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Durham Tour by Shelley Chen

By Shelley Chen

Durham Tour: January 17th, 2015

Location 1: Cole Mill Road and Stoneybrook

I started the tour of Durham at Cole Mill Road because I was the most familiar with this area. As I drove north along the road, I noticed several churches on the left side of the road that occupied a large amount of land. Smaller streets branched out from Cole Mill Road on both sides, but there were obvious differences between the two sides. The cul-de-sacs on the left side of the street seemed more closely packed together and more densely populated. These houses were visible from the street compared to houses on the right side, which included Stoneybrook Drive, Quailridge Road, E. Oak Drive, etc. There were many franchises along Cole Mill Road including Cracker Barrel and Cookout, which have thriving business.

Location 2: Stoneybrook Drive, from Cole Mill Rd. to Carver

Adjacent to some less prosperous neighborhoods was the Stoneybrook Drive neighborhood. Upon entering, I immediately noticed a metallic “neighborhood watch” sign that signaled to me this is both a tight-knit and upper-middle class neighborhood. This is because in my own middle-class neighborhood in the suburbs of Los Angeles, a similar sign had been erected in response to a burglary two blocks away from me. According to Zillow.com, the value of properties in this neighborhood ranged from $300,000 to $1,000,000, which rival the real estate prices in Los Angeles1. Soon, I drove by a well-maintained golf course where several middle aged white residents were mingling next to their golf carts.

Passing by the golf course, the houses began to come into view. The low population density of the area and wide streets provide excellent privacy to the residents. Most residents also benefited from the extra privacy given by the lush woods and gardens that surround their properties. Every house on Stoneybrook Drive was uniquely designed, each had at least 2 stories, and many had architectural designs that were magazine- worthy. Some were stately estates while others were modern and boldly colored. Many houses had multiple luxury brand cars, with one house having two BMWs and another one having 2 SUVs.



A Southwest style home on Stoneybrook Drive, with lawns decorated with exotic palm trees and cactus plants



Hidden behind the garden and trees were multiple SUVs

I feasted my eyes upon the diverse architecture and soaked in the safe, relaxing atmosphere of the neighborhood. At the end of the street was a privately owned lake that was clear and well-maintained.


Location 3: Guess Rd. from Sedgefield to Duke Homestead Rd. to Carver

Guess road has always been known to me as one of the streets leading to the most confusing intersection in Durham. Many small local businesses dot the roadsides of Guess, such as a family owned tax filing company, a “Peluqueria” or barber shop, some small strip malls, and several local food favorites like Bojangles, Hong Kong Dimsum, and Hog Heaven. It is not very densely populated, and seems to be a commercial area that provides basic services and could be further developed.


shelley_tour_35 diagonal streets converged upon one intersection around Guess Road


Location 4: Northgate Mall

I have only been to Northgate Mall once since coming to Duke, so I was excited to explore the mall with an economic eye. As I drove into the lot, the difficulty of finding parking in this reasonably large space reflected that heavy flow of shoppers at this mall. Facing the parking lot, there was a more sprawled out version of the strip malls I’ve seen in the heavily immigrant suburbs in California. Strip malls usually gave lower to middle class immigrants a more accessible opportunity to start small businesses; it makes me wonder if there are many immigrants in the area.

The layout of the mall seems less efficient than other malls I have seen, and the façade of the mall is less well maintained than higher-end malls like Southpoint. Most of the vehicles in the lot were relatively old sedans, which match the mall’s status as a “50 year old landmark of Durham.” At the entrance of the mall, there was a symbol saying that guns are forbidden, which implies that crime is a concern in the surrounding areas. On the inside of the mall, I noticed that some stores had “Se Habla Espanol” signs on their windows, implying a large Hispanic population. The eye center inside the mall also displayed a “Medicaid accepted” sign, which implies that the mall also caters to low income populations.




A “guns forbidden” sign at the mall entrance and “medicaid accepted” sign on the window of an optometry center


Location 5: Old North Durham Neighborhood

A “Welcome to Old North Durham” stood out to me in this more humble-looking neighborhood. Most houses were mid-sized and adequately maintained, but obviously carry a lot of history given the material, color, and style of the house. Unlike the houses of the Stoneybrook Drive neighborhood, the houses of Old North Durham were not afforded much privacy from outsiders or from each other. Around the north blocks, houses were constructed closely together and directly faced the main roads. I did not observe vehicles around many of the homes. Across the street from the houses, I noticed there was DATA bus approaching a conveniently located stop, implying some dependence on public transportation in the area. At the nearby intersection of N. Mangum Street and Trinity Avenue was the Durham Nativity School, which is a middle school for boys from financially challenged families. In the playgrounds in the neighborhood, I noticed that most of the equipments was derelict. One block south of the neighborhood, there were slightly larger, two story houses with decorations on the spacious porches. The variety of houses in this area and the proximity to school shows that this is probably a neighborhood with middle socioeconomic status and diverse levels of education.

