Someone once said that our perceptions are reality. The problem, of course, is that it matters not whether our perceptions are factually based. Different people perceive different things about the same situation. But more than that, we assign different meanings to what we perceive and might even make things mean something else.
Chapel Hill’s downtown seems to be something that people perceived differently. Recently, there has been some attention paid to a criticism of our downtown by a UNC alum who also happens to be the mayor of another North Carolina city. Holding aside the breach of tradition in political circles where leaders don’t criticize other jurisdictions, the alum’s perceptions just don’t hold up to factual scrutiny. So why is it that so many think that we have a terribly low occupancy rate, no parking, unsafe streets, limited shopping and dining opportunities, or that one will face a host of unpleasant experiences if they venture downtown?
On the WCHL “Who’s Talking” show, I recently interviewed the executive director of the Downtown Partnership. He said that his professional peers would love to have our downtown and its extremely high occupancy rates, the retail mix, the cultural opportunities, and yes, a major research university as an anchor. Of course we have work to do to improve the downtown, but if more people ventured downtown I’m willing to bet many perceptions would change, and for the record, using the free valet parking on east and west Franklin is really a good deal.