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.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


That we are in a very serious recession is no secret, nor should it surprise anyone that many of our citizens are great needs feel the recession in very painful ways. The great truth is that in a recession we tend to cut programs that help those with the greatest needs. Many governments start new budget years on July 1st and they will struggle to balance those budgets in the face of lower receipts from taxes and their other major income streams.

What’s interesting is something that seems to occur at all levels and it surprises me not that right here at the local level you see it as well: we as citizens have no problem at all holding two conflicting opinions at the same time. We do it all of the time! What you might ask are these opinions? One is that we want government to do more. The other is that we don’t want government to raise our taxes.

Something has to give folks! We can’t do it all. All of our wants and needs have price tags. We elect folks to make tough decisions and maybe they might feel better if they knew exactly what we wanted them to do. Right here locally we have a discussion going on. We talk about spending bond money to fund the town’s library expansion and some are upset that we are not spending tax dollars to fund a local museum that happens to be a non-profit privately owned.

What do we want to do with these tax dollars? What is our preferred outcome? Do we want to cut things that are being funded right now? Do we want to raise taxes? How can we continue to expect our elected leaders to make these decisions if we’re not sure what we want? What do you think we ought to do?