The leadership challenge of confronting Durham’s growing inequality

Through a new project called “Bull City 150: Reckoning with Durham’s Past to Build an Equitable Future”, historian and leadership educator Bob Korstad is drawing attention to an issue that has been a centerpiece in the Durham mayoral race this fall: rising levels of inequality in the midst of the city’s economic boom.

Bob Korstad at the Duke University reception for the Uneven Ground exhibit

What started out as a depot on the railroad between Raleigh and Hillsborough is now a midsize southern city on the rise. Yet, one fifth of the population lives below the poverty line, wages cannot keep pace with housing costs, and there are severe gaps in educational achievement.  Access to affordable housing has been a hot topic in the mayoral and city council campaigns, but the topic is nothing new. Inequality has pervaded Durham since it was founded in 1869.  Bull City 150 urges us to pay attention to the past so we can create more effective policies for the future.

Bull City 150 is a multi-year, interdisciplinary effort to research the current context of inequality in Durham.  The project utilizes history, geography, public policy, sociology, and documentary research to explore a diverse set of disparities across the city.

The project promotes community engagement through a traveling exhibition, “Uneven Ground: Foundations of Housing Inequality in Durham,” that explores the historical roots of land and housing inequality. The exhibit is designed to spark public engagement so we can avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. Uneven Ground will be on display at Duke in Rubenstein Hall until November 10.

This fall in the Hart Leadership Program, Bob Korstad has been teaching a popular course called, “What’s up Durham: History, Politics, and society in the Bull City.”  For their final leadership project students will develop policy options for elected officials, civic leaders, and Durham citizens that address disparities in housing, health, education, employment, politics/voting, criminal justice, and municipal services. The Hart Leadership Program is offering the course again in the spring 2018 semester.