City council candidate Bonita Green impacts a Durham community with her legacy garden

Bonita Green, pictured in front of the vegetable garden at the Samuel Green Sr. Community Garden.

Bonita Green, community advocate and director of the Merrick-Moore Community Development Corporation, is running for City Council At-Large this fall with one significant campaign objective in mind: to promote meaningful and sustainable grassroots change.

After moving back to Durham from Florida in 2012, Green noticed not only how much her community had changed, but how little the Merrick-Moore community was included in conversations about development. 

Merrick-Moore Park, a 50-acre athletic park, was originally named Hoover Road Park, despite 45 acres being in the community. Green said she fought hard to ensure her community was properly represented, but she realized it was up to her and the community to maintain itself. 

Instead of waiting for current Council members to accomplish her goals, Green decided to run for City Council, she said. 

Part of Green’s grassroots development work has been organizing construction of the Samuel Green Sr. Community Garden project — named after her father, who was a pillar of the community — which started in 2019. 

The project gained traction after the corporation received a grant from the Neighborhood Matching Grant from the City of Durham in 2021. 

That same year, Merrick-Moore community members worked together to design the garden: a design Green said is meant to support the needs of the community. However, while the garden now serves as a pillar of the community and represents an effort to save its history and culture, gentrification is a large inhibitor of the community that exists today, she said.

Between the community garden and the rest of the 50 acres is a large, barren construction lot. The land, owned by KB Home, is the future site for the Aster Ridge Community, a townhome development which Green said was once intended to be a high-density housing community. 

The Merrick-Moore community fought hard to reduce the number of homes from 328 to 201, Green said. And while they were able to win that battle, Green said the increasing prevalence of high-density housing in Durham remains an issue in the city. 

High-density housing is not the answer to solving Durham’s housing crisis, she said. Green is President of the InterNeighborhood Council of Durham (INC), and when Jim Anthony and his team submitted the 87-page Simplifying Codes for more Affordable Development (SCAD) proposal in March — which would revise the existing rules in place for zoning — Green did a line-by-line read with the INC. 

“SCAD will be really good for developers, but it’s gonna be really bad for Durham in a nutshell,” she said. “Because, in looking at where their thinking is, it’s all in formerly red-lined communities.”

Gentrification exists all around the Merrick-Moore community. Between old homes, owned by the same Black families which created the community, sits newer, mismatched developments. 

“We need representation from the community,” Green said. “We need representation from Durham, and someone who cares that we develop, but we develop with the people that are here in mind, and not just throwing up ugly houses, random-looking houses in places that don’t mix with the rest of the neighborhood because your intent is to force the people out.”

One home — the Thompson home, Green called it — was once made from an old feed barn. But after developers purchased the property, the entire cabin was destroyed. Some of that wood now lines the garden. 

Green said gentrification is not an accident but an intentional move on part of the city, to create favorable conditions for developers — especially since property taxes in the community remain high while the land value is low. 

“It creates a problem between the people who have been here, and the people that are coming; it creates a resentment,” she said. “Because the people who’ve been here, you know, you’re extracting taxes from our community to put into another community, and that’s not equitable.”

Green said more work needs to be done in the Council to hold the Planning Department accountable, a problem she says is exacerbated by developers’ increased presence in Durham. Durham’s overdevelopment, she said, is unsustainable and puts strain on both roads and traffic, and strain on city workers. 

“We have city workers that work in Durham, but they can’t afford to live here, and we don’t have a circular economy,” she said. “We’re supporting incentivizing big business, but we’re not incentivizing the small businesses, and we’re not helping our city workers to stay in the city, so they can spend their money in the city. So, they make their money here, and they go elsewhere to spend their money in other communities. We need to keep that money and retain it in Durham.”

Some of this strain placed on city workers is a result of Durham’s defund the police initiative, as well as newly implemented programs such as HEART — a mental health initiative started in 2022 by the City of Durham — and ShotSpotter, a gunshot detection technology which was approved by City Council as part of the 2022-23 fiscal year budget, Green said. 

The money spent on these programs, she said, could have been better spent funding various city departments so city workers could get paid more, and the defund-the-police ideology is the reason why various city departments are short-staffed.

Part of Green’s plan for smart development, another focus of her campaign, is developing housing that meets all-income levels. This means creating more housing that matches the income distribution of current Durham residents. 

Green said this can be done without gentrification, by building homes in the same style as the community and ‘flipping’ homes.

Another pillar of Green’s campaign is environmental stewardship, which plays a huge role in the way she maintains the Samuel Green Sr. Garden. By providing food to food insecure Durhamites and teaching people how to make better, more sustainable use of the land they live on, the Samuel Green Sr. garden initiative demonstrates her passion for protecting Durhamities from the environmental damage development causes, she said.

Part of Green’s sustainability efforts include composting—with her goal to make the composting a community project, where residents can bring their own material waste to the garden—creating a rainwater garden to collect water runoff and constructing a pollinator garden. 

Green said standing up for what she believes in, and giving voice to the community and people that matter to her, is a big part of her campaign. 

“I’m not fearful of whoever’s there, and whatever they think they’re gonna bring or do,” she said. “I’m not easily intimidated, but I’m a fair-minded individual. I will definitely stand my ground for the people of Durham. I will fight for the people of Durham.”

While the Durham Political Action Committees have not endorsed Green, current Mayor Elaine O’Neal does.

“I have a groundswell of support,” she said. “I’m comfortable being the underdog that nobody’s willing to pay too much attention to me, because I’m actively working to gain people’s respect and their trust, that I will do what I say I’m gonna do. I’m not gonna get up there and flip and be a different person. I’m not corruptible.”

For more information about Bonita Green and her campaign, as well as the work she has done for the Merrick-Moore community, visit her website.

Plaque in front of the tree dedicated to Bonita Green for her work developing Merrick-Moore Park.

Edited by Emmy Trivette