By Cara Oxendine
NCCU Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE
Old Five Points, one of NECD’s neighborhoods, was originally a commercial district that deteriorated due to a falling economy and highway projects that discouraged pedestrian traffic. Today, the community is working to revive the area.
Old Five Points gets its name from the five-way intersection that marks the center of what used to be a thriving business and commercial district: North Mangum, Corporation and Cleveland Streets. Like other neighborhoods in NECD, Old Five Points is struggling to revive and rebuild what is left of their community.
So far, they have started with a neighborhood association, a new school, UDI Community Development Corporation (a non-profit organization that aims to raise economic welfare, education and social levels of the low-income, underprivileged residents of Durham), and Clean Energy Durham (a non-profit program that combines neighborhood organizing with energy education).
“Even though we are a targeted neighborhood, being one of the four corridors into downtown, there really hasn’t been a focus since UDI decided they wanted to do the Mangum St.-Corporation project,” said Steve Hopkins, president of Old Five Points neighborhood association.
UDI recently renovated nine houses in partnership with the city of Durham and plans to renovate the commercial district on Mangum as well.
“They are supposed to re-do all the buildings, plant trees, set out tables and build apartments over the stores,” said Iris Fisher, retired Durham Public School employee and long-time resident of Old Five Points. She said it will probably take about five years and is still in the planning stages.
Hopkins got involved with the neighborhood association after looking into the city’s plans for the area, explaining, “There are a lot of plans being discussed without Old Five Points neighborhood involvement, so I wanted to change that.”
“As far as the community – It’s a work in progress,” said Hopkins. “I have meetings, cookouts and other things planned to get folks talking, knowing who’s next door, and feeling comfortable with each other.”
“I’m just trying to build a relationship with the businesses in the area, let them get to know me, and get a feel for what I’m trying to do for the community.” He said it’s been hard to find good times to meet with business owners, and that turnout for those meetings has been low.
One of their events, ‘Pic-Nic in the Park,’ helped clean up Rocky Creek Park, and helped alleviate prostitution and drugs in the area. The City, along with the IMPACT team, cleaned the park before the event and the police department regularly patrols it. Around 100 people attended the August event.
“Everybody came by…the district attorney, the police, commissioners, judges, the mayor, and the city managers,” said Fisher. “And also Old North Durham [neighborhood] joined us in the park on Elizabeth Street. I mean we had a really good turnout, it made a difference of having the people there that day.”
Union Independent School, across from Union Baptist Church, is also helping control the crime by occupying a formerly vacant lot that the IMPACT team helped to clear. This team works to clean-up illegal dumpings, set-outs, graffiti and maintains vacant lots for the city.
Union Independent School was built by Union Baptist Church and opened in September, said Fisher. It provides a free, private school education for kindergarten through second graders. They plan to increase a grade level each year, going all the way through high school.
“It is a transitional community right now,” said Hopkins. The neighborhood association has enabled the community to come together, and collaborate about what they want for Old Five Points.
“Between me, the police and interested residents in the neighborhood, the crime issues are being addressed,” said Hopkins. The presence of the Union School has made a big difference in the community. It’s given youth and their families a resource that keeps them off the streets and out of trouble.
“They also opened a skate park down on Foster Street, probably about two blocks away,” said Fisher. She said other youth activities and programs are available through UDI and local churches, like Antioch and Union Baptist.
While there is still work to be done and issues to be addressed, Old Five Points is trying to rise.