When Art Reflects Reality (Even After 130 Years)

As I took my seat in the Paul Green Theatre last Saturday for PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production of An Enemy of the People, I had no expectation that the performance would resonate with the kind of local government discourse and behavior I see right here in Chapel Hill. Yet, as the play began and the story unfolded, that is exactly what happened.

Written by Henrik Ibsen in 1882 and adapted by Arthur Miller in 1950, Enemy tells the story of Dr. Stockmann, a physician who attempts to expose an inconvenient truth about his town, only to find himself and his family alienated, alone, and in danger as a result of his actions.

As the play reaches its climax, Dr. Stockmann makes a final attempt to convey his findings and alert his community to what he has uncovered. But rather than being able to speak freely, he is silenced from speaking about the issue at hand, which causes him to dive into a monologue condemning the tyranny of the majority, the silencing of his freedom of speech, and the hypocrisy of those around him who abandon their values in the face of inconvenient truths.

PlayMakers dramaturg Gregory Kable perhaps best summarizes why Enemy feels relevant today in his dramaturg’s note:

As Ibsen confided to his publisher, “I am uncertain as to whether I should call [An Enemy of the People] a comedy or a straight drama. It has many of the traits of a comedy, but is also based on a serious idea.” That tragicomic tone contributes as much to the modern feel of Enemy as its parallels with whistleblowers, environmentalism, science colliding with vested interests, public debates driven by rumor and opinion, violently partisan politics, and all collusions of the press.

The parallels between Dr. Stockmann’s story and Kable’s analysis of Enemy and what’s happening right here in Chapel Hill local politics are uncanny.

When the Town Council hears a new, controversial development proposal, a majority of people who come to speak on that proposal seem to believe that, unless the Council agrees with them 100%, councilmembers must not have been listening. They believe this even when they come to the Council with factual inaccuracies and misrepresentations of data to support their point of view. (And they believe this despite the fact that, as I’ve written about elsewhere, those who speak at meetings are by no means representative of our community at large.)

We have also seen in numerous debates in Chapel Hill the denial of inconvenient truths, such as how some in our community continue to advocate against providing new housing units despite clear evidence that inadequate housing supply contributes to skyrocketing home prices and rents. And we’ve even seen these people advocate for such policies claiming they will actually help make our community more affordable despite compelling evidence to the contrary.

We have seen so-called environmentalists advocate for policies that promote development patterns that undeniably cause environmental harm, such as low-density, single-family sprawl and more (preferably free) parking that incentivizes people to drive and pollute rather than walk, bike, or take the bus.

We have seen a dominant narrative begin to emerge in the local media that does not present complete facts or a balanced picture of the views of our community. Thankfully, we’ve seen some community leaders, like Councilmember George Cianciolo, appropriately respond to correct such misrepresentations of fact, just as he did recently on his Facebook page in response to an op-ed about the Council’s approval of the Edge development:

[This editorial] states "...ended with the council voting to use taxpayer money to subsidize developers of the Edge". No, the Council did not vote to use taxpayers money to subsidize anything. The developers are required by the stipulations of the Special Use Permit (SUP) to provide all of the roadway improvements described. And [the author] knows this as does this newspaper's reporter who was there for the meeting. Yet the editor chooses to allow such misrepresentations, apparently with the idea that controversy might generate more leadership.

What the Town Council did do was to vote to have further discussions with the developer to decide if we want to assist in the roadway improvements with the goal that such assistance might allow for a even better product. Absolutely no decision was made regarding such assistance.

[The author] also fails to point out that the vote for approval was a unanimous 8-0, including Council Member Czajkowski. Having that land sit vacant for the next 10-20 years, as [the author] and others would have us do, would certainly bring neither any economic benefit to Chapel Hill nor would it bring any affordable housing. And that is an issue that the 8 members of Council clearly understood.

On some level, it’s discouraging to think about how little has changed that a play written over 130 years ago can still resonate so resoundingly. But what I do find encouraging is that, unlike in Dr. Stockmann’s town, at least our elected officials are actively working to make sound decisions rooted in fact and that truly reflect our values--even if that means their decisions are misrepresented by others in our community. That’s the kind of political courage we should admire and encourage in our community leaders.

An Enemy of the People runs through March 15. Tickets are available online.

