Where To Live In Durham
April 15, 2005 11:18 AM   Subscribe

Where to live in/around Durham, NC?

We're moving to Durham, NC in August so I can go to Duke Divinity School (I'm getting a Master's degree in preparation for a PhD in religion). Given that we a) aren't rich, but are not completely destitute, b) want to live in an area that is progressive, older and has some personality, and c) have 2 little kids, where should we be look for housing? And where should we stay when we go to visit next weekend?
posted by vraxoin to Travel & Transportation around Durham, NC (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Bearing in mind that I left the area in 2000, and mostly I lived over in Carrboro or out in the wilds of northern Chatham County:

The area near Duke's East Campus (the other one, not where the Div school is; it used to be the women's college) is affordable; sort of a combination of rednecks, grad students, and gays. You'd be able to easily walk to the Duke bus and catch a ride to main campus. This is probably your best target.

Neighborhoods near Club seem to be generally okay, with older, smaller homes; it's the area west and south of Northgate Mall. You could bike in from here if you really wanted to.

Schools I have no freakin' idea about.

You might also look outside of Durham. Mebane is a little town a couple stops west on the interstate; it's generally cheaper than Durham and you'd be able to do more walking-to-stuff when you were there (but it would mean a 15--20 minute ride into campus).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:45 AM on April 15, 2005

Best answer: I'm a Ph.D. student at Duke now, and can help you off-list as well. I belong to lots of email listservs where various housing options are offered for next year right now. That, and household objects (and cars!) are hot topics right now. Contact me through my username and I'll send you whatever you're interested in. As far as areas, the Divinity School is on WEST campus as far as I know. The campus is split, and there are buses that run between them. I personally like the areas off of East campus, so it depends how willing you are to take the bus back and forth. If you're just doing it once a day, no big deal. If you have the idea that you'll go home more often throughout the day, then live closer to West Campus. Another consideration is parking. If you want to drive and park close to school without paying, park near East and take the bus. If you don't mind paying for parking (the permits vary in price, depending on the proximity of the lot to the campus), then just get a spot close to West campus and be done with it. I'm sure that all of your classes in DIVINITY will be on West campus, but if you're like most students, you'll take a few classes in other departments: English and Cultural Anthropology are mostly on West, Literature, History and Music are on East. Trinity Park is the name of a fairly nice neighbourhood adjacent to East campus. The good thing is that rent is cheap here - I assume you're renting, and not buying?

This is the off-campus housing website for Duke. It will give you a good idea for prices and locations. This is the East Campus map, and this is the West Campus map, to give you an idea about scale. I have to run to class, but would be happy to answer more questions here, answer more questions via email/phone, and/or show you around while here. I have a car and wouldn't mind spending an afternoon giving you a quick tour if the department doesn't have anything arranged. On preview, it's true that you have to decide if you want to walk/bike/short drive to school, in which case you'll be looking at options close to campus, or if you'd rather live in some other area [fill in the blanks with whatever you'd rather have], and drive in instead. I chose to live close and walk/bike, but I don't have kids or a partner who works elsewhere. If you are moving with someone who may be working in Chapel Hill, RTP, Raleigh, Cary or some other locale, that may skew your decision.
posted by fionab at 11:57 AM on April 15, 2005

Oh yes, this is the parents @ Duke website/listserv. I'd suggest joining and asking them about schools, daycare, or any other considerations about kids. They are fairly active and would have a better answers for those questions. There is tons of info on there about childcare.
posted by fionab at 12:02 PM on April 15, 2005

As for visiting, there's a Mariott downtown - I've never seen the rooms, but I think they have a Duke rate. There's also a Mariott Courtyard close by, but not walkable (especially with kids). The pricey option is the Washington Duke Inn. I would recommend NOT staying at the Millenium Hotel - it was awful. There's also some super cheap places on Hillsborough that are kind of horrible - they're cheap, but cheap places on 15-501 would be better. Here is a Durham lodging map and site. When I came out here to get a place, I stayed for a week at this Homewood Suites. It's a little drive (10 mins) but it was nice with a kitchen for breakfast, and it had a little living room, which might be good with kids. There are closer options though - I'd call the Marriott downtown and ask about their Duke rate. It's pretty close and not too sketchy.
posted by fionab at 12:23 PM on April 15, 2005

