Charlotte’s Changing Neighborhoods, Enduring Pride
Breweries, expensive housing, coffee shops, and galleries— all signs point to gentrification in the low-income communities that surround uptown. Much has already been said about the changing faces of Cherry, Optimist Park, and Washington Heights. Soon Druid Hills will join the ranks of the gentrified. Druid Hills is a small, quaint neighborhood with craftsman-style homes, active churches, and a K-8 public school. With its unique identity in mind, Druid Hills hopes to maintain its pride and culture as it’s done in previous hard times.
Druid Hills has experienced highs and lows throughout the decades as described by Charlotte Magazine. In the early 1900s, Druid Hills was home to a Ford Model T plant. When that closed in the 30s, the site became a U.S. Army supply depot then a missile plant, which later shut its doors in the 60s. At the same time, displaced individuals from demolished majority-black neighborhoods (such as Brooklyn) migrated north to working class communities including Druid Hills. White flight ensued. By the 70s, with scarce jobs and high crime rates, Druid Hills was not a safe place to live.
Much has changed since then. Darryl Gaston, a third generation Druid Hills resident, returned to the neighborhood in the 90s and decided it was time for a change. As the president of the Druid Hills Neighborhood Association, he’s led neighborhood watches, created beautification clubs, and organized a community garden. In addition to the internal improvements, property values in Druid Hills have increased, for better or for worse. Called “the biggest trend in Charlotte real estate” by Charlotte Agenda, developers have been targeting low-income, minority neighborhoods around uptown for new housing, retail, and entertainment venues. Long-time Druid Hills residents often receive letters from developers asking if they’re interested in selling their property. In addition, construction of the multi-purpose office and apartment space Camp North End was recently completed near the southern edge of Druid Hills, drawing even more attention to the neighborhood. According to Gaston, “Long-time residents in Druid Hill are anxious and perplexed.” They feel like they’re being forced out of their homes with the rising property taxes.
Though the gentrified tide shows no signs of stopping anytime soon, not all is lost. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership is working to provide homes and homeownership education to Druid Hills and other neighborhoods impacted by Charlotte’s lack of affordable housing. “The new Legacy Homes being built in Druid Hills [demonstrate] the Housing Partnership’s intentionality of providing the neighborhood with affordable workforce housing,” Gaston says.
Druid Hills still has other needs. Though commercial development is welcome, Gaston says most residents just want more grocery stores. However, for now, local entities such as Druid Hills community garden, Big M Stables, and the Druid Hills Neighborhood Association will serve as the glue that keeps Druid Hills connected and hopeful. When asked what the neighborhood is most proud of, Gaston said,
“I think knowing that the neighbors in Druid Hills are visible, vital, and valuable sparks neighborhood pride.
- “About Druid Hills.” Legacy Druid Hills, The Housing Partnership, 2016, legacydruidhills.com/about/.
- “Druid Hills Neighborhood Association Board Retreat.” City of Charlotte, Druid Hills Neighborhood Association Board Retreat, 2014.
- Dunn, Andrew. “Two Miles from Uptown, the Druid Hills Neighborhood Is in Line for Massive Change.” Charlotte Agenda, Charlotte Agenda, 17 July 2017, www.charlotteagenda.com/96949/two-miles-uptown-druid-hills-neighborhood-line-massive-change/.
- Garmon-Brown, Ophelia, et al. Opportunity Task Force Report. Leading on Opportunity, 2017, Opportunity Task Force Report, www.leadingonopportunity.org/report/introduction.
- Stodghill, Ron. “Last Call With Ron Stodghill: Books in the ‘Hood.” Charlotte Magazine, 21 Feb. 2017, www.charlottemagazine.com/Charlotte-Magazine/March-2017/Last-Call-With-Ron-Stodghill-Books-in-the-Hood/.