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Flickr/Vianney (Sam) Carriere

Flickr/Vianney (Sam) Carriere

This week’s #throwbackthursday post piggybacks on recent statements by the RZA, a member of the Wu-Tang Clan. In an interview with the website Shadow and Act, he stated that gentrification is just the natural order of things. He also mentioned that people have to learn how to utilize it. The context of this interview was to discuss his role in the upcoming movie Brick Mansions, about a walled off housing project in a slightly dystopian Detroit. Between that and other prominent remarks from celebrities on gentrification lately. I saw fit to have us revisit my thoughts on who should own the corner store from September of 2012. Also, check this out this article by friend of the blog Alexandra Moffett-Bateau, where  she studied women in a public housing development who exercised political power not against the government itself, but a corner store that was overcharging for basic food and refusing to take food stamps. With that, I hope everyone has a great holiday weekend! See you on Monday.

Recently, a friend on Facebook asked this somewhat quintessential question: Why don’t black folks own businesses in their own neighborhoods? One commenter to this status mentioned that it may be because we (as in black folks) have forgotten to help our own as we have achieved higher and higher financial goals and wealth.

I myself personally believe (and I mentioned this in a comment myself) that black folks went through a period where some of the business types in predominantly black neighborhoods were unwanted and unneeded in their eyes. I’ve even had someone who remembers urban renewal in Greensboro tell me that they willingly tore down the neighborhood businesses in hopes of something better.

However, in many cases, that something better never came. I am also cautious of some modern “revitalizations”, especially when the lots have been sitting empty for several years with no vision and no purpose.

Meanwhile, I applaud those who took up the banner of preserving the history, the commerce, and the tradition of ethnic enclaves, of all cultures. I even applaud those of other cultures who have come in and filled up the vacant spaces, either with businesses and services more geared to their cultures. I especially love if they maintained the original businesses quality and culture, and improved the original operations.

When community and culture and affordability are respected, then I don’t think it matters who owns the corner store.

We underrated, we educated
The corner was our time when times stood still
And gators and snakes gangs and yellow and pink
And colored blue profiles glorifying that…

The corner was our magic, our music, our politics
Fires raised as tribal dancers and
war cries that broke out on different corners
Power to the people, black power, black is beautiful…

The corner was our Rock of Gibraltar, our Stonehenge
Our Taj Mahal, our monument,
Our testimonial to freedom, to peace and to love
Down on the corner... Common featuring The Last Poets, The Corner, 2005

Yet, when businesses on these proverbial corners completely forget their legacy and their obligation for service, then they fail. If a shop owner follows its teenage customers instead of offering jobs, then they have failed. If women are looked upon as strange invasive creatures and vice-versa for males, then they have failed. Yes, we need safe space to be ourselves as men and women, but at the end of the day, there still comes a time for mutual respect. Elders should shop for free. What about GLBTQ folks and their needs? It’s this vision of the corner store or business as a service that owners need to undertake.

Ultimately, I think that this obligation is what makes it hard for people to maintain such businesses over a long haul. These businesses are more than stores, barbers or beauty salons. They are sounding boards, mini town squares and city halls. If you are not ready to be a de facto mayor or community leader, then you best take your business elsewhere. I believe this is why these businesses fall onto those who either want this charge or those who have no other choice but to run this type of business. I think some black leaders (and I’m sure there are others of other ethnic enclaves who feel the same way) who wanted to run a business that would not become every inch of their lives.

So does it matter who owns the corner store? Absolutely. Yet, it’s not a question of what the owners look like on the outside, it’s a question of what they believe on the inside about their community and their business.

