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How Druid Hills builds a stronger neighborhood

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Darryl Gaston’s goal is a stronger Druid Hills neighborhood. The neighborhood just created a new website in hopes of creating a more inclusive community. Along with social media, community meetings, and posters, the focus placed on communication in Druid Hills helps ensure that residents are engaged in building relationships among neighbors at a time when development is en route.

“In Druid Hills we not only want to be included but we want to be involved in the process, it’s one thing to just be included but to be involved and to be at the table, that’s outstanding,” said Gaston, president of the Druid Hills Neighborhood Association.

Gaston and other members of the neighborhood created the website to keep neighbors informed about community events and important information regarding gentrification and development. The website was created with the help of a City of Charlotte neighborhood matching grant program, neighborhood equity hours, and donations.

With the help of a professor at UNC Charlotte, Druid Hills neighbors applied for a technology grant. The grant provided access to technology that helps identify what’s happening in the neighborhood, and helps determine what resources are needed to help improve the community.

“What are you going to do to help where you live?,” Gaston said in a recent interview on his front porch. “I think it’s all about the mental awarenesses of individuals in helping others obtain dignity. We try to do that through job training and connecting people to resources that they need to help them feel that they are visible, vital, and valuable.”

A key challenge that Gaston says the neighborhood is facing now is centered around tax evaluations. “A lot of the properties have increased in tax value to an astronomical degree some over 200 percent some over 300 percent and it is very daunting to  individuals who have limited resources.”

To fix this challenge Gaston and other members of the community have tried to educate their senior citizens about the city of Charlotte’s tax abatement programing and the Aging in Place initiative which  helps communities sustain their efforts in support for older adults who age in their homes and communities. “ We have met with people to help them walk through that application process and educate them about it. I realized that we will not be able to stop the change that will come to the community but we will do everything in our power to help people understand that if you want to stay in your home there are resources that may be of value to you to help you do that and to help people understand that if you do sell your home that’s okay.”

Druid Hills is also a part of the North End Smart District. Residents of the district are discussing the installation of waste containers that send a message to the city to let them know when they are full. The neighborhood has outdoor park benches with built-in phone-charging outlets, and the bench also collects data on how people experience the park. Neighborhood leaders are also thinking about additional use of technology to improve the community.

“I’m open to learning about new ways of implementing technology as we move forward,” he said. “So whatever we can do in terms of technology to makes us a more valuable community, I am for it.”

Photo above: In addition to New Calvary Pentecostal Holiness Church and other churches, Druid Hills is home to the North End Smart District, Camp North End, and the Charlotte Fire Department headquarters.

Alice Cristea and Taylor Cruz are Digital Charlotte interns and students at Queens University of Charlotte.

Brad Panovich is a TV meteorologist who uses social media to educate people who don't watch TV.
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