Two of the four swings used by the children were broken, and a third one was held up by a deteriorating chain at the playground behind the Durham Nativity School


Location 6: E. Main St. from Roxboro to Guthrie

Leaving the north parts of Durham, I drove into the southeast part of Durham. There is a stark contrast in socioeconomic status between the neighborhoods around E. Main St (Guthrie Ave, Driver Road, Briggs Road, etc.) and the Old North Durham neighborhood. Some of the first houses I saw were boarded up, which implied they might be bank owned or in bad condition on the inside.

A vacant house which has been boarded up on E. Main St.


I was familiar with several houses on Driver St. that were undergoing demolition or construction by Habitat for Humanity, which is a program that provides affordable housing to low income residents. On one of the times I worked inside a house with Habitat for Humanity, I learned that the house had sustained termite damage based on the holes that can be seen in the base of the floor. Several horizontal wooden boards joining the basement and the base of the first floor were bowing inwards due to water damage.

Other houses are in relatively good condition and had been generously decorated with an eclectic collection of trinkets like a sign that says “Life’s Short, Eat Cookies!” This was the first neighborhood in which I saw children playing outside; one was African American and the other was Hispanic. The Holton Career and Resource Center was also located nearby, which I know provides vocational training to the unemployed and enrichment classes for children who attend designated schools in low-income areas. This was one of more run-down neighborhoods I have seen in Durham, and the population seems to be mostly low-income with little socioeconomic heterogeneity.



House with water damage (white marks on the wood and bricks) and termite attack being renovated by Habitat for Humanity


Location 7: E Pettigrew, from Roxboro to Ellis

I drove over multiple train tracks to turn onto E. Pettigrew St., which ran parallel to the train tracks as well as Highway 147. The region that Pettigrew St. span seemed very poorly economically developed and bleak compared to Guess Road or E. Main St. Some of the spots I passed by included the Boys and Girls Club, electricity generators, and a cement and concrete company called Holcim Trading Inc. There were not many businesses and stores other than the Durham Flea Market, which may have only gathered because it was the weekend. Along the road, I mostly saw African American or Hispanic residents who were gathering for the Durham Flea Market.

Location 8: Hayti area

I drove into the Hayti area on Fayetteville St., turned left onto Lakewood Avenue, and then turned right onto old Fayetteville St. The area seemed to be very close to Highway 147, which may discourage residents who value quietness. On the corner of Lakewood Avenue and Old Fayetteville stood the Hayti Heritage Center housed in a beautiful red church, reflecting the strong African American heritage of the neighborhood. I noticed a limousine rental company, International Food Market, and an abundance of soul food around the block. Coincidentally, I bought a delicious chicken and waffles entrée from the soul food diner Bowick’s Arc for lunch. On Hayti Lane, a small cul-de-sac on Old Fayetteville St., I saw the first multi-family condominiums around Durham, each having 3 connected two-story units. The driveways and lawns were very well-maintained and picturesque, and the residences were more spaced out than the Old North Durham neighborhood. Most houses had recent makes of vehicles, which matched the nicely renovated condos. The neighborhood had a majority of African American residents, some of whom were playing basketball outside of the condos. The area appears to be inhabited by educated, middle class families.


Location 9: E. Forest Hills Blvd

A whimsical owner flying a Jolly Roger outside of his house on Forest Hills Blvd


I returned closer to Duke University from the Hayti area and reached E. Forest Hills Blvd. One of the first things that came to mind when I saw the E. Forest Hills neighborhood was the cabin resort area in the Blue Ridge Mountains where I had spent fall break. Even the name “Forest Hills” elicited the image of an ideal suburbia. It was very similar to the Stoneybrook Drive neighborhood, but the houses had more diversity in size. Houses were beautifully maintained and were situated at higher elevations and the only visible part of most houses from driving down the street was the extended driveway outside many houses. I drove by many signs that read “Parks this way, play more,” and observed 2 white teenage girls playing soccer in one of the many grassy park areas. At the intersection with Enterprise St, many joggers were biking and running freely along the well-designed trails in the neighborhood. Although a majority of the inhabitants were white, I also saw 3 African American children leaving one house to play. I venture to guess that this area is inhabited by the highly educated upper-class in Durham.


