Tuesday, July 27, 2010


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.


JCB said...

Is the director (sorry I don't know his name) saying that there are no problems? Because I would say that many of the "perceived" issues do have a measure of truth to them, and hiding behind "it is perception, not reality" keeps us from addressing those issues.

Specifically, you cannot say there is no parking problem. People in this country want to park for free when they shop/dine. And I'm not sure valet parking counts when you need to tip. I know there is no perfect answer to parking so close to the University, but saying there is no problem (as many of our leaders do, including the Downtown Partnership board) isn't helpful.

Occupancy rate looks better than it did a year or so ago, but First Union being empty still is a problem. And I (of course) am not happy with the chains coming in.

I think one of the alum's complaints as well was about a dirty feeling to the streets. Wasn't that highlighted by one of those "downtown walks" a couple of years ago? And has anything been done about it?

I frequent downtown more than most, but it is because I'm there for church (and get free parking that way). But it is never for shopping (we've even moved most of our UNC gear buying to Roses because it is cheap).

Fred said...

James, he is not saying that there are no problems. Saying that "there is no parking" is different from saying I don't like what I have to do to park. Free? Oh well, nothing's really free!

The proprty on the corner will open soon as the museum gift shop and chains are a fact of life, like them or not. Better empty? The cost of rent downtown is clearly a barrier; how do you lower it? Market forces are setting the price.

I just don't believe the mayor's observations had the facts behind them. I believe he has another agenda.