Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

Welcome back to the South

I’m in Raleigh, North Carolina for the next couple days, for the big International Association of Science Parks conference.

I haven’t been to North Carolina in ages. I spent a summer at Duke in their precollege program 25 years ago– it was a great time, but it more or less ruined my senior year, as it deepened my already substantial teenage “I wanna get out of there and get on with my real life and this rinky-dink high school is NOT it” angst– and I spent a day or two in Raleigh at the NC State archives in 1994 or so, but that was one of those trips where all I was doing was taking notes on old correspondence and had no interactions at all with the place. I don’t remember anything about Raleigh itself– where I stayed, what NC State was like, where I ate lunch– but I still remember working through the correspondence between Architecture School Dean Henry Kamphoefner and Buckminster Fuller.

The IASP conference is one of the big science parks managers’ and developers’ conferences. My friend Anthony is doing one of the big talks, and I’m here to meet with our clients, meet various other people, and talk about the next phase of our work on the future of science cities.

I’d forgotten how lush North Carolina is. It’s all that summer heat and humidity, which is already showing signs of appearing. California isn’t exactly a barren wasteland, but the South always feels more verdant. (It must have been an extraordinary thing to come here from Europe 300 years ago, and to see these spectacular forests.)

I still have visceral ambivalent feelings about the South. On one hand, I like the land, the premium Southern culture places on friendliness and gentility, and the relatively low cost of living; on the other, I remember a certain amount of downside as well (kind of a cross between Faulkner and Bruce Hornsby), and I wonder how much easier a time my bookish, mixed race kids would have here. Probably Atlanta and RTP, which now have pretty large Asian populations and the kinds of service / information economies, would be fine; maybe Richmond would be too. But I’m happy having the kids where they are.

1 Comment

  1. First, welcome to NC. I’m a native Southerner and a native Atlantan, and live in NC. I think you’ll find that, while there are stretches of the South (quite large) that do like their NASCAR, much of it is different than 20 years ago. While you may not want to leave the Bay Area culture your life is built around, “fitting in” here isn’t really a question. The cities of the South are diverse, intellectually and ethnically, to the point where no one cares or notices, really. Sure, it isn’t Palo Alto or Park Slope, but it isn’t Mayberry either. And we are laughing at your real estate prices, even post-crash. This part of the country has actually been at the leading edge of the service/info economy for a while, even it isn’t all produced here. Hope to see you while you are out here.

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