Yes, you read that right, and I'm not being sarcastic today. I always say you know it's gotta be good when I'm actually saying Duke did something right, but today I'm giving the Blue Devil his due.
Yesterday Duke and the city officially inked an agreement on the conditions which would be attached to the zoning of its remake of Central Campus. (Stories: Herald-Sun, Duke Chronicle, N&O) In so doing, Duke agreed to several long-sought conditions on the construction, including limits on retail space. Community activists, inexhaustably led by my friend and neighbor John Schelp, and Duke both compromised on the deal, with neither getting everything but both getting enough.
I agree with Provost Peter Lange on this, and I think it bears echoing:
"In this year when so much that has been so unfair, inaccurate and at times downright false [has been said] about how Durham supposedly is divided against itself, overcome by community tensions and driven by supposed town-gown conflicts, it is noteworthy that we can come to you with this consensus proposal, the product of numerous productive meetings, a great deal of thoughtful discussion on all sides, and compromise on issues small and large," Lange said.
On the other hand, I'd also note that, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, Duke did the right thing only after exhausting all other options, although the story is more complicated than that. Lange, in this affair, has been the good guy at Duke since he stepped into the mess, and the process changed quite dramatically when he did. He recognized the difference between activists like John who will be strident in the press if you ignore them, but happy to work with you if you give them some respect, and those like, well, Victoria Peterson. Lange brought Duke to the table with a new attitude, recognized that they were much better off if they had the city and neighbors on board, and got the deal done.
Of course, Lange's leadership showed in contrast to who had been doing the dealing before. Who else, but Executive Vice President Tallman Trask. His doublespeak, back dealing, and bad faith in working with neighborhoods is what created the mess to begin with, got the neighbors up in arms in the first place, and led me to call for his resignation in a published letter. Trask has been a menace to Duke-Durham relationships for years, and I hope that Lange's arrival to the Central Campus talks in his place is another sign that President Brodhead is reigning him in. (In a slightly more publicized issue, Brodhead stripped Trask of his control over the Athletic Department, over, well, you know what.) I'm sure Trask has invaluable skills that he brings to the University, but it's good to see him pulled back from the arenas where he's been doing the most damage. I think I'd still be more comfortable with him on his way out of town, but compared to him basically running the University under Keohane, this is a vast improvement.
But enough complaining. Thanks to Duke for making a very positive and substantive step towards better town-gown relations. Lord knows, we could use some good news in that department.