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Serving with Pleasure

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So I didn’t make it to the city council meeting last night. Yet, we are one of many cities that sees fit to web stream our meetings, so that people who can’t be at the chamber for some reason (and for those who can’t fit in the chamber) can watch what’s being said and voted on. We also have robust opportunities for public comment, either during a general period, called speakers from the floor, or on select agenda items. Citizens can also call the city and get a real person during business hours to take care of needs, and the city just launched See-Click-Fix (called here Fix-It Greensboro), the popular app to report maintenance and infrastructure issues. We have a bright user-friendly website and elected officials that are social media savvy. We also have a number of boards and commissions that citizens can apply and be appointed, and aid the city staff and our city council with making decisions on city issues. And with that, is my big announcement, that I’ve been appointed to the Greensboro Transit Authority Board by my councilman. I’m excited to have a role shaping our area transit system, as well as continuing to advocate for regional transit through the Bike/Ped Advisory Committee, the Transit Alliance of the Piedmont and the BikeShare Task Force. I’m also the newest member of the Interactive Resource Center board, which is our local homeless day shelter.

I of course see this newsletter/blog and all of my ventures, whether purely volunteer or for purposes of making a livelihood as providing a service. I think we fail as a citizenry if we don’t make our voices heard and help people out when they need help and we have the right tools and skills.  We have to be mindful that our service and business pursuits don’t become self-serving or harmful to the greater community. We also have to be mindful that there’s always something to be spoken about and someone who needs our help. It doesn’t have to be an official office or board either. Sometimes it’s just whipping out that phone and reporting that broken poll or reading to the first graders or taking your parents to the doctor.

This is community. And if you want to know what’s going on in the greater North Carolina community…

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Getting Back to Walking

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Not only is balcony time returning to my routine, but so is daily walking. I took great effort to find an apartment close enough to my job to incorporate at least 5 days a week of walking. I was very fortunate that when that job ended, my new one was also in walking distance. However, I fell victim to two things, doing work or looking for work at home and then, despite other times when I would gladly walk in the cold and sometimes the rain and enjoying snow-covered grounds, I opted for my car. Plus, there was a fear that there weren’t enough eyes on the street near my new job, especially during the winter months of a 5:30 sunset and times when working on proposals meant a 6:30 end of day.

Yet now it is spring. My mind, belly and the sunset have told me it’s time to get back to walking and back to walking I did yesterday. It was not without issues, one being minor (lack of walk appeal) and the other being pollen and things that feed on pollen whizzing through the air. Yet, I was good and tired last night, slept well and my head felt clear after the 30 minute roundtrip to and from work and a 10 minute one, with a 20 minute detour to talk to an old colleague I had at lunchtime. I’m looking forward to my further walks this week on the days I’m working, as well as incorporating other reasons to walk. And of course, finishing Walkable City when I’m resting my feet!

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Front Porch Sittin’ Time

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I think it is safe to say, that at least in North Carolina, spring has arrived in earnest. It will shock me, but not by much, if we have one more hard freeze before May arrives. Yet, cold was nowhere  this weekend, on the patio at Nattys where I had lunch with a few fellow media professionals on Saturday, or my balcony (pictured above) where I chipped away at Andrew Ross’s The Celebration Chronicles: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Property Values in Disney’s New Town. More grittier than Celebration USA, I’ve enjoyed getting another angle of what it was like at the beginning of one of the first, most scrutinized, popular new urbanist developments. (H/T to Placemakers Scott Doyon for the recommendation)What better to read about while sitting on a porch-like structure than a community built around the powers of front porches. Unfortunately, at the time of the writing, the porches were painful reminders of the Florida heat and vermin. I had a wasp or hornet come inside with me Saturday night. It spun around until it finally died in the middle of the night.

Yet, that was just a minor pain in the ability to watch the sunset on my balcony and see what neighbors drove what, as well as a few new ones I hadn’t seen, since I’d not had “balcony time” since way before last winter. I noticed plenty of your photos on all the social sites of patios, balconies, porches and even a couple of hammocks and blankets on the ground. Whatever we did this weekend, it was clearly an ode to the front porches of our lives and the springs that make them awesome.

I’m also drawn, as many who are advocates of the return of the front porch are, to a quote from another book, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451:

“No front porches. My uncle says there used to be front porches. And people sat there sometimes at night, talking when they wanted to talk, rocking, and not talking when they didn’t want to talk. Sometimes they just sat there and thought about things, turned things over. My uncle says the architects got rid of the front porches because they didn’t look well. But my uncle says that was merely rationalizing it; the real reason, hidden underneath, might be they didn’t want people sitting like that, doing nothing, rocking, talking; that was the wrong KIND of social life. People talked too much. And they had time to think. So they ran off with the porches.”

