Mayor Bill Bell eschewed the standard State of the City address for something less conventional Monday night, giving the annual speech in the form of a fireside chat – minus the fire.
“You all pretend,” he joked to the audience.
The night kicked off with a video titled “This is How We Do It in the Bull City.” The clip featured Durham accomplishments from the past year interspersed with city employees, including Bell, dancing to the the ’90s Montell Jordan classic.
Following the video, interim president of Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce Bill Shore asked Bell about the city’s progress and continued growth.
“There used to be a time we visited other cities to try to find out how they did things,” Bell replied, “but I can tell you now we’re having more people come to Durham and asking, ‘How did you do it?’”
Bell noted Durham is now the fourth largest city in North Carolina.
“What’s unique about Durham is we’ve done that by people coming here, not by annexations,” he said.
Shore commented on the investments coming into the city from all over the world.
“There was a time when we were begging for people to come, and now we’re trying to be a little more discerning,” Bell said.
As Durham grows, it’s not just about downtown.
Mayor Bill Bell
Bell wants to continue making downtown Durham a “24/7 destination point for people living there, working there and coming there for entertainment.”
He also hopes downtown will become home to dry cleaners, grocery stores, and other businesses to make it a “livable, walkable community.”
Still, despite the focus on downtown, Bell highlighted the need for city-wide progress.
“As Durham grows, it’s not just about downtown,” he said. “Downtown is the center of what’s happening, but we have to be cognizant of the fact that we want this growth to take place in other parts of our community. That means having housing that’s affordable.”
The two men also discussed crime, which, after declining from 2001 to 2013, has been rising since 2014.
Bell said two task forces visited Boston and Kansas City, Missouri, to study crime-reduction strategies. “They’ve come back, and we’re in the process of trying to discern how we’re going to implement some of the practices they saw,” he said.
Finally, as Bell has chosen not to seek reelection, Shore asked about the biggest challenges he would face in his final two years as mayor.
Bill listed affordable housing, reducing crime, improving roads, and providing more recreation facilities as priorities. “Those things won’t get done in two years,” he said, “but hopefully they’ll be on our plate so that at some point they will come to fruition.”
“The state of the city is good and getting better,” Bell concluded. “As I look forward I’m very hopeful. I’m in Durham by choice, not by chance.”