Wise: ‘Going Public’ shows Durham grit

February 28, 2014 

Durham, it’s been said, is a city where everything’s out in the open. Ain’t that the truth, friends and neighbors, and if you don’t think so, you just haven’t been paying attention.

Sometimes, some folks – think your sainted Great Aunt Murgatroyd – might be aghast, but we Bull Citizens believe in letting it all hang out. Going public, even – whether it’s the dirty laundry or, case in point, dirty bathrooms.

“Going Public” says it all, and that happens to be what the city parks people call their research paper on the (foul) state of the park’s potties.

And “Going Public” doesn’t just put it out in words, it’s graphic – with more than full-color photographs to make sure you get the picture, right out there for all the world to see at bit.ly/1jVOXUi.

It’s all the sort of thing that, in politer times and circumstances, would have been spoken of only in golf-tournament tones and behind closed doors, like those of a boys’ room at junior high.

But we in the City of Exciting Stores take pride in our grit – not to mention, it would appear, our water stains, cracking walls, demolished lavatories, gang graffiti or commodes stuffed to the rim with all manner of waste material, and not even a Sears Roebuck catalog anywhere to be found.

Frankly, we’re just honest and upfront about it, maybe a little bit in your face, and that’s part of our Bully exceptionalism as well as our urban edge.

Would Chapel Hill fess up to the like? More likely hand it off to former Gov. Jim Martin and a committee to investigate and say it’s not that bad.

Would Cary, for pity’s sake? More likely just slap up some more beige paint under cover of darkness.

Now, the wisdom of “Going Public” may be questioned. In all honesty, there is the image thing to think about. That 15 of 37 park facilities have “frequent” vandalism; that some vagrant actually took up residence in another; that lack of paper, lack of soap, spiderwebs, stopped-up toilets have moms reluctant to let their kids go in; aren’t too likely to make the visitors bureau’s “300-plus Great Things About Durham” list.

With the word gone out, those uncharitable souls in Wake and Orange counties may point fingers and giggle, and no doubt the real-estate agents of Raleigh will seize upon “Going Public” to show newcomers why “You don’t want to live in Durham.”

We’ve been taking that kind of thing for more than 110 years, and we have The Daily Beast’s testimony we’re the country’s most tolerant city to show for it. If Forbes says we have the nation’s best mid-sized city for jobs and Atlantic says we’re then No. 1 creative class metro ( bit.ly/1fLyKhb), who cares what the neighbors think?

If those neighbors want to make fun, well, that says more about them than it does about us, right? Our City Hall says it’s all for transparency in government and has “Going Public” to prove it.

True, one has to wonder if the New York Times reviewers who named our one-time Cigarette City “One of the top places in the world to visit in 2011” made a pit stop at a park. When company was coming, all Great Aunt Murgatroyds of the world would make certain the loo was looking good and smelling like roses or lavender or somesuch.

It appears (and smells like) the Friendly City of Education and Industry isn’t coming up to Great Aunt Murgatroyd standards, but, as Hizzonner Bill Bell says, the first step toward solving a problem is admitting that you’ve got one and if “Going Public” is not such an admission we can’t imagine what one would be.

The point of all “Going Public,” after all, is to make a point, that the parks people, who are getting a new, $2 million home office, want more money so they can clean the bathrooms up. If “Going Public” is a little graphic, sometimes you have to be blunt about it to get the message across to City Council people who approve your budgets.

Whether the parks people’s message achieves the desired result or not remains to be seen, but one desirable result has been achieved already, and it goes back to that image thing.

Gritty we may be, a little rough in our new-found hipness, but we are what we are and we make no bones about it. Not too many, any way.

Our town walks the walk, talks the talk, tells it like it is and doesn’t try to whitewash inconvenient truths, at least when it comes to the public’s little houses out back.

Sainted Aunt Murgatroyd always said honesty was the best policy, and even she would have to give the town Where Great Things Happen some credit for that.

Wise: 919-641-5895

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