Issues: 

Total votes: 257

Comments

Travis, I would extend that to the county as well. We live in a busy community and some folks barely have enough time for themselves let alone day to day activity of local politics. They depend on the media to get the story right. Printing non-factual articles, be it opinion pieces or other should have a disclaimer. This shock-jock mind set of blogging and news articles misrepresent facts and only makes the job of our leaders more difficult as we have to prove the statements wrong before we can move forward with the facts. It's not a healthly way to have reasonable conversations. 

 

 

And there I was, all ready to applaud a piece by one of the OP Editorial Team, bravely exposing the inability of the establishments in Chapel Hill and Carrboro to accept inconvenient truths - which, of course, is the actual plotline of Ibsen's play; that is to say, establishments not accepting inconvenient truths.

Boy, was I disappointed. Factcheck: a point of view is still a point of view. It is not a truth, just because one supports it.

Data is statistics. And we know what has been written about them.

Journalists are people. People have feelings. And, whether we like it or not (and generally, I don't), journalists tend to be subjective rather than objective. Doesn't make the feelings wrong.

Frankly, along with a correct interpretation of Ibsen, I might have preferred from an OP Editor a more nuanced post, wondering why so many feel uncomfortable with the seeming obsession of our establishments for the developments they support, rather than a piece distorting Ibsen, in order to promote a particular point of view.

It is you Mr. Crayton that should be condemed not only for a poorly written attack that leaves the reader wondering about your cognative abilities but for a hypocracy of the first order. It is pretty clear from this and past posts that you have trouble seperating belief from knowledge.and.that your second language is outlandish. 

Reading this was a trip to room 101. 2+2= 5.

On the topic of housing, the latest post at City Beautiful 21 summarizes recent evidence on the role that increasing housing supply can play in moderating growth in rents. Of course, supply and demand aren't the only important variables in the crisis of housing affordability in our communities, but they're clearly important.

Correction Alert:  No one ever advocated for The Edge to remain undeveloped.  Quite to the contrary, citizens asked Council to pursue the goal that Council itself has repeatedly said that it wanted - an increase in the commercial tax base.  Instead, Town Council agreed to over 30 modifications to ordinances including one that will allow Northwood Ravin to develop The Edge with up to a 75% residential component if they cannot get retail to locate there...the "there" being possibly the best site in Chapel Hill for commercial development - directly off of I-40 exit 266.  Where was the negotiating?  Why not aim for less of a give away?  Why not attach some condidtions that support the pursit for commercail development?

Some citizens of Chapel Hill do, in fact, deny inconvenient truths despite compelling evidence.  For example, the financial analysis supplied by The Edge developers omitted any costs for transit - we certainly would want those hundreds of resident owned cars to use transit - and they utilized a residential component of 64% in their computations, despite asking for a modification of up to 75% residential.  Dr. Mitch Renkow, Professor of Economics at NC State, could theorize about the why behind that.  Perhaps he would suggest that using a lower percentage would mitigate the lack of a positive revenue stream from residential development, a fact that he has documented and published.  We hear about increased property tax revenue that comes from new multi-family residential development, but the corollary, increased cost of services for those residents is ignored.

 When Councilman Cianciolo said that "nothing has been decided," about the road costs, there is a contadiction in his statement - he says that the developers are bound "to provide all of the roadway improvements described," and later,"if we want to assist in the roadway improvements with the goal that such assisstance might allow for an even better product." in order to c  So- it HAS been decided, one way or the other, the roadway improvements will be made.

And what will happen if Council chooses to help  fund the roadwork with millions of dollars of taxpayer money?  Under that circumstance, the developer OFFERED to sell the land to the Town, if they are unsuccessful in obtaining grant money for affordable housing within 10 years, for the grand sum of one dollar.  Check the video if you doublt it.  Unfortunately, no one took him up on it. However, the council did agree  that one of the following would happen would happen if NR cannot obtain AH grants within 5 years:  1) NR would ask for an extension, 2) NR would come up with a new Council approved AH plan, or 3) The Town would buy the land at the REASSESSED 2016 TAX VALUE.  While the roadway investment is not part of this scenario, NR stated a number of times that they cannot provide AH without the roadway investment by the Town.   Follow the dots.

Councilman Cianciolo was 100% correct that undeveloped, The Edge would certainly bring neither any economic development to CH nor would it bring any AH.  The SUP that Council opted to approve could have been made infinitlely better, therby bringing true economic benefit to CH if Council had stood up for what THEY said they wanted when talking to a motivated developer and owners. The Council seemed to forget that the ball was in their court.

