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    Students find future in Durham now

    To get a look at the country’s future, take a look at Durham now. Such, at least, is the gist of study by two UNC graduate students.

    neighborrail.jpgStudents find future in Durham now
    By Jim Wise, jwise@newsobserver.com

    More diversity, more downtown living, more high-tech communication are on the horizon – and automobiles will remain the No. 1 way of getting around, according to “Forecasting Land Use Issues and Trends” which (DCRP 2014 MCRP Candidates) Daniel Band and Holly Safi researched and wrote for Durham’s City-County Planning Department.  “There’s nothing that’s necessarily new information,” said Planning Director Steve Medlin, “but it’s nice to have them put it in the form they did.”

    Among their predictions:

    • Increases in the elderly and Gen-Y populations will increase demand for inner-city rental housing

    • Electronic communications will encourage telecommuting and reduce the demand for office space

    • Online shopping will decrease demand for brick-and-mortar retail

    • More multi-generational households as well as more single-person households; fewer nuclear-family households

    • Continuing decline in the white proportion of Durham’s population relative to minorities.

    “The Triangle region has been attractive to seniors,” Safi told city and county officials last month. “Empty-nesters with financial ability have tended to move out of their large, suburban homes and into more urban areas with nearby amenities.”

    Similarly, the young and “creative class” sort of workers that Durham attracts “have shown a preference for high-density cities with thick job markets, efficient public transit, mixed living and job spaces, nightlife, cafes,” she said. Currently, Band said, Durham residents carpool a bit more and ride public transit a bit less than national averages. Personal vehicles are and will continue to be, by far, the transportation form of choice, but the rate of public-transit use will probably grow with rising populations of elderly, creative classers and low-wealth minorities.

    ‘Already there’

    Band and Safi see Durham diversity reflecting that of the nation as a whole. Population numbers indicate that within the next 50 years non-Hispanic whites will no longer be a majority population in the U.S.

    “In Durham, we’re already there,” Safi said. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Durham County’s white population dropped from 62.2 percent of the total in 1980 to 42.1 percent in 2010. In the same period, the Hispanic population grew from .8 percent to 13.5 percent.  Throughout, the report considers Durham in a context of nationwide trends, particularly the “Fifth Migration” – a term coined in 2007 by Robert Fishman, a planning professor at the University of Michigan, describing a movement from suburbs into city centers and inner-city suburbs. It reverses the “fourth migration” from cities into suburbs.

    (The “migration” concept belongs to sociologist Lewis Mumford, who published the idea in 1925 that America was then in its fourth: the first being westward settlement, the second a move from farms to industrial centers and the third into large cities.)

    “We don’t really know why this is happening,” Safi said. “Perhaps there’s an environmental awareness or simply a frustration with traffic.  We do know that high-density areas are more energy-efficient per capita, reduce congestion and reduce fuel waste. So it’s a trend that’s worth encouraging.”

    In the Raleigh-Durham area, Band said, the average commuter spends about 25 hours a year in stuck in traffic, the 42nd highest amount among U.S. metropolitan areas according to a 2005 report. Those delays cost the equivalent of $537 a year in terms of wasted fuel and lost productivity, he said.  The demographic changes expected in Durham, though, should mean less preference for driving, and city and county policies should favor public transportation and dense living and working situations both to meet demand and conserve energy. “I hope that both the city and county managers will see a copy,” said City Councilwoman Diane Catotti. “I hope (the planning) staff won’t lose sight (of it) either.”

    County Commissioner Wendy Jacobs said she was glad the planning department had made use of UNC’s planning students. “We hear over and over again that you all are understaffed,” she said, and Band and Safi did their work for free (“We do put it on our resumes,” Safi said.)

    “This is Durham now,” Jacobs said. “This is what’s happening now. If we want to continue to be a growing, thriving place we need to work with these trends and make sure that our land-use planning and our transportation planning and then our economic planning is all meshed together.”

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    This article first appeared in The Durham News
    By Jim Wise, jwise@newsoberver.com

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