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Economy

How a Booming City Can Be More Equitable

In Durham, North Carolina, abandoned factories are becoming tech hubs and microbreweries. But building a shared commitment to its most vulnerable citizens could be a trickier feat of redevelopment.
American Tobacco’s Lucky Strike factory shut down in 1987—the most visible symbol of Durham’s industrial decline. It sat vacant for 17 years before reopening as a mixed-use complex with restaurants, offices, apartments, and an artificial river.
American Tobacco’s Lucky Strike factory shut down in 1987—the most visible symbol of Durham’s industrial decline. It sat vacant for 17 years before reopening as a mixed-use complex with restaurants, offices, apartments, and an artificial river.Alex Boerner/Craftsmanship Quarterly

The area code for Durham, North Carolina is 919. And so, at 9:19 on a Friday night in June, about twenty teens, mostly African American, converge on the city’s main square. Known as CCB Plaza for the bank that once stood here, it’s a square block surrounded by hotels and safeguarded by a one-ton anatomically correct bronze bull named Major.

The kids look uncertain; it has started to rain. They turn to one of their leaders, 34-year-old Pierce Freelon, who looks at the sky and shrugs his assent. A laptop comes out, followed by a speaker, and a bassy beat spreads over the square. A circle forms. Then come the words that initiate every Friday night here.