Editorial: Preserving Durham’s individuality
Developing the town while respecting the past
Published: Friday, October 11, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 11, 2013 02:10
Part of what makes Durham such an appealing college town is its individuality. Private businesses seem to take precedent over chain shops and restaurants, of which there are very few. Towering office complexes are not found downtown; the tallest buildings are only a few stories in height. The historic district is valued and efforts to preserve it are frequently made.
However, as more and more changes are made to Durham and the university, the individuality of this charming New England town is put at risk. One of the proposed changes – but certainly not the only recent local development – is the plan to renovate long-standing houses along Main Street that currently serve as student apartments. As stated in today’s front page article, the proposal is to turn these buildings into a larger housing complex and commercial space.
While these buildings themselves are not exceptional structures, the fact that Main Street is not lined with identical cookie cutter apartment buildings should be valued in a time when universities nationwide are featuring more and more buildings that are designed solely to maximize capacity.
Of course, Durham can’t be expected to remain exactly as it is now forever; change is necessary to accommodate the growth that the university is planning and anticipating. As the university has outlined in its Campus Master Plan, change, growth and adjustments are necessary to be able to best serve current and future students.
With plans to add more programs and enroll more students at the university, it is necessary to add more student housing – both on- and off-campus options – but these changes should be handled so that the atmosphere and individuality of the university are preserved. Students deserves comfortable living spaces and many options to choose from, but not at the expense of fundamentally changing the streets and neighborhoods surrounding the campus.
The University of New Hampshire and its related developments, such integral and central pieces of Durham, need to grow into the future but not completely out of the past. So far, university administrators, developers and planners have honored this, and outside developers hopefully will as well.
Adding significantly larger developments – capable of holding 180 beds in place of the current 52 – will certainly change the current residential feel of downtown Durham, but change is not necessarily a negative effect. As the university grows, students will need more living spaces and more options.
As a relatively large university with nearly 15,000 students, UNH is unique in that it still maintains a small town feeling in many ways. As it expands – which is inevitable and necessary – preserving this small town feeling should be a priority. The character and individuality of Durham and UNH are some of the principle draws for students, and this should not be forgotten. Developers should be encouraged to add to and improve Durham, but respect and maintain the features that make Durham the unique college town that students and residents love.