Driver Street residents embrace positive change

By Olivia Barrow
UNC Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE

When Walter Brice leaves town, he doesn’t worry about his house on Driver Street or his elderly mother living there, because he knows his neighbors will take action if something seems wrong.

Driver Street resident Tony Garrett waves to a neighbor from the front porch of his home for 12 years. The street has changed a lot in those years, he said. (Staff photo by Olivia Barrow)

Brice, who has lived on the street for 20 years in a white house with a wide front porch perfect for enjoying sweet tea on a warm evening, said it hasn’t always been that way.

“Over the years the crime has decreased,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of changes. It is beginning to look good.”

A wide, recently re-paved road lined with oaks older than half the area’s population, Driver Street is now “just a quiet street” – a vast improvement over its former reputation, resident Darrick Hall said, sitting on his front porch with his brother and nephew.

“It used to be a mess, but it’s just a quiet street now since I’ve been here,” Hall said. “It straightened up a lot since I’ve been here. There used to be a lot of little drug dealers, but they cleared up.”

Driver Street’s renaissance goes back as few as two years ago to the opening of the Holton Career and Resource Center in August 2009. Along with increased police presence on the street, the renovation and reopening of the historic middle school as a vocational training school and community center has helped drive revitalization of the street, Hall said.

He said he has seen positive changes throughout the whole neighborhood.

“I go to the store and I don’t see people hanging around asking for change,” Hall said. “We’re trying to get it to be a better place to live.”

One resident is making an effort to encourage civic engagement to better the community. Tony Garrett, a neighborhood veteran with more than 12 years’ home ownership under his belt, works hard to keep his neighbors politically active.

“I’ve been working with a few people trying to get back on the right track,” he said. “We can’t do it without representation downtown. But if you don’t vote, then people could care less.”

Garrett, who offers up his porch swing to guests while taking a seat on an upside-down paint bucket, isn’t shy about speaking of the challenges the area still faces, especially when it comes to education. He said one of his biggest concerns was the lack of accountability for the area’s teenagers to attend school.

“There is no need for young boys to be up and down the street when it’s school hours and no one to say anything,” he said.

“We’re constantly trying to pull things together … letting the children know they’re safe to play. I mean, look today — there should be kids playing,” he said while waving to a neighbor enjoying the pleasant Sunday afternoon.

Recognizing the positive changes since the Holton Center opened, Garrett still expressed concerns for the future.

“I’m kind of a community activist, so I look out for the children if for nobody else,” he said.

In the 12 years Garrett has lived on Driver Street, he said he has seen one male child graduate from high school.

“He happened to be my son,” Garrett said. “That’s ridiculous.”

Teenage boys on Driver Street have few good male role models, Garrett said. Without that influence, they hang out on the streets and are prone to get involved with petty crime.

While vastly improved from previous years, Driver Street is still very much in the growing-pain stage, residents said.

“It’s a good street though,” Hall said. “You got people watching out for each other.”


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