When Briana Outlaw moved back to Bloodworth Street in high school, she noticed people jogged by neighbors’ houses instead of stopping to chat. Most of the families she knew as a child living in the neighborhood were gone.
Outlaw, 27, a graduate student at N.C. State University, is studying landscape architecture. She wants to see if there’s way to preserve the neighborhoods’ culture, give it the improvements it needs and keep longtime residents in their homes instead of being priced out as homes are rebuilt.
The city has approved plans to do that in the historically black College Park and Idlewild neighborhoods just east of downtown. Redevelopment in Idlewild has begun, with new homes cropping up in the area. College Park is the subject of a recently approved neighborhood redevelopment plan recently approved by the city council. But the city’s plan was met with criticism from residents.
Outlaw will propose ways to improve roads and public spaces to better fit with the way Idlewild and College Park residents use their space. The neighborhood will be be rebuilt for them, she said, instead of using standards that are used in most neighborhoods.
In her research, Outlaw found many African-American communities like College Park use roads as gathering places for community events. Instead of building standard roads and sidewalks, she said, the city could consider that while planning road projects in College Park. The city could also make it a priority to revitalize old retail hubs within the neighborhood, she said.
“I think College Park has a lot to offer,” Outlaw said. “It’d be a pity to change it without preserving it.”
A revised plan could empower residents to feel ownership over their communities that have seen change as downtown’s growth creeps outward. Thoughtful improvements, like sidewalks and roads near well-traveled areas, could spur all kinds of investment from within the current community, Outlaw said.
College Park is the main focus of Outlaw’s study, which will include a paper and presentation.
“It would be nice if the city considered this approach, because not every neighborhood is the same,” she said.
College Park, centered on St. Augustine’s University, was home to black professors and students in the early 1900s. Residents owned their own businesses, built their own homes and had a thriving black middle class, Outlaw found in her research.
Outlaw’s interest in the neighborhoods began last summer, when she was a planning intern with Raleigh’s Urban Design Center. The center is part of the city’s planning department.
She’s interviewed residents, driven around the neighborhood and sat in Citizen Advisory Council and other community meetings, where she’s seen the city’s newest plans for College Park.
In November, the city approved a Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Area plan for a portion of College Park. It will allow the city to create financial programs to make it easier to build new homes and rehabilitate old ones. Residents would be able to stay in their homes, city staff said during the application process.
A month later, city council also approved a comprehensive affordable housing plan that had strategies for redeveloping certain neighborhoods near downtown. College Park’s revitalization strategy plan was part of that plan.
But residents have criticized those efforts, concerned that a side effect of the proposed changes would mean displacement and homes that are no longer affordable enough for many residents who grew up in the neighborhood. The city, and other organizations, have been involved with several redevelopment projects, like Walnut Terrace south of downtown, that have left people unable to return to their homes because of higher rents or restrictive rental requirements.
“It just didn’t feel right,” Outlaw said of the city’s plans. “I see no harm in re-evaluating it since the College Park residents actively said no.” In community meetings, College Park residents opposed the plan before it went to city council for approval.
Octavia Rainey, a neighborhood activist and lifelong College Park resident, said the city’s plans will displace too many black residents. Planning staff never asked for input from current residents, she said.
She supports Outlaw’s study because it’s a new way to protect minorities and their housing – something the city has failed to do with past housing projects, Rainey said.
“The goal of Briana’s project is an opportunity to look at how we can save our neighborhood,” she said.