Durham votes Nov. 8 on Transit making an economic and cultural decision

There’s a referendum vote tomorrow, Tuesday, Nov. 8 in Durham, N.C. Voters go to the polls to decide whether to build a new light-rail transit system designed to increase the city’s transit service and eventually connect it to Chapel Hill and Raleigh.

The outcome could determine a great deal – how the city grows as a job center and how it and its residents grow as a culture.

Fmr. Gov. Parris Glendening

In the run-up to tomorrow’s vote, former Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening spoke at a Durham Chamber event on Nov. 2 at Duke Gardens. He was there as the head of Smart Growth America, an organization pushing for nationwide smart growth. Glendening said the country is at a pivotal time.

According to the governor, if our cities don’t employ plans for how we grow, they will experience lower productivity, higher inflation, and mandatory wage increases for workers faced with long commutes due to a lack of nearby jobs.

“Rebuilding the nation’s economies must be one of the defining acts of our generation,” he said, emphasizing a new vision of the future is at hand. “It must be front and center – getting the most out of private and public investments.”

Durham Central Park

The Triangle is fortunate to be in a time of both economic and population growth, Glendening said. But that growth also presents economic challenges and forces the Triangle to determine how to present itself in the future.

A sense of “place” is a city’s greatest asset, he said. It provides a sense of community and fosters an appealing environment that is a livable, walkable place to work and raise a family.

“Today, even in a recession, 45 percent of students think about where they want to live – then they look for a job,” he said. “Cities must compete to attract and keep bright workers.”

There are also financial ramifications to forgoing a plan.

According to research, the average American makes seven trips away from home each day, Glendening said. These commutes drive the average house prices outside of urban areas dramatically higher than they are on face value, he said.

The “Affordable Housing Index,” which calculates in transportation costs, shows real estate markets outside of greater city centers are unsustainable, he said. This unsustainability will create a vacuum when gas prices likely reach $10 per gallon, and entire regions will suffer.

The governor said the market is “ripe for investment in transit.” As of 2011, he said, 87 percent of transit ballots have been approved in the United States, and demographic information only points to that figure increasing. He anticipated that by 2025, 72 percent of households will be without children, taking into account young workers and the increase in the Boomer generation population.

Supporters say as many as 6,400 jobs would be directly created by the transit program.

So, tomorrow could mean many things. But, the choice comes down to how we want to live. Let’s hope people vote tomorrow and have a voice in how all this plays out.

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