If you are interested in Trinity Park (close to East campus), they have a website and listservs - there is one for parents, which may also be useful.
posted by fionab at 12:27 PM on April 15, 2005

Fair amount of crime in Trinity Park -- be sure to check that listserv. Not like rapes and homicides, more like B&Es and stuff getting stolen out of cars. It seems to be a popular location for vagrants and ne'er-do-wells. There's also a persistent problem with frat houses, jammed to capacity, holding parties that go on long into the night, spill over into neighbors' yards, and prompt the cops to show up for noise violations. (You have kids, so this may be important to you.) Shame, because it's a beautiful neighborhood with wonderful old homes. However, I can say that the more established residents are very proactive and involved in trying to solve community problems.

Personally I'd check the Watts-Hillandale area. Still close by, but a bit more stable.
posted by Dean King at 1:06 PM on April 15, 2005

it depends how willing you are to take the bus back and forth. If you're just doing it once a day, no big deal. If you have the idea that you'll go home more often throughout the day, then live closer to West Campus

That makes it sound like a real trek, but (unless they've reduced service since 2000) it's only about a 10 minute bus ride, if that. Put differently, going between West and East campuses takes about as long as it does to walk from one end of a campus to the other. Live wherever suits you better and don't worry if you're close to East instead of West.

As far as hotels go, there are the standard cheap chains along the interstate. I'd just stay in one of those.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:00 PM on April 15, 2005

I didn't mean to make it sound like a trek, and if you're used to large campuses, it won't make you bat an eye. I'm personally used to smaller places, and the separate campuses was/is odd. But if he has small kids and wants to go home throughout the day, it does make a (slight) difference. A 10-15 minute walk home, compared with a few minutes waiting for the bus, getting on a crowded bus for 10 minutes, then another 10-15 minute walk home can make the difference between popping home for lunch, or not. I'm not saying that the bus prevents you from going back and forth, but with two kids at home, it can change the equation slightly. The threshold for that is different for everyone; I'm just putting it out there as a consideration. If he's walking or biking in and doesn't expect to go home throughout the day, it's really not a big deal - you're right. And yeah - some areas of Durham have problems with crime. Trinity Park has its share, but I don't know if I would say it's more than other areas or not. You are right about the undergrads, but in my experience they tend to cluster in the first street or two around campus; go off slightly and you're fine. Old West Durham and Watts-Hillandale are both great neighbourhoods as well, and I have plenty of friends that live in these three neighbourhoods and haven't had any problems. As with any place, there are great neighbourhoods with pockets of ick, and vice versa. Durham has taken me a long time to get used to - out of all the places I've lived, this has been the roughest transition. But the rent is cheap, the weather is pretty good, and I'm sure you'll find a great place to live. I think the questions will be: 1. How much do you want to pay? 2. What kind of commute do you want -- do you want to live further for a particular school for your kids, or close to Duke? 3. If you have a partner joining you that will be working somewhere else in the Triangle, what kind of compromise can you reach? Because there are any combinations of those, but knowing what the priority is can change some of these answers.

I didn't know there were so many Durhamites here - maybe we need a mini-meetup?
posted by fionab at 3:29 PM on April 15, 2005

If you're going to be renting and care/worry about schools for your kids, and you don't mind paying a bit more and a drive in, you might as well at least take a look in Chapel Hill too. Having said I don't know about schools in Durham, I do remember that schools in Durham vary quite a bit (including very good schools), but Chapel Hill is uniformly good. I doubt you'd choose to live over there, but it's probably worth at least a look.

Chapel Hill is more liberal than Durham but I don't think I'd characterize it "progressive" in any meaningful way. It's sort of like Cary in the sense of bland homogeneity, but with piously liberal well-off people running the horrible restrictive zoning laws that regulate what colors you can paint your inside walls.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:20 PM on April 15, 2005

Durhamites, unite! We should totally have a meetup at Francesca's or something sometime.

