Durham’s Historic Preservation Needs

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Keep It Real:

Durham’s Historic Preservation Needs

Community Needs Assessment 2015

Preservation Durham

In the spring and summer of 2015, Preservation Durham conducted a community needs assessment to determine where Durham’s historic resources face challenges and opportunities and to gather feedback on the organization’s programs and community impact. The following summarizes some of the comments from participants and their major themes.
“Keep it real. But not run down. Or broken. Just make it awesome. “

Growth – Development  – Pressure

The economic growth, an influx of new residents, and the revitalization of downtown were seen as positive things for our city, providing jobs and creative and entrepreneurial opportunities. However, they were also seen as creating challenges, such as development pressure on historic properties (teardowns), rising housing prices leading to a lack of affordable housing and gentrification, and new and infill development that doesn’t connect with the unique look and feel of Durham.
“It seems that the regeneration in Durham in the past 10 years has been built greatly on the preservation of historic buildings.”
“Durham is fortunate to be so desired. We’re growing and people want to invest in our town, especially in areas with historic buildings. This is a great opportunity for preservation. We should harness these resources and excitement.”
“There is an influx of people back to the city who are interested in old neighborhoods and somewhat interested in preservation. All these people can make or break preservation efforts.”
[PD should] “advocate for existing urban fabric and well-considered modern additions to that fabric. Durham is not/should not be Williamsburg, it should be a precedent for growing while understanding and respecting the past.”
“The greatest opportunity for preservation with a social conscience is to find a way to work in neighborhoods where many residents rent, and where average incomes may be low — without displacing any residents.”

Downtown – East Durham – Opportunities

Respondents mentioned many specific places and neighborhoods that they felt needed attention. By far, Downtown was mentioned most often, with East Durham also being cited by many people.
“Downtown buildings. They make much more interesting spaces when renovated instead of tearing down and building new. It’s what makes a place feel like it’s unique to Durham.”
“I think probably there are some treasures in East Durham that are more often overlooked because they are in that neighborhood.”
“Rebuilding downtown and close by neighborhoods by retaining Durham’s character and adding new buildings that retain local vibe.”
“If East Durham can be preserved/ improved without displacing large numbers of residents through speculative gentrification, I think that is the most concentrated area of contributing structures left without significant investment.”
Many other specific areas were mentioned by the respondents in comments that identified areas of concern or where there are opportunities for preservation.

Character – Old and New

In terms of issues mentioned, preservation of character was by far the most common concern, which tied in closely with issues like demolition of historic buildings, compatibility of infill, and educating newcomers.
“Keep the old buildings downtown from being torn down and replaced with cookie cutter buildings.”
Preserving the large number of historic buildings scattered throughout our historic neighborhoods as well as the scale of new development in and adjacent to these neighborhoods.”
“Infill needs to celebrate the preserved properties – not clash.”
“Making sure we don’t become what the New York Times thinks is cool by maintaining our identity. The reason people came back to Durham is that you are able to follow your own path in a location that is a great mix of different social economic groups and true individuals.”

Education – Communication – Partnerships

Respondents were clear that education and outreach are central to Preservation Durham’s work and that this work should reach out to minority and low-income communities.  Commenters asked for more educational programs and opportunities to connect.
[PD should be] “preserving and promoting Durham’s unique spaces, and history, making sure that long term Durham residents (and folks with fewer financial means) have decent housing and are part of the neighborhood revitalization efforts, promoting walkability and front porch socialization in our downtown districts and other neighborhoods.”
“We need to tell the stories of our buildings while making a strong case for why preservation matters to Durham.”
“I would like to see efforts to preserve the character of traditionally african-american neighborhoods.”
Also, there was a clear call for more effective advocacy and better communication about what Preservation Durham does and why it is important. Additionally, many people suggested that Preservation Durham could better leverage its work through partnerships with like minded organizations, such as environmental groups, affordable housing and transit advocates.
“Picking the right fights and winning them. Listening to the community. “
“partnership, collaboration, passion for ‘getting it right'”
“PD needs to be both more effective at communicating the history of built environment to our community, while at the same time taking a leadership role in how we regulate and incentivize preservation.”
“We need to preserve the fabric of older neighborhoods by putting in place historic preservation ordinances coupled with smart use of public space and improvement to walking and biking infrastructure.”
“Figuring out ways that preservation of historic properties can be accomplished WITH alternative energy sources (solar, wind, etc.).”


Of Preservation Durham’s existing programs, the largest number of respondents had participated in the annual Old Durham Home Tour and the Walking Tours. Both members and non-members agreed that Advocacy, the Endangered Properties Program (not currently active), the Places in Peril listings and the Tours were the most mission-critical and also most effective at serving the community’s needs.
Refurbish – preserve – advocate – teach.”
“These programs foster awareness and engagement with the community in the many ways our historic resources enhance life in Durham.”
“I would like to attend 1-2 discussions per year that brought preservation like minded people together to hear a key speaker and then break out into groups to work on key issues relating to Durham.”
After reviewing the comments and analyzing the current programs, Preservation Durham’s work for the coming two years will focus the organization’s resources on Advocacy, Education and Tours. In all areas, there will be a renewed focus on communication – sharing the work of the organization and gathering input at the grassroots level. With each program, PD will make an effort to take events, workshops and focus to the neighborhoods and issues that emerged in the needs assessment. Some examples include
  • the Places in Peril committee will comb the assessment comments for specific sites, as well as share more information about its work;
  • the mothballed Leadership Lecture program will be revived to focus on neighborhoods in transition and a community conversation on gentrification;
  • the Renovator’s Network will offer homeowner education programs targeted to a variety of skill levels and include affordability issues like weatherization;
  • the Home Tour and a new program of online renovation tours will feature homes in a variety of neighborhoods, especially those identified in the assessment, and will be more inclusive of smaller homes and less expensive renovations.
  • Click here for a matrix showing detailed information about our proposed programs.


The assessment process was conducted by Hanbury Preservation Consulting and included an online survey distributed citywide, four community meetings, thirteen stakeholder interviews, a survey of Preservation Durham’s Board of Directors and a retreat with the Board. Approximately, 600 people participated in the needs assessment in total, with 569 people taking the online survey. Remarkably, of the survey respondents, 273 said that they were not members of Preservation Durham. Survey respondents participated from around the city – downtown, central neighborhoods, north and south, east and west.