Travis, you seem to have a propensity toward categorizing people you know nothing about, which I hope will change.  You refer to your fellow Town Citizens as "coming to the Council with factual inaccuracies and misrepresentations of data to support their point of view" with no evidence to support the charge.  You say that "so-called environmentalists advocate for policies that promote development patterns that undeniably cause environmental harm such as low-density, single family sprawl and more (probably free) parking that incentivizes people to drive and pollute rather than walk, bike, or take the bus."  I challenge you to find even one example of any of that totally made up list of allegations.  I was alone on the Planning Board when I sought reduced parking requirements so that people would use althernative modes of transportation.

Personally, I would consider it a badge of honor to be called Dr. Stockman.

I think everyone would agree that we have a problem with the high cost of housing in town. Givne that, why is this so problematic? "Instead, Town Council agreed to over 30 modifications to ordinances including one that will allow Northwood Ravin to develop The Edge with up to a 75% residential component if they cannot get retail to locate there."

It's not the most transit-friendly location possible, but I find it a heck of a lot more likely that people who live there would take transit to and from work downtown/at UNC (or even in Raleigh, on the express CRX) than it is that people would take transit to shop there.

Transit in or out is not the most important thing at that location at all. Wouldn't residents of the Edge want to have some convenient commercial shopping that they could walk to which would lead to more density?

I think they would like some convenient shopping. At least 25% of the development is required to be retail. That seems to provide a decent amount of shopping.

depends  on what that retail is, dosen't it?

Yep. Should Town Council legislate exactly which retail outlets should be required to exist there to make sure apartment dwellers have retail options?

....should hold out for a developer willing to build +25% commercial.which in my book is "appropriate urban form"

Twenty three, seven story buildings on 55 acres (600,000 to 837,000 sq. ft) with 15% commercial (90,000 to 125,000) my calculations say thats 600 to 800 households, perhaps more depending on the floor space of the units. With 15% commercial will leave little room for commercial competition and will promote vehicular traffic as people exit to find shopping elsewhere.

As people have pointed out elsewhere the service burden of commercial vs. residential (Cost of Community Services – CoCS) is generally lower making the tax burden less on the rest of us.

The minimum percentage of retail approved is15%.

 

Geoff, are you okay with The Edge possibley being a primarily residential development?  

I'm ok with the developer of The Edge providing whatever mix of uses it wants, so long as the urban form of the development is appropriate.

Please define "appropriate urban form" for the edge.

Thanks for a good question, Geoff.

It's encouraging that everyone seems to agree on the need for affordable and workforce housing.  Hopefully, we can build on that and support development that will further that goal.

Council has been stating loud and clear that we need to increase our commercial tax base.  That is because it provides more revenue than residential since no cost of services for residents is involved.As our budget becomes more and more strained, services are cut, which helps no one.  As I said before, if The Edge site cannot support commercial where in Chapel Hill will it succeed?

The problem with The Edge is that the financial impact analysis submitted BY THE APPLICANT, calculated no cost for stormwater managedment (preferringto leave that to staff), used a 64% residential component to assess costs despite the fact that the applicant wanted and received approval for up to 75% residential, and most relevant to your question, calculated ZERO costs for transit.  See:

http://chapel hillpublic.novusagenda.com/AttachmentViewer.aspx?AttachmentID=14458&ItemID=3041  

Why include this impact report if it is not going to be questioned?  Do you believe that it would cost the Town more to provide services to what could be 11% more residents?  With the strain that CH Transit is currently operating under how will it absorb all of these new riders - especially because the cost to service them is totally omitted?

Responsible development should ensure that Chapel Hill does not support private for profit development that will cost the town and it residents money. I won't even go into the potential contribution of over $1 million for road improvements for this private development. This will not help the fire and police personnel, teachers, hospital workers, etc whom we want to have an opportunity to live where they work.

On a related note, Durham planners are proposing inentives to increase the supply of affordable and workforce housing.  When this was suggested by citizens last year, it was summarily dismissed.  Why?  Just because citizens, who did the research and found that the process works, came up with it??

 

The Eubanks Road Park and Ride is served by the NS bus, which runs every 10 minutes during peak periods, and 20 minutes off peak. Aside from downtown Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and maybe Southern Village, they get the best bus service of anywhere in town. It's also the one of the proposed end points of the North-South Corridor BRT study that Chapel Hill is doing now to speed service along the MLK corridor. I have no idea what passenger loads are on the NS, but if you're going to put housing anywhere in town where you would have good-to-excellent transit service without necessarily needing to add more transit service, it would be along the NS line. Or along MLK more generally, where you have not only the NS but other routes that go downtown.

