Thursday, February 21, 2013

Framing Raleigh's inferiority complex

Those who know me will say I can be pretty defensive about my adopted* hometown of Raleigh. Part of that is that I genuinely care about what goes on here. Another part is that I have made a decision to live and work here; I want that decision to be looked up on as a good one.  And, quite frankly, there's also a feeling that this is a VERY good time to live in Raleigh. The city has gone from being an "up-and-comer" (that famous Money magazine article years ago seemed to take everybody by surprise at the time) to a regular on the old civic and community superlatives list. In other words, Raleigh has gone from "Best Personality" to "Most Likely to Succeed" -- in a relatively short amount of time.

Obviously not everything is perfect. The city and the Triangle still has challenges, from housing issues to transit issues to public school drama. But by and large this area has not only weathered the economic storm but has flourished. Even still, I get perturbed when I see articles like this, even though the angle -- a comparison of NYC to Silicon Valley -- is a perfectly logical one. But what about us?! I whine -- at least in my head.

Which brings me to the idea of a community's inferiority complex.

I had not thought of this term until I came across some posts on the blog, The Black Urbanist, by Greensboro native Kristen Jeffers, whom I've had the pleasure of meeting on a couple of occasions. (If you're not checking out this blog by a person who is passionate about community building, you are missing out.) In one of Kristen's most recent posts, she discusses Greensboro's recent orgasmic excitement over the city's first Trader Joe's.
We spend too much time thinking we need to spend money on expensive stadiums and art centers to be more urbane. If we are over that demon, we bemoan not having an H&M, Shake Shack, Trader Joes or whatever chain store, restaurant or “hot new establishment” that likes to over-hype themselves and make us think we are less than as a city without them.
She is spot-on with this assessment. Heck, I am guilty of this. I STILL wish IKEA would come to Raleigh. I was stoked when H&M came to Crabtree Valley Mall. Let's get Major League Soccer here! Are the Panthers flirting with moving from Charlotte to Carter-Finley!?

Ahem. Sorry about that.

Instead, as Kristen says, we should recognize a city's settings and celebrate a city's unknown lights.
 I define the setting as the physical, cultural and emotional space of our cities, that other people compare and judge. It’s what already exists, but we see as being mundane or even demeaning. The unknown lights can also be mundane for some, but they are more positive activities. They are also activities that would be celebrated, if they were in a different form or from a different place.
What is Raleigh's setting?

What are Raleigh's unknown lights? (Go to Kristen's blog for examples of what she means with these.)

Understanding these will help us determine where we are, where we should be going, and how to get there. Sometimes it's not as simple as luring The Cheesecake Factory.

I leave you with Kristen's thoughts on how a city destroys that inferiority complex:

-Identify your setting and your unknown lights 
-Take one part of the setting, gather a group and work on fixing it 
-Take one unknown light and work on making it known 
-Stop over-comparing your community to the point of disrepair and accidental destruction 
-Be creative and repeat the other steps often to fix problems and encourage your community.

*I say "adopted" because I wasn't born here, nor did I grow up here; however, I have lived in the city for longer than anywhere else in my 37 years.

Be sure to check out:

The Black Urbanist

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