I’ve lately been more conscious of the fact that we are in the “future”. Yet, as a neo-traditionalist, a Southerner, a person who likes socialization, who will attend at least 5 cookouts this summer, sit on that Natty’s patio (and the one at the Mellow Mushroom) at least 3-5 more times and probably grab a blanket at the NewBridge Bank park a couple more times, I believe that it will be a longer time, if never, before we will see the conditions described above. Yes, privacy and surveillance has become an issue, but the rebirth of downtown, sidewalk and patio bar/grill economies I believe will eventually trump all concerns of people congregating.

Do you have a front porch or a front porch-like space? Urbanists swear on its power, but does it have that magic for all my non-planner/non-builder types?

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The Unbrand of a Citizen

Wikimedia Commons

What is it about branding cities that appeals to people so much? Is it not unlike the push to identify oneself? If you are highly in tune with your image and what that image is, then you are constantly doing things to make it better.

And that quest to make things better, on an individual level, might mean that one needs to move, change jobs, dump a partner, start a business and a host of other things that are only indirectly affected by the greater brand of a business or municipality. People who are super rich can afford to have homes in multiple locales. They have an affinity and sometimes a corporate presence in multiple locales. Poor people are just trying to make ends meet and if given the opportunity, will go wherever they need to go to make that life happen. If anything, the city brand is aimed at people in the middle, those who are aspiring and holding on to what is left of the traditional American Dream.

But even some of those folks are immune to city loyalty. And it’s not a failure of any city to not keep or satisfy any of these folks. I used to hate Tiebout’s “Vote with Your Feet” model. I though he was a cop-out to making sure all towns provide all people what they need at all times. I still believe that the gold standard of any area that wants to be incorporated, is to provide all that is needed. Yet, for a means of self-preservation and I mean that on a mental health and Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs level, I believe people should move on if they find that a metro area or an apartment or a job or even family members, aren’t providing them with the basic needs. Especially if the bottom part of the triangle (food, shelter, etc.) aren’t there. No city brand can combat the unfufillment of Mazlow’s hierarchy.

So even though I agree with the spirit of changing the mantra of Greensboro to one that doesn’t mention what’s not here and I’m excited to hear that Raleigh’s solidifying their brand, there will always be detractors, and some will be valid.

But please cities, stop blaming yourselves when you can’t brand an individual citizen.

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#Throwback Thursday: Urban Design Must Have Heart and Soul

Today,  I want to begin celebrating the spirit of Throwback Thursday (#tbt) and bring to you a post from our archives. Each week here on The Black Urbanist, I’m going to bring back one of my favorite essays, for comparison and for your entertainment. This week’s essay is from July 11, 2011. This post was not only published here on The Black Urbanist, but also at Sustainable Cities Collective, where I am a featured contributor. At the time I was lamenting the loss of Vintage 301, the neighborhood haunt that would later become Dames Chicken and Waffles. I also laugh, because the last line in the post has come true in a big way (with waffles AND wings). Also, it’s one of the most popular restaurants in Greensboro and its Durham iteration sometimes has lines going out the door. Check out my thoughts from three years ago and be sure to share them. After the break, step into why Urban Design Must Have Heart and Soul.

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We must be careful that the Southside neighborhood and others like it, fall back into the darkness at the expense of other vibrant neighborhoods, such as our traditional downtown (Image Credit: Unknown Flickr user via CityBoi at Skyscraper City Forums)

Recently the national-award winning, Duany Plater-Zybek designed community of Southside in Greensboro lost a key tenant, Vintage 301. Outside of Manny’s Universal Café, this was the only restaurant in the neighborhood and only consistent draw of people outside of the small neighborhood inside. While there are a few hair salons and other small businesses left, the neighborhood has gradually gone from mixed use back to urban-esque suburbia.

