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Letter: Duke and regional vitality

<p>The proposed light rail would have a stop&nbsp;along Lasalle Street and&nbsp;Erwin Road near Duke Hospital.</p>

The proposed light rail would have a stop along Lasalle Street and Erwin Road near Duke Hospital.

To the Editors:

Light rail in our region faces critical deadlines in the coming few weeks, and Duke faces a pivotal role to enhance the livability of our region.

I grew up in Durham and watched the downtown die in the 70s as middle-class residents and shops fled to the outer neighborhoods. In the early 80s I attended Duke at a time when the university pulled inward, hugged students close, and walled itself off from the struggling city. In recent years, with an expanding economy, Duke has done a good job of anchoring revitalization in Durham. Recruiting students and faculty has never been easier. Today, I’m living a dream of investing in downtown’s alternative art scene.

The university is positioned to allow—or block—light rail access to the hospital and to downtown. Progress will require a right-of-way donation on Erwin Road, a public road, and sharing Duke’s bus repair lot at the corner of Main & Buchanan. Duke needs to avoid the tempting lethargy of a nonprofit, endowed landowner, sitting on linchpin property.

My organization, The Fruit, is on the proposed rail line, but we’re also smack dab in the middle of 24 acres of new high-density, high-priced development. As a real estate investor, I’ll be fine. But as an arts entrepreneur with a philanthropic bent, it’s clear that a diverse, creative community needs affordable transport. More importantly, 70 percent of Durham’s public housing units and the future of the downtown’s workforce housing (think teachers, health aides and police) will be accessible by light rail. Durham seems to be getting it right—Go Triangle’s planners have been thoughtful about how to spread benefits around the region. If you’ll pardon the turn of phrase, it's time for Duke to hop aboard light rail.  

Sincerely yours,
Tim Walter, T' 86

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