Linda Haac: Facing our identity crisis

January 3, 2014 

The season has arrived when our thoughts turn to reflection and reassessment – to the perennial question (if we’ve made it this far): What comes next?

For our little part of the world, this has become a vexing question. We’re in transition here, and that’s not exactly a comfortable place to be.

Let’s face it: We’re experiencing a bit of an identity crisis. We’re two small towns with outsized ambitions.

Yet at the same time, in this moment we’re unsure of where we stand.

We’re especially concerned our neighbor to the north is outdoing us, the one eight miles up the highway, the one where the young people are flocking, the one with the other university with that great basketball team and all those great new restaurants, the one that used to smell like tobacco but now smells more like the possibility of incoming dollars.

There may be new opportunities ahead for us, but we’re entering uncharted ground. There isn’t a map for our particular plot of land, although we’re being offered assurances by some who feel they know the way ahead, have the vision to urge us forward and possess the dream that once again will make us the most envied place to be.

Others of us feel the crystal ball is a little less clear. We’re worried that things may not turn out as touted. We’re fond of where we’ve been so far. Why rush into things? What will work anyway?

Now is the time to take stock. Now is the time to consider what’s at stake. What’s beneath the sound and the fury, the promises and the complaints, the marketing and the actual realities?

What do we want to be anyway: A prototypical college town? An upscale bedroom community for Research Triangle Park? Another suburban enclave? A neo-urbanist model city?

What quality of life do we want?

Some of the most pressing questions include: Are we building on the things that made us such a good place to be in the past? In business parlance, what exactly is our unique selling point? Is it good enough to be “the edge of the Triangle”? What does that tag line mean anyway?

The complaints are telling:

Many of our citizens don’t feel their voices are being adequately listened to.

Rumblings continue about several recent decisions related to our schools, which have always served as the bulwark for our real-estate stability.

We’ve gone ahead and approved a light-rail tax, although we have yet to have an in-town bus system that allows our non-students to get anywhere in a convenient manner.

We’re busy talking about constructing buildings that take into account climate change without talking that much about trees or impervious surface, which make such a large difference in terms of carbon load and stormwater run-off.

We’re thinking about building another mega-sports venue on our university campus when we haven’t yet recovered from the fall-out of the athletic scandals we’ve been facing recently.

We keep discussing our downtowns as if they’re sizable urban centers when they’re only a few blocks long.

At the same time, we’ve yet to get a handle on whether our land or our road system can handle the dreamscape outside of our downtowns that developers have been advocating for.

We insist we can solve a lot of our problems by just giving up our cars when job and time pressures continue to work against this.

We’ve always been the progressive center of our state and our university has led the South, but we don’t know how far to the hard right we’re going to be pushed.

We’re confused even about the littlest things, like what to call our newest sculpture, commonly known by some as “the cheese grater.”

Where do we go from here? That’s yet to be determined.

Linda Haac lives in Carrboro.

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