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Durham, I love you

staff note

Most Duke students do not live in Durham. We reside in Durham, but we do not truly live here. And no, a trip to Shooters, Pizzeria Toro when your parents are in town or an occasional walk down 9th Street is not enough to be an active member of the community. I get it. Duke is beautiful, you are busy, et cetera. But outside of the puppies at the Canine Cognition Center, Durham might be the best thing Duke has to offer us.  

Morgan Siegel, owner of the newly-opened Jeddah’s Tea, described it best when I interviewed her last week: Durham is like a warm hug. The community bands together to support its own, as it did for Siegel’s Kickstarter campaign to open Jeddah’s. Within the single hour I spent at the tea shop, a dozen or so friends and community members walked in just to give her a hug and say congratulations. In the wake of the tragic explosion at the Kaffeinate coffee shop that killed the shop’s owner, Kong Lee, three GoFundMe campaigns collectively raised over $175,000 for his family. There was an outpouring of support for Mr. Lee and his family, with Durham residents  mourning the loss of a true friend and community leader.

Community support is etched into the fabric of Durham, which has helped establish the city as one of the top 10 places in the country to start a small business. CenterFest Arts Festival and the Durham Farmers’ Market were bustling last weekend, with Durhamites eager to support local artists and farmers. The popular “Shop Durham” program offers a $15 card that gets users discounts for a variety of local restaurants, boutiques and other businesses, and some of the card’s revenue goes toward local nonprofits.

While the sense of community has kept me off campus, Durham’s food scene is what first got me exploring. At home, I am accustomed to south Florida’s putrid mix of overpriced and overrated local seafood shops and chain restaurants galore, so Durham was a welcome change of pace. Downtown Durham is food heaven: Mateo, Mother and Sons, M Sushi, Rue Cler, Luna, M Kokko, Spanglish, Bull City Burger — and the list goes on. We pack better food into one square block than Fort Lauderdale has in the entire city.

The Lakewood section of Durham is our city’s most astonishing food-related feat. This residential neighborhood, bordered by a strip of Highway 15-501 that mainly features rundown auto repair shops and gas stations, sports some of Durham’s best restaurants. Guglhupf, Saltbox Seafood, Foster’s Market and the new Cocoa Cinnamon location (featuring the best damn churros and hot chocolate in the Triangle) are just some of this neighborhood’s many offerings. It’s located just five minutes off East Campus, so do yourself a favor and explore this oft-ignored area.

Durham is not just a place for food. The Nasher Museum of Art, the NCCU Art Museum, the 21C Museum Hotel and a growing array of public art pieces highlight local artists, major national exhibitions and the city’s rich history. The Pinhook and Motorco Music Hall attract local and national underground and emerging musicians, including The Regrettes, S.E. Ward and Kero Kero Bonito this fall. Outdoor activities like visiting Eno River State Park or running down the American Tobacco Trail are great options if you ever need an escape from Duke’s pressure-cooker environment. Durham is a perfectly sized city, big enough to have a lively food and culture scene, while small enough to maintain close, small-town community bonds.  

Despite its many attributes, Durham is nowhere near perfect. Homelessness and affordable housing are at the forefront of Durham’s current issues. As a result of the city’s rapid revitalization and gentrification, there is a lack of accessibility to affordable, safe housing options for lower-income residents. On the whole, today’s Durham is safer and more accessible than in past decades, but the city’s improvements have not been distributed equitably. Getting involved with local organizations, including Housing for New Hope and the North Carolina Housing Coalition, and staying engaged with local elections are simple ways to make a difference in the community. I will be the first to admit that I have not done enough as a member of the community. In my upcoming years at Duke, I am hoping to be more actively engaged in city politics and help out with Durham organizations that are positively impacting the community.

In just over a year at Duke, I have already experienced some of the best this city has to offer. Durham residents are warm, selfless and proud to represent this growing, youthful city. There is a real sense of community here, unlike anything I have experienced in my hometown. I am excited to keep exploring what this city has to offer, and I really feel as if Durham, not just Duke, is truly home.  

Jack Rubenstein is a Trinity sophomore and Recess culture editor.

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