Economy & Downtown
Chapel Hill's downtown has long benefited from its proximity to a captive audience of University students without cars. While downtowns around the country have been failing, ours has survived fairly well. However, we have seen an increase in the number of chain stores locating downtown, and instability in the Downtown Economic Development Corporation. In the near future, we will see new Town-directed development on two major parking lots have a big impact.
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Carrboro's downtown has also done better than many towns of comparable size, thanks largely to the presence of Weaver Street Market and progressive shoppers from the rest of the county. The Board of Aldermen has been addressing the evolution of the downtown, and have established a number of community resources in the downtown area including free wireless Internet access, and a low-power radio station.
In early 2015, UNC-Chapel Hill released an extensive report about the business startups and spinoffs that faculty, students, and alumni have created. This report quantifies the impact of these businesses: 150+ businesses, 8,000 jobs created, and $7 billion in annual revenue for the state of North Carolina.
But what this report doesn’t detail is the direct impact of these startups and spinoffs on our local economy here in Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Orange County. There’s a pretty simple reason for that: Few startups coming out of UNC stay in our community. So why can’t Chapel Hill foster a local startup scene when other college towns, like Boulder and Cambridge, have gotten national attention for the startup economies they’ve developed in their own communities?
Last October, the Campaign for Racial Equity in Our Schools—a coalition of students, parents, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools staff, and concerned community advocates—released a report detailing the racial inequities that plague the Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools and making recommendations for beginning to resolve those inequities.
This commentary, written by me and fellow OP editor Molly De Marco, originally appeared in the Chapel Hill News on July 26, 2015.
Chapel Hill has a branding problem. There, we said it – and we said it because it’s time for us to have a frank and honest discussion about just exactly what Chapel Hill is and who we are as Chapel Hillians.
Far too often these days, it’s common for people to compare Chapel Hill to Durham or even Raleigh. But the fact is that we’re not Durham and we’re not Raleigh – and more importantly, we’re not competing with Durham or Raleigh.
Rather, as one of the nation’s leading and most desirable college towns, we’re competing with towns and cities across the country with major research universities, like Ann Arbor, Bloomington, Athens, and Austin.
Acknowledging this is the first step toward developing a Chapel Hill brand and using it to attract the individuals, businesses, and opportunities that will make Chapel Hill a unique regional and national leader.
Last week, you might have read a Gizmodo article about how millennials will live in cities unlike anything we've ever seen before. If you haven't read it yet, I highly encourage you to, because, unlike so many articles in the media today, this one does an excellent job of capturing the nuances of why we are seeing certain behavioral patterns among millennials when it comes to where we live.
The critical takeaway from this article is one that has major implications for us in Chapel Hill/Carrboro: Millennials are choosing to live in urban neighborhoods, but not necessarily in urban downtowns.
This behavioral pattern shows that what millennials value is not the big city life itself, but having easy access to amenities like walkability and public transit. For suburbs around the country, this means attracting the next generation of Americans requires urbanizing to provide these kind of amenities.
Starting next week, I'll be hosting a series of four Town Hall events that each focus on a different issue in our community: downtown Chapel Hill, social and environmental justice, economic development and working together in Orange County.
I want these events to be an opportunity for residents to engage and take an active role in shaping the future of our town. All you need to bring is an open mind and ideas for how we can build a more vibrant, livable community. Here's the schedule:
Issue: Downtown Chapel Hill
When: Wednesday, Feb. 25th at 5:30 p.m.
Where: DSI Comedy, 62 W Franklin St, Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Click here to see full event details and RSVP for the downtown Chapel Hill Town Hall.
Issue: Social and Environmental Justice
When: Saturday, Feb. 28th at 1 p.m.
Where: Rogers Road Community Center, 101 Edgar Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27516
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