j.c.'s Blog

Toy City

Dec 24, 2009 | 2 minutes read

I live in a toy city.

I know that sounds unforgivably insulting, but bear with me.

Durham is a wonderful place. I love living here, and can’t easily imagine myself living elsewhere. But the fact remains that the city’s metropolitan trappings are largely in a class somewhere beneath those of bigger cities. ‘Duh,’ is probably your reaction—but I don’t simply mean they are smaller; they are generally proportionately poorer in their provisions than the their larger-city equivalents.

While a number of city services and infrastructure can be pointed at as an example, I’m put into particular mind of this by DATA, the Durham Area Transit Authority. For years, the bus infrastructure here has been problematic: there weren’t enough busses, weren’t enough bus drivers, weren’t enough mechanics to keep the few operational busses from breaking down. The various routes had insufficient crossover, and the only place where they did all meet—the central station—was a shack.

Durham undertook addressing that last complaint recently, and to their credit, the new central station is really nice. But all the other complaints still stand, and of them all the station was the least important.

The problem seems to be one of demographics. Durham has no—or very little—middle class. The city is largely split between a rich, educated upper class and a substantially poorer, comparatively less educated class. The latter group are the primary users of the city infrastructure. While Durham benefits from this groups relatively high political participation, they seem to lack the ability to bring pressure to bear in the ways available to the upper classes.

The upper class by contrast could effect some substantial change, but not enough of it cares—who uses the bus, after all?

A stronger middle class—a group that bridges the gap between consistent use of the infrastructure and the ability to influence the direction that infrastructure develops in—is something Durham really needs to escape its ‘toy’ status. I think it’s headed in that direction, but it has a long way to go. I look forwards to seeing it develop.