Geoff, 

Do you think that The Edge will continue to get the best bus service of almost anywhere?  The transit system , which I support, is currently made up of an old bus fleet and reduced funding.  How will the hoped for new ridership get their service, especially in light of the fact that The Edge fiscal analysis included ZERO costs to the town for transit?  As a matter of fact, what will the combination of Glen Lennox, The Edge, Ephesus Fordham, and Obey Creek plus other significant developments do to the ability to provide bus service?

I say this as a fervent supporter of transit.  Supporting it philosophically is one thing, but asking the hard questions to identify the challenges to its success is another.  I would rather ask those questions and try to solve those challenges so that transit can actually continue to function.

 

The question you're posing is how our transit system can continue to be funded. That's different from the question of whether we should allow additional development along existing major transit corridors where high-quality transit currently exists. There's a ton of bus service near Glen Lennox today, generally not at capacity except at the peak of the peak; Obey Creek is directly across from another park-and-ride, like the Edge, and Ephesus-Fordham doesn't have great service now but many routes pass by the complex and could be adopted it serve it better. Like Charterwood, these developments are located where the Town already provides substantial transit service.

Of the challenges facing Chapel Hill Transit, the possibility in > 10 years of a few thousand more people living along existing well-served transit corridors is not high on the list of problems. All IMHO, of course.

I believe that those two questions are intrinsically related.  Right now, we need an $80 million infusion just to maintain the existing level of service.  If that doesn't happen our high quality transit will suffer.  If we are at peak demand on some of the transit corridors (and I would suggest that the ability to handle peak demand reflects the adequacy of the transit service) how will we absorb additional ridership without increasing the capacity?  That will create a need for even a larger that $80 million investment or will result in cost-saving service cuts.  Transit is such a important and necessary end, but we have to lay a solid foundation on how to financially support it.  That is why it is so important to make sure that development that is approved results in a positive revenue stream that will help to support transit, affordable housing, and town services.  

Additionally, at The Edge in particular, I wonder who you think will be living there.  Generally, we think about the transit corridors serving students and employees at the University or the hospital,  Given that The Edge rentals are at the high end, isn't it more likely that that the tenants will be employees at RTP, well-off retirees, or families who want to be in the CHCSS but can't afford a house?

It seems to me that the problem is how we think about infrastructure. We live in a community where I think there is widespread support for services such as transit, excellent libraries, and high quality schools. We are also commited to social and environmental justice through affordable housing, closing a landfill before it was full, the rural buffer etc. Our expectations have converted all those services into basic infrastructure. But our financing practices haven't kept up with operations for that expanded infrastructure, let alone capital improvements. We already have high taxes which residents have chosen to support through bond referendums and re-election of the same officials over and over again. I applaud our values but question our problem solving skills. We either have to find new sources of revenues or give up our high expectations/expanded infrastructure. Building high rent apartments doesn't address the problem, and probably makes it worse. Ideally, I would say the Edge is an ideal site for a new edge node for commuters to RTP. But that's a simplistic response to a complex problem. I think we can do better.

Some facts, all of which I can document: Chapel Hill town residents -- not residents of the zip code area, which is about seven times the size of the town -- pay lower *municipal* taxes than taxpayers in Carrboro, Durham or Hillsborough (the latter having a tax rate about 20 percent higher than Chapel Hill's).  Your school supplement tax is the highest of its kind in the state by a lot. Your County tax rate, whose growth has slowed lately, is generally in the top 5 in the state. The town of Chapel Hill has not had a bond referendum in 12 years. In the same period, Raleigh had had at least five referenda. Chapel Hill residents who are not affiliated as employee or student with UNC pays slightly more than 3 percent of the total cost of the transit system, which is fare free because UNC wants it that way (and has good reasons for it). University staff in particular pay more. Facts. 

 

The county has to pay, in part or in full, for luxuries that Chapel Hill residents expect (separate library services and schools). So the claim that it's the county and the schools that create the impression of high taxes in CH doesn't really fly. As for the referendums, any county referendum is driven by Chapel Hill voters which have by far the majority position within the county. The county also shoulders the bill for social services.

