Chapel Hill vs Carrboro

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.

High-speed Internet must be a part of Carrboro's infrastructure

People who live, work and visit Carrboro love the free wireless Internet. But the Town of Carrboro’s wireless is a victim of its own success. I’ve heard from a lot of people who have problems with it and wish it worked in their homes. Fact is, the area the wireless signal covers is too small, the connection is unreliable and the bandwidth is too little. Now is the time for the Town of Carrboro to take the next step. I propose the town support the construction of fiber optic Internet connections to buildings within the downtown business district.

The idea of building a fiber optic network in Carrboro isn’t farfetched. Matter of fact, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NC DOT) and the Town of Chapel Hill are already working on it. The Town of Carrboro and the Town of Chapel Hill share an old copper-wire traffic-signal system. Last year, the Town of Chapel Hill budgeted $50,000 toward a joint investment with NC DOT to replace this old signal system with fiber optics. One strand is planned for traffic signals and another is for the town’s use. Little has been publicly discussed about this project, which is slated for completion in 2012.

The small size of Carrboro’s downtown makes the cost of extending the network practical – primarily because the distances from traffic signals to local businesses are short. Right now, the Town of Carrboro rents the signal system from the Town of Chapel Hill. If Carrboro isn’t a full partner in this resource, they may not have the power to build our future access. Supposedly, the NC DOT is trying to squeeze the Town of Chapel Hill for more money to build a fiber loop. Now is a good time for Carrboro to put in.

There’s already a large customer base for high-speed Internet service in Carrboro. We have five planned new construction projects, including a mixed-use hotel, office and retail space. Public safety organizations like rescue, fire and police also could use the bandwidth, not to mention other creative and talented people. Fiber optic Internet can provide reliable upload and download speeds in excess of 100 Mbps. We can do a lot with that!

Diversifying our community’s tax base to relieve stress on property tax has been a goal for years. One way to do that is by enticing new businesses to move here and convincing existing ones to stay. A major bit of bait can be fiber-speed bandwidth for data and voice. Now is the time to invest in building the last mile of high-speed infrastructure in Carrboro. Not later, after the recession has killed development projects. Not after the Town of Chapel Hill gets around to doing something, but now on the cusp of major national infrastructure projects promised by our new president-elect.

Brian Russell is founder of Orange Networking, orangenetworking.org

(The above is an article I wrote for the Carrboro Citizen.)

Green Business in Orange County

I’ve just added a few posts to this blog about Green Business. I’m espcially interested in seeing it grow in Orange County, North Carolina. (That includes Chapel Hill and Carrboro.) So you’ll see on the top right of this blog a link to all the posts in the Green Business category. I hope this becomes a resource for others.

I define Green Business as socially and environmentally sustainable economic activity. Wikipedia defines Sustainable Business as:

A business is sustainable if it has adapted its practices for the use of renewable resources and holds itself accountable for the environmental and human rights impacts of its activities. This includes businesses that operate in a socially responsible manner and protect the environment.

I’m really just learning about this and trying to fit my business into this mold as much as I can.

Create Green-Collar Jobs in Orange County

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of seeing Van Jones speak. He co-founded the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and is founder and president of Green For All. He spoke convincingly of a future of increased equality and how one of the roads to this future is green jobs. Green-collar jobs are employment in the environmental or agricultural sectors of the economy. [Source: Wikipedia] But they also include any work that will help transform our society into a more environmentally sustainable one.

One way our local government leaders could participate in this national movement is to sign the Green Jobs Pledge. Its goal is to "rebuild American competitiveness and environmental leadership by growing a green economy that fights global warming, pollution and poverty at the same time." Here are the five steps this pledge asks our leaders to agree to:

  1. Commit to Action
  2. Create a Green-collar Jobs Taskforce
  3. Identify Goals and Assess Opportunities
  4. Create a Local Action Plan
  5. Evaluate, Leverage and Grow

So far the the U.S. Conference of Mayors has agreed with Green For All that this pledge is good idea. Mayor Martin Chávez of Albuquerque, New Mexico and County Executive Ron Sims of King County, Washington have put there name on it. You can download the Green Jobs Pledge Packet here. [PDF]

Let’s discuss ways we can build a green economy from the ground up, and see if we can get our elected officials to take the pledge.

This post was first published on OrangePolitics.org.

Atomic Age Architecture Symposium in Chapel Hill

Atomic Age Architiecture: A Symposium of Modernist Buildings, August 2, 2008 Saturday August 2, at the Chapel Hill Museum from 9am to 4pm there will be a very cool sounding discussion about Modern Architecture in Chapel Hill. Sponsored by The Preservation Society of Chapel Hill.

I have to say that new Preservation Society Director Ernest Dollar is sure making old stuff exciting. Even to this jaded hipster! (I am a bit of history nerd actually…)

Thanks for the heads up Sally! via GreeneSpace

Atomic Age Architecture Symposium. Explore Chapel Hill’s modernist architecture of the 1950s-1970s. The sleepy college town became a center for avant garde designers creating a collection of radically different homes. Dail Dixon, George Smart, and Cathleen Turner will discuss modernism in Chapel Hill and what can be done to preserve these treasures. Tickets are $15 and symposium will be held in the Chapel Hill Museum. Call 942-7818 to reserve tickets.