Durham County

Gentrification in Durham: what the mayor thinks

Gentrification in Durham: What is it and where is it

A decade of downtown Durham revitalization has raised concern about rippling effects of gentrification. Durham is changing, with construction cranes marking the city's skyline as new businesses and residents move in.
Up Next
A decade of downtown Durham revitalization has raised concern about rippling effects of gentrification. Durham is changing, with construction cranes marking the city's skyline as new businesses and residents move in.

About this project: The Herald-Sun examines how Durham is changing as talk turns from revitalization to gentrification. In stories, commentary and a new Facebook group, "The Story of My Street: Gentrification in Durham," learn how rising home prices are changing neighborhoods, and how you can be part of the conversation.

DURHAM — As construction cranes change downtown Durham's skyline and housing prices rise, residents ask Mayor Steve Schewel what he's going to do about it. And before he talks about city ideas, he prefaces it with the fact that Durham cannot stop people from moving here.

Schewel took questions from The Herald-Sun readers and reporters during a Facebook Live video in the newsroom. The questions centered mostly around gentrification and affordability issues. You can join the conversation and the Facebook group "The Story of My Street: Gentrification in Durham."

What drives gentrification

"Investment drives gentrification," Schewel said. "Whether it’s a sidewalk, whether it’s light rail, whether it’s housing improvements, and that’s just a reality. So the opposite of gentrification is not stasis. The opposite of gentrification is disinvestment. Gentrified neighborhoods are neighborhoods that have be disinvested from, and people with more money and more means to own have come in, and [they] change that neighborhood."

On what makes Durham, Durm

Schewel
Durham Mayor Steve Schewel Herald-Sun file photo

"We know that what makes Durham Durm is the diversity that we have, the kind of grittiness that we have, the fact that we are such a creative community and that a lot of artists have done things that have created the kind of community that we have," Schewel said.

Gentrification in and around downtown

"One of the problems with gentrification and the lack of affordability in downtown Durham, and in the nearby neighborhoods especially, is that the people that have, let’s just take the artists, made Durham cool, or contributed to that cool, are now being priced out of areas where they previously could live and have workspaces, and then of course the diversity we so cherish, the racial and economic diversity, socio-economic diversity we so cherish, in our neighborhoods, is also threatened," Schewel said.

What new neighbors should do

"It is true that gentrification can cause people of color who have been in neighborhoods for a long time to feel, and be, unsafe if they are reported for something say by the new neighbors, you know, loitering, or something that the new neighbors think they are doing when they’re just hanging out on the street enjoying themselves," Schewel said.

He said that rather than a city policy answer, "it's really more what we as a community need to do."

"We as a community need to be educating people ... that we are living in a diverse city and we are living in racially diverse neighborhoods and ethnically diverse neighborhoods now, much more so than has been true in the past in Durham, that this is actually a very good thing that we are living together but it does carry these harms," Schewel said.

People need to keep talking about it, he said, so "people who are privileged don’t assume that their norms are the norms that ought to be occupying all the space in a neighborhood."

Watch the full interview with Schewel, which includes what he says the city is doing to keep it an affordable place to live:

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: 919-419-6563; @dawnbvaughan
  Comments