What is “urban” anyway?

By: Courtney James

I have been given the dubious honor of writing the first blog entry for our Urban Durham Realty blog.  There seems to be an abundance of bloggers writing about Durham in general – and doing it well, I might add.  Therefore, we thought it best to try to limit our blog to what we know best – our company and real estate!  I recently attended a class offered by blogger-extraordinaire, Kevin Davis of Bull City Rising, to get a few tips on blogging.  Not surprisingly, one of the most important rules is to be consistent about updating the blog.   One way in which we hope to maintain this consistency is to share the updating responsibilities (I don’t know how you frequent bloggers do it!).   Each week (at least) you should see a post by one of us in the UDR office.

Now that we have that established, let me relate a little about Urban Durham Realty as a company.  I am often asked about the name of the company and specifically what we mean when we say, “Urban is more about lifestyle and less about location”.  To us, the term “urban” does not mean “downtown”.  Rather it signifies a certain way of living.  Specifically, people who are looking for neighborhoods where they can be close to amenities such as neighborhood parks, clubhouses, stores, and restaurants are seeking the ‘urban’ lifestyle. Additionally, fluctuating gas prices and aspirations to ‘go green’ have prompted the desire for many to be able to walk to places such as work and their children’s school.

Luckily there is a strong contemporary trend towards this type of lifestyle and neighborhood in many areas, including Durham.  Starting in the 1950’s, the country began to build residential housing separate from retail and office.  The government was investing vast amounts of money into the national highway system that would serve to connect these residential areas with the amenities needed for daily life.  The wave of the future was a car-driven, gas-fueled society.  Housing developments started to spring out further and further away from the city center, while strip malls cropped up along the highways reaching out to these new suburbs.  The strip malls were built box-like and fronted with huge parking lots with little attention paid to curb appeal (what do aesthetics matter when drivers pass by at 40 plus miles an hour).  Even if someone managed to walk to the shopping center through the maze of roads and highways, there would not be a sidewalk to get you from the street to the store.

Today there has been a dramatic deviation away from that lifestyle.  People seem to be craving the more established urban neighborhoods that have a greater sense of community.  Box-like strip malls are being renovated to have more curb appeal in order to draw in walking customers, and sidewalks are being added where there once were none.  Bike lanes are being incorporated into new road construction, and mass transit is a major focus in every metropolitan area (although we have a long way to go in this regard).

The trend is thriving in Durham as well.  The areas where real estate value is appreciating the strongest are those that offer established residential communities – particularly those that offer walk-able amenities.  These are the areas of Durham where we choose to focus our business, and this is what we mean when we say urban.

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