Durham encourages community innovation

By Jackson Foster

UNC Staff Writer

the Durham VOICE


The members of Durham’s Neighborhood Improvement Services are excited, according to Constance Stancil, the director.

On Nov. 12 and 13, Stancil and other representatives from the Durham presented a grant proposal to the Bloomberg Foundation in New York City at an “ideas camp”.

“We were one of 20 cities out of 305 invited to the ideas camp,” Stancil said.

These 20 cities included Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Houston and Phoenix.

Carolyn Holloway, also known as Tootie, is talking to members of the community about the Build a Better Block program she is spearheading. This program is an example of a community initiative that Durham wants to encourage.

“I was amazed everyone knew about Durham,” Stancil said.

Durham is attempting to get the grant in order to “establish proof of concept communications labs,” said Stancil.

This means that Durham will independent buildings in different areas of the city to work to reinvigorate the community, according to Stancil.

The city wants to become the clients of the citizens. “We want them to tell us what to do,” said Stancil.

The difference between this and a lot of the ideas at the camp, according to Stancil, is that Durham’s idea is more of a process than a product or a service.

“We are getting ideas from the community members,” said Stancil. “The community becomes the designers and problem solvers.”

“The word we have been using is bio-mimicry,” said Stancil. “We want to use the resources in the community.”

The city is already working on a redevelopment plan for east Durham, said Stancil. “In 18 to 24 months we hope to have businesses in all the buildings.”

The plan also includes redeveloping around 50 residential properties. “We need to bring in families to support the work,” said Stancil.

This is being timed with “streetscaping,” said Stancil. In 18 to 24 months they plan to repave the streets and sidewalks. This is made to finish around the same time as the redevelopment plan.

Stancil said that the two days of the “ideas camp” helped to prepare the cities for the second round of grant proposals.

“We pitched our idea at the beginning of the two days, then got to refine it, and then pitched it again,” said Stancil.

“It was stressful; we only had 45 seconds to make our pitch,” Stancil recalled.

The final proposal is due Jan. 31, said Stancil.

Stancil said that she feels good about Durham’s chances of getting the grant.

“There are five of them,” Stancil said. “One city will get a five million dollars.  Another four will get one million dollar grants.”

“We split into groups of four cities,” said Stancil. “We explained what our project was and got feedback about our ideas and our pitch.”

“It was supposed to be critical feedback, but we got lots of positive feedback,” Stancil said.

Stancil has a positive outlook on the whole experience, saying that Neighborhood Improvement Services has plans to create idea camps for the community.

The Build a Better Block program is an example of the type of community initiatives that they want to encourage, said Stancil.

“Part of getting the grant is that the idea has to be replicable,” said Stancil.

“We are already talking to another community to help them,” said Stancil.

The program is flexible, explained Stancil.  Even though the other community is more rural the ideas should still translate since it based on community input.

Wynona Jacobs, a property owner and landlord in Northeast Central Durham said, “I am highly impressed with what Neighborhood Improvement Services is doing in this area.”

“Not just revitalization but the whole vitality of the area,” said Jacobs. “It is organized and targeted.  And their communication effort is to be admired.”

Jacobs said she has been investing in the area for three years.

“I was aware of the efforts beforehand.  This is one of the things that convinced me to invest in this area,” said Jacobs.