Durham, and the Park in Our Midst
New York City billionnaires spend hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars, on housing which is in view of or easily accessible to Central Park. This famous urban park is indeed beautiful and attractive to both New Yorkers and visitors, designed that way by the brilliant American landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted.
Durham has its own "Central Park", one might say, equally beautiful on a smaller scale and equally beautifully designed by Durham's own famous landscape (and building) architect, Eric Huddleston who lived and worked here for many years (and for whom UNH's Huddleston Hall was named). I refer, of course, to the beautiful campus of the University of New Hampshire, a gem of beauty owned by all the people who live in New Hampshire and, as it happens, more accessible to all of the people of Durham than it is to residents of any other Granite State municipality. (One might also toss into the mix what is perhaps Durham's and UNH's most famous architectural masterpiece, the New England Center, a product of the brilliant American modernist architect, William Perreira. Sadly, the New England Center currently stands closed and largely unused.)
Go to Boston or elsewhere in New England and mention to people that you work at UNH in Durham, as I have done countless times for well over forty years, and you always get the same response: Oh. Durham. How beautiful that UNH university campus is! (Some years ago, one routinely also got an admiring comment for the beauty of the New England Center.) Indeed, so. The campus was planned that way by UNH Campus Architect and Professor of Architecture Huddleston, no less than was Frederick Olmsted's 19th century plan for Central Park. Olmsted knew how to create beauty. So did Durham's Huddleston. (As did California's Perreira with his only east coast work.)
And all the people of Durham, but most particularly those who live right in town, have the easiest access to all of that campus beauty on a daily basis, as much access as do the UNH students themselves. In other words, UNH, aside from being a university and therefore a center for teaching, research and student housing and dining, can be viewed, by students and non-students alike, including by our senior citizens (some of whom are themselves UNH alimni), as a wonderfully landscaped park with tall and sometimes exotic trees, flowering shrubs, some statuary and public art, nice walkways, beautiful lawns with great vistas (including Eric Huddleston's "Great Lawn" near T-Hall), and an overall restful and beautiful ambience in all seasons, quieter in the summer and on Winter Break, given the absence of the student body in those times, but filled with the great energy and spirit of students, of young people, whenever classes are in session.
We have not in the past tended to think of our beautiful UNH campus as a "park" (indeed, as a park with indoor events: musical concerts, dramatic performances of theatre and dance, the possibility of fascinating lectures on any and all subjects, a wide range of both athletic events and athletic facilities, two swimming pools, indoor and outdoor, and, right in the midst of it all, a busy and historic train station, housed in an ice cream parlour/restaurant, with ten trains per day arriving from and departing for many other interesting places. Pretty nice image, eh? No wonder so many UNH alumni return to retire here.
Thinking this way enables us to see the prospect for some prime housing downtown and immediately adjacent to campus, housing for the growing market of seniors who are now often downsizing and seeking smaller accommodations, and perhaps also housing for young professionals and maybe even families with young children (given also that our fine Middle School and High School are nearby and walkable).
Real estate developers and realtors, restauranteurs and local retail businesses of many kinds may want to reassess the prospects for downtown of a broader spread of resident age groups, while keeping aware that there will also always be a market for university students and staff as well. And let us remember: those who reside in town do not require cars and have little real need for parking. It is a pedestrian world and, with public transit (both rail and bus), as well as the opportunity for cycling and ride-sharing, all is very available without a personal vehicle and the cost that such a vehicle represents. Another way to think FUTURE in Durham. And it may all start with a park!
John E. Carroll is UNH Professor Emeritus of Environmental Conservation, a member of the AMTRAK Downeaster's Operations Committee and Board Member of Trainriders Northeast, a member of the Durham Agricultural Commission and Durham's Land Stewardship Subcommittee. He and his wife Diana have resided in Durham for 45 years.