March 21, 2014
By David Whisenant
It may be a way to makeover the dirty little secret that nearly every city has. Abandoned and dilapidated houses, run down property that attracts crime, lowers property values, and puts a drain on city resources.
In Salisbury, city leaders are looking to an examples in the state’s capital and wondering, could we do that here?
Every city has them, boarded up or broken down houses, vacant lots, and absentee property owners who just don’t care. In an effort to do something about this, local leaders have found an inspiration on Cooke Street in Raleigh.
Just blocks from downtown and the state capitol, it was a distressed neighborhood.
The city bought up land in a two block area adjacent to the traditional and upscale Oakwood neighborhood, and came up with a plan.
“It’s mostly affordable housing,” Jedidiah Gant told WBTV. Gant is President of the Homeowners Association in Cooke Street and one of the driving forces behind the development. “It’s to kind of bridge the gap so it’s not young or old or white or black or rich or poor, it’s kind of this middle ground, and I think that’s how it flourished.”
The city worked with four developers to build new homes, then offered them for sale. Some of the homes were specifically set aside for income restricted buyers. The developers worked with the city, sticking to specific guidelines about what kind of homes would be built.
“The southern tradition of bungalows, Charleston and Savannah, and Rainbow Row, so you have that and the city modeled it after that,” Gant added.
The rebirth of the neighborhood also led to the reopening of a neighborhood grocery store. Open now for six months, Quality Grocery also added a deli and outdoor seating.
Gant says the key to growing the community is to keep it dense and diverse, both economically and demographically.
“Maybe some of the people who live in the neighborhood are upper middle class, but we don’t want it to be all upper middle class, we don’t want it to all seem like that, we don’t want all the house to be 2000 square foot, we want some to be 1000 and affordable for young families.” Gant added, saying that overlapping demographics was important.
The community is also very walkable, and the new greenway encourages neighbors to mingle.
“We want our property values to go up, yet we want it to be vary attractive for young families, for single families, for old couples, retirees,” Gant added.
Could the Cooke Street example work in Salisbury? Longtime resident Rebecca Tracey says yes, if one thing isn’t overlooked.
“You have to respect the poor, do it for the poor people, the rich can take care of their selves, that’s just my opinion,” Tracey told WBTV.
And that’s what Gant says has been very important about Cooke Street. He says incomes of residents vary greatly. Now, more than 30 families live in the Cooke Street neighborhood, and each year there is a carnival that draws around 5000 people.
Gant also added that what happened in Cooke Street is now in development for more blocks east of the Cooke Street community. He admits there have been some struggles in working with different developers and making sure all concerns of groups in the affected community are heard.
“The city did something that was able to bring in residents that cared about their neighborhood and their city, and making friends and making neighbors in a way that I think we are carrying on,” Gant added.
As far as the possibilities for Salisbury, two members of the Salisbury City Council told WBTV today that they would recommend going forward and looking more closely at the Cooke Street model. They say they have not identified specific neighborhoods, but say there are several areas around town that could qualify for such a program.