Durham’s Deep-Rooted Gentrification

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“I’ve lived my whole life in Durham,” says Riverside junior Isaac Harrison. “And I’ve seen the neighborhoods around me drastically improve in their infrastructure and economy.”

Durham is changing. Since city leaders began the process of revitalizing decaying, low income, and high crime neighborhoods a few years ago, the landscape and demographics have been changing quickly.

Isaac Harrison has had first hand experience with the city’s transformation. “Downtown is especially changing, there’s a lot of businesses moving in.” Downtown is changing. Since the city announced a seven-year master plan to revitalize the area in 2008, it’s become an attractive center of culture and nightlife. Blog-worthy restaurants and trendy coffee shops pop up everywhere to accommodate the thousands of young professionals brought in by the booming tech industries and academia of the area. These changes are seen all over the city. However, this revitalization has a trade-off; it makes it more difficult for lower class residents to stay in their neighborhoods.

This phenomenon is known as gentrification. Merriam Webster dictionary defines it as “the process of repairing and rebuilding homes and businesses in a deteriorating area (such as an urban neighborhood) accompanied by an influx of middle-class or affluent people and that often results in the displacement of earlier, usually poorer residents.” It’s happening in cities all over the United States, and can often be traced to back to two historic trends; Redlining and the construction of highways, both of which are seen in Durham’s past.

Historically, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation prevented black residents from moving into some neighborhoods and steered them into others in a phenomenon known as redlining. News & Observer reporter Dawn Bumgardner Vaughan defined the phenomenon as “the racist bank policy of not loaning to African Americans in the early 20th century, (which) forced homeowners to live in one neighborhood over another.” It’s effects can clearly be seen in Durham today. “Looking at gentrifying neighborhoods, there is evidence of historic redlining,” said Vaughan.

In the 1960s, urban renewal paved new highways that ran directly through historically black neighborhoods in Durham. Hayti, once Durham’s most thriving black neighborhoods, was cut through by the Durham Freeway around 50 years ago. The project fragmented the community, and the harm it caused is still felt today.

“It used to be the railroad tracks, then the Freeway — now we call it gentrification,” said Percy Murray, N.C. Central University history professor emeritus, as reported by the Herald Sun.

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