Ed, you do understand that your first fact is a direct result of the fact that the bulk of the school system costs are transferred to the county budget, right? Municipalities are getting a bargain on the backs of the county residents. If CCHSS truly had a separately funded system rather than just a separate administration the towns costs would be much more and County taxes would drop significantly.

The votes to give an inordinate amount of money to Triangle Transit for the shaky promise of a 17 mile light rail system (mostly in Durham) has gutted the transit budget and raised sales tax and motor vehicle registration costs; hurting economic development efforts and those reliant on vehicles, most of whom will never be served by LRT. The town and University now charge for Park n Ride driving bus riders to park at South Square again helping to driving commerce out. Yes indeed, the LRT taxes are "shared" by the county residents even though they will never benefit. 

Despite hosting the reservoirs, the county does not share int he resource, and is burdened by overly restrictive water policies driven by Chapel Hills majority on the OWASA board. Residents and businesses cannot even get fire hydrants in commercial areas on 54 West where the OWASA water supply already runs. Residents now have to pay for recycling they don't need and live under constant threat from Chapel Hill and the University wanting to export their negative externalities (Airport, Landfill, and Transfer Station).

The sad fact is that Orange County residents do not have much to show for the top five tax rate which ultimately goes to pay for an awful lot of duplication.

You wrote: "The county is burdened by overly restrictive water policies driven by Chapel Hills majority on the OWASA board." Which policies do you find overly restrictive? As one of the two OWASA board members appointed by Orange County, I can tell you that we are all aligned on conservation policies. The fire hydrant issue is controlled by the municipal and county governing bodies and the rural buffer. OWASA doesn't have any say on that issue.

.... I was told by OWASA that they were unwilling to install hydrants from their raw water feeds in the commercial area on West 54. The county says they do not control that. Rather than relying on ponds that can go dry during a drought, Hydrants would give the local volunteer fire departments needed ISO points and help by reducing fire insurance rates in the southern part of Orange county.

If you are willing to listen and revisit the request, then I am happy to make a presentation. I am certain I can get supporting statements from the Fire Chiefs and boards of directors, the local EM directors office and the state Fire Marshalls office.

 

Please email your concerns to me at OWASA and I will follow up.

Thank you.

"The votes to give an inordinate amount of money to Triangle Transit for the shaky promise of a 17 mile light rail system (mostly in Durham) has gutted the transit budget ..."  This is completely non-factual, given the FACT that Chapel Hill Transit, a close cooperator with Triangle Transit, is getting $1 million this year from the sales tax, and more next year. WHEN the high-capacity transit is funded, the many thousands of people riding standing-room-only buses every 5 minutes in the NC 54 corridor into Orange County's major employer, can switch to a safer mode not subject to traffic congestion, and all of those buses can be moved elsewhere in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

UNC charges for park and ride lots because they could no longer afford not to do so. Given the location of the few Town lots, the Town had no choice but to charge for their use. No choice at all.

School district costs are in the county budget in Orange as they are every other county in NC. Municipalities do not fund schools in NC, and have not done so for many, many decades, in most places since the 19th century.

 

....the "high capacity" transit is funded. FACT: Meanwhile we continue to waste many millions on study after study in an effort to justify federal and state dollars for a relatively low priority project. FACT: the SRO buses do not only serve that 17 mile corridor and the buses you are counting are redeploying are ancient and need to be replaced.

FACT: Park n Ride was unaffordable due to other funds being cut at the state level and local funds were unavailable because they are being sucked up by the transit tax.

FACT: School districts are funded at the county level, so it is fundamentally misleading to trumpet “pay[ing] lower *municipal* taxes” as some kind of terrific accomplishment when referencing the schools.

"FACT: Meanwhile we continue to waste..."

It's hard to take this contribution to the discussion seriously when the first "fact" you present contains the word "waste." Unless you're talking about waste in the solid waste sense, waste is undeniably an opinion, not a fact.

Exactly how many "studies" have been done over the years and failed to secure funding for LRT? How many times has the cost been adjusted upward? You are partially correct though, waste is undeniable.

Molly McConnell shared her petition to Chapel Hill Council to help feed school children. She shared school district stats: 26.67% of the 12,471 CHCCS school children qualify for free or reduced lunch. Some of these children may be homeless but most are living in apartments and houses in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. What percentage of these are subsidized low income housing? How have these poverty numbers changed over time? 

 

 

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