Port City

Wilmington North Carolina is a nice place to dream. Where you dream is important because place matters.

I used to work at the Metropolitan Policy Project at the Brookings Institution. One of the projects main themes was that “metros” – cities and urban areas – matter. In a way it’s an outgrowth of what we used to know as urban renewal in the 70s. But that movement was accompanied by gentrification so urban renewal became known as “negro removal,” and it faded away.

Metro’s matter is a concept and research topic focused on restoring economic prosperity to cities and towns. Where you do business and live your life matters. That may be hard to accept these days when you can be the CEO of a billion dollar company and run it from your lap top on top of a mountain, say Denali.

We conducted focus groups to test the idea of “Metro’s matter,” and found that what you give up on that mountain are the economic clusters in metropolitan communities that spur innovation. The exchange of ideas and information and the proximity of companies, university and medical centers or –in the think tank world “Eds & Meds—the idea of logistics and that supplies and support are important to business so it makes sense they’re all close together.

The focus group got what it meant but didn’t think of it as particularly important, including a glass blower who moved to Pittsburgh for a very important reason. She retired from the computer business and moved to Pittsburgh because she wanted to perfect her art and the city has a thriving community of glass artists. She spoke quite eloquently about how inspirational and important to her work it is to be among so many gifted artists. But when asked why Pittsburgh and why in that particular spot she said that the main reason was that the equipment and the raw materials were available.

I’ve lived in Wilmington, NC for about three weeks now. And as I make my way around town and learn about its special qualities; place matters has been on my mind. On a recent Friday night we had dinner at an outside table –USA Today has rated Wilmington as the “Best Al Fresco Dinning Neighborhood.”

(A cynical friend noted that it simply meant more folks from Wilmington called in than other towns in the competition.)

Maybe, but it was a pleasant place to dine as we watched the Friday night revelers wander down Front street and gazed at the mighty Caper Fear River rolling on.

Earlier we took part in “Fourth Friday” a walking tour of art galleries and some amazing local artists. I’m certain they thrive here because of support from galleries, art lovers who live here and their fellow artists.

We came back down to earth on the way home as we passed through a crowd caught up in the wonder of a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band (great drum solo). I couldn’t tell them apart although I was stunned that no one was yelling “Free Bird!”

I’m told they used to have local and state musicians play but now show only tribute bands. We need to start a campaign about that.

It’s not my intention to write a travelogue, but to note that the Port City has art, theater and commerce that continues to organically grow here.

(The Thalian Community Theater is one of the oldest in the nation. There are a handful of community theaters mounting excellent productions year round.)

There is much to do and take part in here. And like the Pittsburgh artist it’s inspiring and the tools are here to help you create art or even start a new business. By the way, Wilmington is also rated as one of the top cities to start a new business.

Now if we can only get the parsimonious state legislature to restore the tax incentives to the major Hollywood studios we can bring film jobs back to the city.

Oh and by the way they have a radio station here called the Penguin. They play a wide mix of what we used to call “progressive” music including the Grateful Dead. Where else but Wilmington. After all, it’s a nice place to dream.

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