Location 10: NC Central University and surrounding area

Idyllic park area of the NC Central University campus


Most of the buildings on the NC Central University campus were built in the beautiful Georgian style, except for the residential and science building that bore modern reflective glass on the outside. The buildings are very well-renovated and give off a calming vibe. The campus is very connected with the surrounding residential areas, seemingly bordering the Hayti area. Inside the science building, there was an array of brochures for programs in health sciences and earth sciences targeted at minority populations, which makes me conclude that the college consists of a large minority population. As we walked past the residential buildings, we saw only African American students exiting the buildings and walking around campus. The surrounding residences consist of efficiently designed one or two story houses and are probably rented by students. The businesses surrounding this area are typical of that of a college town, including several commercial banks, restaurants, and bookstores.


Location 11: Weaver St. from Cornwallis to Theresa

On Weaver St., there were several neighborhoods consisting of very uniform housing that reminded me of public housing projects I had seen in Compton. The houses were humbly built with one door and a few windows, and housing units were spaced out very evenly in a grid pattern. Most households did not own vehicles and did not have much lawn space. To me, public housing projects usually represent an effort to revitalize the areas where the population had undergone displacement or housing crises. This region has probably undergone economic hardships in the past years, but has been recovering from it. Overall, I did not notice much business activity around the neighborhood.

shelley_tour_11 Public housing units on Weaver St.


1 retrieved from: www.zillow.com/homes/for_rent/Durham-NC


  1. Shelley,

    I enjoyed reading about your tour of Durham. It appears that we visited some of the same sites, so it was interesting to see your perspectives on the areas.

    Like you, I took note of the stark difference between the neighborhoods on either side of the intersection of Cole Mill Road and Stoneybrook Drive. I found it fascinating that there was just one street separating the Stoneybrook Cottages, which consisted more densely packed “cookie-cutter” suburban dwellings, and the Stoneybrook Country Club, which had many amenities and much larger privately-contracted homes. The Stoneybrook Cottage and Stoneybrook Country Club dichotomy was striking, and this sort of proximity between different socioeconomic groups was a theme that pervaded my tour of Durham. If you are interested in exploring another area with both high income and low income housing, I would suggest visiting Bivins Street, which I thought was the most interesting location I saw during my tour.

    Another one of your descriptions that I found particularly interesting was for Main St. from Roxboro to Guthrie. I also saw dilapidated, blighted, and vacated homes on my drive down this street. But just as you mentioned that Habitat for Humanity had been doing some demolition or construction work in the area, I saw many signs of development. At Main St. and Guthrie, I noticed a lot had been cleared after a blighted house had been removed from it, which can be a costly procedure. Towards the beginning of the drive down this road, there were seemingly new townhomes/apartment complexes along with a large cotton mill that had been revamped into a modern business space. From my observations, I saw an extension of the positive influence of the downtown revival along with an effort to improve neighborhoods in this area.

    Great job on your report!


  2. Shelly

    Great comments on Stoneybrook Drive. Your observations are very vivid – combined with your pictures, your explanations paint a clear picture of the area. This juxtaposition of wealthy and non wealthy areas in Durham is fascinating to me, as it seems to be commonplace across the area, not just here.

    As for Northgate, I noticed much of the same. I wonder what you think with regards to its relatively poor shape – do you think the lower class demographic is a result of the vendors, the layout, or the location? Or conversely, do you think the lack of premium vendors is a result of the lower class demographic that frequents the mall? I ask because I wonder what it would take for an aggressive investor to turn it around; successful malls are often successful in lower class areas, and it’s not as though Northgate is far in distance from people with ample disposable income.

    Your second picture for Location 6 is unbelievable. I wonder how the Habitat for Humanity group found the house. Do they typically expect the neighborhood to follow suit with their improvements, or do they simply view each house as an improvement worth achieving on its own?

    In all, great work. Your combination of vivid observation, analysis, and pictures provide a nice framework basis for understanding the diversity of Durham’s housing market – from the large lawns to the broken homes. Thanks for sharing!


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