Town gearing up for Good Neighbor

Jul. 11, 2013 @ 12:45 PM

Each August, on the day before UNC-Chapel Hill students begin school, volunteers from the university and town knock on about 1,000 doors in Chapel Hill to spread the word on how to be a good neighbor.

The Good Neighbor Initiative,  a collaboration between different local establishments, is a program aimed at improving the relationship between student and non-student residents in various neighborhoods in Chapel Hill, said Aaron Bachenheimer, director of the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life and Community Involvement at UNC-CH.
Bachenheimer said the concept originated about 10 years ago, when the Chapel Hill Police Department began to visit student rentals in neighborhoods like Northside and Pine Knolls, where there had been problems regarding parties and noise. The university partnered with the initiative somewhere along the way, he said.
The initiative is made up of two big events — the day in August when 40 to 60 volunteers visit neighborhoods to educate student residents; and the Neighborhood Night Out & Good Neighbor Block Party, a social and educational get-together at the Hargraves Center, which will be held Sept. 12 this year.
The neighborhoods and areas that volunteers visit include Northside, Pine Knolls, Cameron-McCauley, Davie Circle, North Street and Henderson Street, Bachenheimer said.
This year, on Aug. 19, volunteers will split into teams of three to five people, and knock on residents’ doors. At students’ houses, the volunteers — made up of local police, town officials, students and members of local organizations — address both local ordinances and general tips on how to be a good neighbor.
The local ordinances, or “expectation-oriented” aspects, involve what residents need to know about parking, noise levels, alcohol, parties and trash, Bachenheimer said.
The general tips, or what Bachenheimer calls “soft-skill stuff” involves advice on how to “get to know your neighbors, be engaged and involved in your neighborhood (and) know the history of the neighborhood that you live in.”
The Good Neighbor Initiative particularly focuses on the Northside and Pine Knolls neighborhoods, which “tend to be the neighborhoods with the most depth of history and the most significant clashing of history with current status,” Bachenheimer said.
Northside, Chapel Hill’s historically African-American neighborhood, has seen large changes in demographics over the past 25 years, Bachenheimer said, shifting from a mainly African-American family neighborhood to one that shares its streets with college students.
“Many of those students don’t realize that that is literally the neighborhood where the African-American families who built the university lived,” Bachenheimer said.
He said the Good Neighbor Initiative tries to educate students on the history of these neighborhoods, particularly at the block party, so they can develop an appreciation for them. 
“So when a student is walking through the  neighborhood at night and yelling and screaming, or throwing a beer can, or knocking over somebody’s mailbox, they’re not just hurting that person,” Bachenheimer said. “They are impacting a really important historical neighborhood in Chapel Hill with a long history.”
Lee Storrow, a Chapel Hill Town Council member who graduated from UNC in 2011 and has been involved with the initiative as both a student and council member, said it’s a good way for long-term residents and student residents to share perspectives and learn from each other.
He said it’s good for neighbors to know each other so that when there’s an issue with parties or “inappropriate behavior,” neighbors can try talking to each other instead of needing to call the police.
“I think many problems can be solved just by interacting and knowing the neighbors you live around,” Storrow said.
Living in these neighborhoods can be a challenge for both students and long-term residents, Storrow said. Students don’t have the same social infrastructure off-campus as they had while living in dorms, while long-term residents have to adapt to new neighbors every year.
“There’s this constant turnover,” Storrow said. “Every year is a new experience and a new relationship-building opportunity. And that can be draining as well to have a new person every fall.”
Storrow and Bachenheimer both say that although progress is being made, there are still problems and tensions that exist in the shared neighborhoods.
“We’ve gotten feedback from students and from landlords and from the year-round residents that they have seen improvements,” Bachenheimer said. “We still have challenges in all these neighborhoods. We still are putting out fires, metaphorically, in terms of relationships between student and non-students.”
The Good Neighbor Initiative is looking for volunteers from the community to participate in the door-to-door walk Aug. 19. Register at http://ofslci.unc.edu/community-involvement/news-and-announcements/good-neighbor-initiative-2013-door-door-walk-volunteers