I say this to deal with the idea that is at the core of much of new urbanism:

If you build it they will come + a cleaner urban form= success despite our economic and social failures

Yet, at the end of the day, many of us have no disposable income. We can’t sell our houses or afford to buy new ones. Some of us can’t even afford to rent homes, rent or buy cars or even eat. We want to start businesses, but you need money to do that too. Some existing business and homes are getting choked by the increased tax values. Cities are not working carefully with small businesses to deal with tax liabilities (yet continually give breaks to big ones who can more than afford to pay).

So what does one do in a situation like this? What does this mean for urbanism (and suburbanism and ruralism)? I’m not sure of all the answers, but it starts in one place, working together.

When we lose money and get poor, we often retract into the worse of ourselves. We hoard, we covet, we criticize. The fear of losing our identity swells far and above our own minds and makes us create false stories about our friends, family, colleagues and leaders. With this negativity, we find it hard to go on in our present state and we spend time over-analyzing how others seem to be getting along.

I think this negativity is at the root of where we stand as a country right now. However, I recently learned that no matter what, it’s better to be grateful for what does exist. Even though I can’t rent a house, I am able to live with my mom and help her with things at our house. The bus still runs from 5 AM to 11PM here in Greensboro and 24 hours in some places. I could ride a bike. And at the basic level, I’m breathing, seeing, walking and talking and writing this post.

To bring this tangent back to a close, we have to look past the built environment for a minute and work on restoring the souls of our fellow community members. We have to have hard conversations and ask hard questions. We have to make hard demands. Yet, I don’t know of a person who has some means, yet is complaining about lost of livelihood, that doesn’t have something they can share. Maybe it’s a shoulder to cry on, an extra shirt, an extra plate or a ride to work.

Still, we will not be able to fill our communities and embrace a density until we desire to live in harmony again. A harmony that looks past differences in matters of the heart and makes sure people can have the freedom to wake up and live comfortably.

Just like I called on DC residents on Twitter to do, it’s not about race-baiting, it’s not about keeping improvements off the streets, it’s about getting our city economics back on track, and remembering all legal business is good business. Even if it’s just an upscale wing joint that moves into the old Vintage 301 space.

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Why I Love Conferences

At the panel on cultural urbanism I organized for CNU 19's Next Gen Day.

At the panel on cultural urbanism I organized for 2011′s CNU 19  Next Gen Day.

It is that time of year again when many of us who blog and write and speak gather amongst ourselves at various industry conferences. I’m not quite ready to confirm which ones I’m going to this year yet, but have already enjoyed the gathering of like minds right here in Greensboro that was the Piedmont Together Framework for Prosperity Summit.

I think it’s one thing to write in isolation, with the occasional Facebook share, comment or email to a colleague that happens with an online or even printed article. Yet, for me, as an extroverted writer and speaker, the joy that comes from gathering with my fellow urbanists or marketers, or professional black women or young women with side gigs or just chillin’ with my best friends and family is healing. It’s why so many of us when we can or on a regular basis attend worship services or fellowship meetings or yoga classes. You grow and you change and you heal from being around like minds.

An additional piece I like about conferences and convening is that when done the right way, these events change lives outside the conference hall. One example in the placemaking movement is the Tactical Urbanism push, which started as a Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) NextGen conversation and has now been adopted by mayors and used by people who long knew the power of a good block party or community project to ignite good neighborhoods. I’ll never forget the time I participated in this effort to create a promenade on a local street: (I’m in the pink hoodie)

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I want to add that conferences that don’t have a good mix of keynotes, breakouts, formal and informal networking sessions fail. Some of the best connections and most valuable business deals happen in the exhibit hall. Another failure comes when your content isn’t compelling. I know occasionally, one has to explain the mechanics of a situation, especially in a continuing education class. Yet, we remember most the vibrant teachers, the ones who have found the human touch in the most boring of subjects.

I’m going to leave you with a set of videos that were produced on why people go to the CNU every year. I look forward to seeing you this season on the conference circuit. I’ll announce the  gatherings I’ve confirmed this year via social networks, this blog and my daily news email, powered by North Carolina Placebook. Speaking of Placebook, head over there now and find out what the latest news is in North Carolina placemaking.