I live down in north Hope Valley, and while that's not exactly an older neighborhood, it's safe and quiet. It's a nice distance from downtown, Chapel Hill, the freeway, and Southpoint (i.e. the mall). I also love the Old Chapel Hill Rd area, just south of Archdale heading down to University. From what I've seen driving around, the area just off University all along the way is quite nice. I have a friend who lives in the area between Academy/Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd/Anderson, and I think that area is a bit older, w/ slightly more character. I also have a friend who lives in Trinity Park, and she loves it. Another friend once temporarily lived in the area just south of Club, west of Duke St--that was quite nice as well.

Chapel Hill: I'd have lived there if I could afford it. But for the money we spent for our house, we got an extra 500 sq. ft. of house, plus tons more yard.
posted by statolith at 5:41 PM on April 15, 2005

Yeesh. Where were you folks when jessamyn spoke at UNC and we had a Raleigh meetup? :P

I left Durham for Raleigh 8-9 years ago, but the recommendations for Old West Durham (a neat little urban neighborhood that's really taken off in the last decade) and Trinity Park (where the neighbors have banded together to buy out the landlord whose tenants have been hosting huge frat parties regularly) seem about right. Here's more about the Trinity Park off-campus party flap from the Duke student paper. I've also emailed 3.2.3, a longtime Durhamite who knows the city well (and, ahem, who came to the meetup :), to tell him about this thread.

If you settle in Durham, vraxoin, the schools question will be at least somewhat easier, given that the Durham county and city school systems merged in the early 90s. If you end up in Orange County, which includes Chapel Hill/Carrboro and Hillsborough, you'll have to decide between the Chapel Hill and Orange County systems, which are still separate and generally perceived as unequal. Merger proposals have recently gone nowhere, so the better schools remain in Chapel Hill/Carrboro, while the cheaper rents are in the county outside the two towns. Tough choice. statolith's right, though, about relative buying power in Chapel Hill and Durham. I have no friends who've been able to buy houses in Chapel Hill, and more than a few who've bought houses in Durham.

Finally, welcome to the area! It's a neat place to live, with Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill all within 20 minutes of each other.
posted by mediareport at 8:22 PM on April 15, 2005

Best answer: Thanks to mediareport for tipping me off about this thread. I will, in turn, tip off halcyon daze and bendy.

I moved out of Trinity Heights (directly adjacent East Campus to the north, as opposed to Trinity *Park* to the west) to Northgate Park a year ago. The neighborhoods around campus have become completely gentrified and unaffordable. My rent there doubled in six years. These are the neighborhoods that are "older and have some personality." You pay through the ass for that personality.

These nearby neighborhoods consider themselves progressive. But I think that is a term in the eye of the beholder. I found nothing progressive about neighborhood associations obsessed with crime, students, rental property, and housing codes. Yet, they only have repressive and regressive proposals for dealing with these things, as alluded to in mediareport's touching on the off campus party flap. I left feeling quite bitter about the residents around campus. Neighborhoods around campus are also deeply affected by the university's plantation like approach to development. The university has cultivated some pretty slick and effective PR to deal with neighborhoods.

The generally acknowledged affordable neighborhoods in town now by conventional wisdom are Northgate Park and Lakewood. Lakewood is on the upward curve to becoming gentrified and has the reputation of being the retirement village for the Triangle's aging rock stars looking to settle down and procreate. Northgate Park is at the point where it will probably go gentrified in the next few years and is where are the young rock stars are moving. But the getting is good now.

Both neighborhoods are in flux as the senior populations die off and are replaced by the youngest. Neighborhoods around campus are more middle aged at this point. Northgate Park is ten minutes of bus ride away from East Campus. Lakewood is ten minutes of bus ride away from West Campus. Div School is on West Campus. These two neighborhoods have the luxury of being out of the immediate orbit of university manipulation, and enjoy somewhat less strained political climates as a result.

Duke Park, Old North Durham, and Old West Durham are somewhat in the middle. Old West Durham might be your best bet. I consider that neighborhood kid friendly. It is walking distance to East Campus. Its neighborhood association actually is rather progressive and the residents seem pretty tight knit in the welcoming way. Old West Durham is closer to campus than Watts Hillandale and *way* more affordable. Last I looked a few months ago, several reasonable places in Old West Durham were available. Old West Durham has much old mill village character, but in a way that would be considered "seedy" or "in need of paint" by the pseudo-progressives of the gentry immediately around campus.

