Chapel Hill and Carrboro are related but they have significant differences. I love them both like family. I feel like their little brother constantly annoyed with one or the other but will remain steadfastly in love with them both till the day I die.
Many of my fellow Chapel Hillians do not understand these differences. They see Franklin Street and Main Street in Carrboro as one long business thoroughfare. It’s not. I don’t mean to pick on Chapel Hill residents, both students and townies, but if you don’t spend a lot of time in Carrboro you wouldn’t know. The Towns have very unique histories that contain deep seated differences forged in race, class, and ideology. All fueled by the money and intellectual power of the University of North Carolina.
Yesterday I had a great conversation with several Chapel Hillians. They where a retired Town of Chapel Hill employee, a downtown business leader, a few University employees, and others who I do not know well. Our gathering was random.
At one point someone said, and I paraphrase, “Why does Chapel Hill and Carrboro have separate fire and police departments?” A smart gentleman that knows what he’s talking about said, “When we’ve discussed it the final conclusion has always been, ‘Hell no!’.” I took that as a definitive answer from a real source in the know. It also happens to be how I feel about the situation.
For the past four years I’ve been running a small business in Carrboro. It would NEVER have launched without the Town of Carrboro. A Alderman, a Economic Development Director, and the Mayor and other Alderman made it possible. Though the Town of Carrboro Revolving Loan Fund I was able to give this business a real go. This is a resource the Town of Carrboro has had since 1986. The Town of Chapel Hill just got a Economic Development Director a few years ago and gave out it’s first business loan recently.
The best way for me to sum this up is Chapel Hill follows Carrboro’s lead. Carrboro sets trends in numerous areas. The arts, environmental protection, economic development, transportation with many bike lanes, and more.
As far as I can tell the major start of Carrboro’s leadership is in the 1980’s when a few liberal folks where elected to the Carrboro Board of Alderman. Previously the board was dominated by local white men who held much more traditional values. Before the Carr Mill closed for the last time Carrboro was primarily a working class white Town. In the 1970’s it’s affordable housing attracted ex-students and others to migrate their from Chapel Hill and beyond. Soon a very new type of community formed in Carrboro and made it a very different place.
I need to do more research on this. To my knowledge there are no documents that explain just how Carrboro came to be the visionary leader it is. I only surmised this by knowing Carrboro didn’t always have the liberal reputation it has now. With that rep came a big dream for the future. One that has come true in many ways.
Note: For those who have lived here longer than I and know more historical facts I welcome your tweaks and corrections to my assertions about our local history.