If you want me to come and speak at your gathering, please contact me. Unless it’s local, I do ask that you work with me to offset travel costs and time spent preparing my remarks, but I can work with the smallest budget, to maximize both mine and your learning time.

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Are Historically-Black Towns History?

Photo credit: Drew Grimes/Wikimedia

Recently, I came across two sets of articles about Historically Black towns in Oklahoma and in Missouri. Part as a means of segregation and part as a means of dignity, self-respect and control of the civic space, African-Americans established or had help establishing their own towns after slavery. Unfortunately, the promises of economic growth and civic engagement were short-lived in many of these towns. Some were burned down. Others were disenfranchised or had other restrictions placed on them. Others died thanks to integration and increased opportunities for Blacks. In North Carolina, the town of Princeville, the first incorporated Black town in the United States. was nearly washed out by Hurricane Floyd in 1999. It has recovered, but as recently as 2012 had its town accounting taken over by the State of North Carolina.

Yet the opportunity exists for some of these towns to improve. Some can restore what architecture is left. Others can launch efforts to lure entrepreneurs and others interested in the slow food, do-it-yourself, and community placemaking movements. Plus, for those seeking refuge from higher rents in the city, but still wanting a walkable and vibrant neighborhood, they could become a newer version of whatever inner city neighborhood has died. For those who have outlived their usefulness or are too damaged for repair, care should be taken to preserve history through monuments and exhibits and folk festivals. Fellow planner and author Sheryse N. Dubose has called upon those, namely fellow Black Americans, who see themselves as being victims of gentrification, to gentrify their own selves, i.e. return to older towns and neighborhoods, purchase these homes that have value to other cultures and maintain unique characteristics such as eateries, music venues and corner stores that sell specific foods.

Something else that’s interesting, is how the struggles of black towns compare to struggles of black neighborhoods in bigger, integrated on paper, cities. It appears that in the times of segregation, that black towns were able to avoid issues of redlining, urban renewal and gentrification by enacting their own self governance. Their main threat, if the surrounding white towns did not care that they succeeded, appeared to be loss of commerce, no different than those predominately white small towns and rural townships. Other questions that arise are their ability to accept people of other cultures, such as Mexican farm workers or Asian refugees to regrow their population; if some major cities are defacto black towns now (i.e. Detroit) ;and can we continue our quest for integration, while preserving history and unique cultural businesses?

It is ultimately the question that has been the center of my blogging for the past 3 years: is black urbanism still a thing?

And with that, I invite you over to North Carolina Placebook for something that’s quite living, the latest news on governance and placemaking throughout North Carolina.

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The Greensboro I Know Now

Amtrak's Piedmont Arrives from Raleigh
After writing Friday’s post, I have a few bullets I want to add about the Greensboro I’ve come to know since my return just over five years ago. The Greensboro that I know now:

–Has a real downtown. I can go dancing, hear jazz music on Friday nights, play pool, get an authentic Irish pub experience, get fresh veggies, craft beer, veggie lasagna, veggie pizza that doesn’t make me miss the meat, gourmet soul food and good brand new books on my own two feet, without risking life and limb (except sometimes at the Davie/McGee/MLK train bridge convergence).

–Has three times the number of  apartments downtown. The one I occupy has been a great place to live for almost two years. Having more housing downtown and housing similar to what’s offered in other cities also brings people from all over the world together, as they come here for jobs and school. I love getting to meet new people with different cultures in the frame of the culture of which I was raised.

–Has world-class, top-notch universities here, that are producing leaders in their fields and making sure we aren’t as far behind on the job numbers as we could be. Also, this site and all my subsequent ventures, would not exist had I not pursued higher education right here in town.

–Has generational and cultural issues. I could call them something else, but it really boils down to the generational tides. If we can get those straightened out and realize that everyone working doesn’t want to be corporate, no corporate suit can keep you from being your creative self after hours and there is wisdom on both sides of the fence, then we will get better. And yes, the problem is still a problem, but how much of that is really fear of irrelevance and impoverishment? No person can keep you from doing exactly what you need them to do in this world.If they are and they do, then the problem is on them and yes, we sometimes have to keep working just a little bit harder to get ahead. Shouldn’t have to, but we do.

