers toiling in the fields, great towers rose along the square’s narrow footpaths.

But the towers proved more costly than some anticipated. Some tower builders lost their fortunes. Others, seeking to recoup their investment, charged so much to live or work in the towers that only outsiders could afford them. Shopkeepers who had served the kingdom for generations were forced to make way for the new.

But the transformation had begun. And soon, one tower begot another until the paths of the public square began to resemble canyons blocking out the sun.

And so the leaders began to look out, at the entrances to the kingdom from the north and south and east, and see how they too might be transformed to help bring back the lost magic, and to fortify the kingdom’s coffers.

And the villagers, most of them too busy to have paid close attention, grew restless.

Because in the rush to become something else, many feared the something that was ... was getting lost.

It had always been elusive, this magical sense of place, defined more by ideals than infrastructure.

But some understood. They came to experience anew the adventure of youth. They relaxed on the stone walls and under the boughs of the ancient trees shading the footpaths. They strolled easily along the gently scaled storefronts, browsing windows for a memento or bite to eat.

And the leaders stood at a crossroad.

They had a chance to remember what had brought the magic to the kingdom and to build on that – rather than to simply build.