Opinion

What is gentrification, and why does it matter anyway? – Mark Schultz

What is news?

When I ask that question, I sometimes get “News is something that happened.”

And it is. We’re pretty good at telling you how the city council voted Monday night or, at least online, who won the game.

We’re less good at telling you what is happening. Covering a story while it’s still going on, in time for you to make a difference.

That stops now. Because now, more than ever, we recognize that you, the readers, are an essential part of shaping the story.

The biggest story in Durham right now is what kind of city is Durham becoming. Call it gentrification. Or call it something else.

This month The Herald-Sun launches a year-long look at rising housing costs in the Bull City, with side trips to Chapel Hill and Orange County where neighborhoods are also changing and some neighbors face being displaced.

Displaced. Even the word cleans it up: call it moved out, evicted.

“Something deeply unfair is happening in Durham right now,” Duke professor Robin Kirk says in introducing a youtube talk on gentrification by Mel Norton, current president of the Durham Community Land Trustees. (Disclosure: Kirk writes a monthly My View column for The Herald-Sun.]

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Our project will have four components: staff education, statistical analysis, audience engagement (that’s you), and a solutions-oriented approach.

The last part is key: Newspapers are good at presenting the debate: the council speakers, the protests in the streets – what Jan Schaffer of the Pew Center for Civic Journalism (and country star Kenny Chesney) have called “the noise.”

Equally important, Schaffer has said, is covering the silences, getting out into the community to hear from people who don’t come to City Hall or join the picket line.

So today, I ask for your help. We have some ideas of our own, but first, tell us what questions you have about how Durham is changing. Here’s a few to get you thinking:

What is gentrification?

Is all redevelopment gentrification?

What parts of Durham are getting the most expensive the fastest?

Has any in-demand community been able to remain affordable to people of different income levels?

Why does it matter?

We are starting our staff education this week with a visit from Norton and Tia Hall, who are part of Bull City 150: Reckoning with Durham’s Past to Build a More Equitable Future, a project of the Sanford School of Public Policy and the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke. They’ll provide a historical perspective on why certain Durham neighborhoods have been affected first. (It’s no accident.)

But we are going into this with an open mind. New housing, even expensive new housing, has pluses: better housing quality, more property taxes for the city. We may not even put the word gentrification in the project title.

Please send your questions and suggestions to me at mschultz@heraldsun.com. Or watch the paper and our social media pages on Facebook and on Twitter @TheHerald_Sun for announcements about office hours and other events where you can meet our reporters and join the conversation.

Mark Schultz is the managing editor of The Herald-Sun. You can reach him at 919-829-8950, follow him on Facebook and on Twitter @HeraldSunEditor.

Follow more of our reporting on Gentrification and neighborhood change in Durham

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