And with that, I’m going to end the bullets. I could go on for days about this, but I’m going to leave with this letter, that I wrote a few weeks back about how much I love, but sometimes loathe, my hometown.

Looking for Placebook’s Daily News? Go here. Starting this week, the news will be on North Carolina Placebook and daily essays will be right here, standing alone. In order to not miss a beat, subscribe directly to the daily news roundup here. If you have been on the email from the very beginning, you will automatically get the news email, unless you have or will want to unsubscribe.

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The Raleigh I Knew

The Raleigh I met yesterday (4/3/20414). Clockwise from left, Sushi Blues Cafe on Glenwood Avenue, Glenwood South looking south from the corner of Peace and Glenwood, Reynolds Coliseum and the partially constructed Talley Student Union on NC State University's Campus.

The Raleigh I met yesterday (4/3/20414). Clockwise from left, Sushi Blues Cafe on Glenwood Avenue, Reynolds Coliseum and the partially constructed Talley Student Union on NC State University’s Campus and Glenwood South looking south from the corner of Peace and Glenwood.

Quite simply, the Raleigh I met when I first went off to college in 2004:

–Had yet to air condition the dorm I lived in and introduce on campus apartments for freshmen.

–Hadn’t introduced downtown apartments (and student housing) on a mass scale. Now, it seems like a new unit pops up daily on every block.

–Didn’t have a way to track its campus buses, nor did those buses connect downtown (or did downtown have it’s connector bus).

–Was sprawling out of control with no plan to fix it.

– Didn’t have bars and restaurants that turned their strip parking lots into decks and connect with street walkability. See Exhibit A above.

– Didn’t use roundabouts to manage traffic flow and make it more friendly to pedestrians

–Had buildings that garnered attention from the world, but had yet to build iconic ones in the modern era.

–Had northern hills, but no midtown.

–Had buses stuck in traffic, instead of zooming down shoulders.

–Had yet to finish educating this bright-eyed, bushy-tailed graduate of its largest university and get her to return back to be a part of this growing community.

The last half of that last bullet is not true. Yet. Oh and check out how Raleigh’s redefining itself on an official (and unofficial) branding level. Be sure to include your own Raleigh’s you’ve come to know (I’ll accept other RTP area cities too) in the comments here, on Facebook and on Twitter.

Then have a great weekend. Read the news first though:

Great to see Durham’s Organic Transit and their ELF vehicle get mentioned in USA Today.

A Charlotte-centered analysis of its recent ranking on Smart Growth America’s sprawl list.

Although he often puts out political signs in front of his establishments, a Greensboro developer is under fire for one particular set of signs for one candidate.

High Point honors its Winter Olympian.

The agenda for last night’s Guilford commissioners meeting. What was actually discussed.

The CFO of the International Civil Rights Museum and Center reaches out to black professional groups for help promoting the museum, but also blames Greensboro City Council members by name for not supporting them.

More name calling amongst local elected officials, this time in Asheville and Buncombe County.

WRAL’s report on the VMT issue.

Canton’s Evergreen Packaging is working with the EPA to switch its boilers to natural gas and reduce air pollution in the area.

Charlotte’s Students First charter school to close next week, leaving 3oo K-8 students without a school in the middle of the spring semester.

Part of the newly widened I-85 in the Charlotte area will open in phases this weekend.

Now hints of bribery are surfacing around the Charlotte Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

Charlotte residents are engaging with their own battle over trees with Duke Energy. More on this new “growth regulator,” which will also be used in Greensboro.

The Triad office of CRBE is purchasing Hagan Properties.

Forsyth County’s teen drug court has its first graduates.

Cumberland County officials have changed their guidelines for potential county health services operators.

UNC Wilmington is using renderings of athletic facilities to increase giving to that department, while the academic side is searching for ideas to increase giving.

The small businesses on Wilmington’s Castle Street gathered to celebrate their success.

Downtown Durham’s Pleiades Gallery celebrates its first year.

How Raleigh’s always loved entertainment venues, and is currently making its Pullen Park more popular.

And finally, a first look at the bill to make the state’s first public-private economic development agency.

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