I would not suggest locating outside of Durham. The cities of the Triangle are "twenty minutes" apart as the crow flies with no traffic. But there is always horrible traffic any time working folks are moving about. I live in Durham and work in Chapel Hill. The commute is miserable and takes out huge chunks of my day. Raleigh is further away. I should move to Chapel Hill but am somewhat tied to Durham for awhile due to some community organization obligations that would be difficult to backfill at the moment. It would save me two hours per day and a lot of gas and parking fees to move.

Even southern Durham County feels like the other side of the moon, trafficwise.

Durham is a patchwork of poor and more affluent neighborhoods side by side. It is one of the most visibly segregated places you'll ever find, which leads people to believe it is "high crime." Truth is, you just can't hide from crime and poverty in Durham like people do in other places. Racism is very out in the open here, especially among the affluent "progressives" who would never be able to admit it.

Police describe the more affluent neighborhoods as the "candy stores." All neighborhoods have crime except, as far as I can tell, Northgate Park which, except for a bizarre murder last year, has next to none. I think this is mostly because it is well integrated and very working class. One reason I like Northgate Park so much is because it is one of the few very integrated neighborhoods in the city, which I feel contributes to its relative peacefulness compared to the rest of the city.

I disagree with the recommendation of Watts-Hillandale being more stable crimewise. It just has *less* crime than Trinity Park. My friends there still report plenty of gunfire. Watts-Hillandale is the second most gentrified neighborhood in the city core after Trinity Park. The highest crime around campus is Burch Avenue, into which Duke has poured a lot of PR money. But the root causes of crime and poverty there are not being addressed. The attitude to crime in Durham seems to be "get rich white people to move in and fix the place up."

If, as a Div student, you want to do missionary work in crime and poverty, move to Walltown. It's sandwiched between Trinity Heights, Old West Durham, Watts-Hillandale, Glendale Heights, and Trinity Park. Keep your kids indoors in Walltown as there are drive-by shootings (thirty bullet holes in a house only a block and half a way from my old house in Trinity Park) and crack is sold openly on street corners (the police here are as corrupt as they come). Some students live in Walltown. Habitat for Humanity is highly active there. A local credit union is attempting a home ownership project there, but I'm afraid the houses being rehabbed and financed are being snapped up by petit gentry. The Walltown Neighborhood Association is one of the best in the city.

As opposed to gentry, there's an old money neighborhood in town that is on the decline, and has some affordable finds: Forest Hills. It's very beautiful with a huge park and state of the art bike trail starting there. The crime in Forest Hills seems to be of the old money in-family murder variety.

Durham has the highest per capita tenancy in the United States. And the attitude of rental property owners reflects it. Rental companies own the courts and the inspections department in Durham. There's not a rental company here to recommend as an outstanding citizen, but Apple Realty is acknowledged to be the least offensive (some of my friends who lease from them may disagree). If you are looking to buy, they probably also have the leads on the best deals (former rental mill house fixer uppers).

If you do buy here, please don't do as the Yankees do when moving here and snatch up property at the asking price. If you are coming here from California or Connecticut, it may seem like a really good deal to buy here, unless you have to live here on local wages. At least have the courtesy to find the better deals overall and then put in lowball bids, so that our housing costs don't continue to soar and create still more poverty. Also, please don't think that remodeling your kitchen means you should resell your house for double what you paid for it in two years. There's plenty of room here for everybody without creating a tulip craze.

Good luck, vraxoin, and look us up when you get here. If you need help finding a house in a specific neighborhood, drop me a line. Despite some of the things I've said, I love Durham like no other place and I think you'll find it so also. This place has a gravity. Once people come here, they may leave later, but they end up coming back.
posted by 3.2.3 at 7:48 AM on April 16, 2005 [4 favorites]

But there is always horrible traffic any time working folks are moving about

But if you're a grad student, you need not commute during those times. Maybe things have gotten way worse, but off-peak trips between Duke and Smith Level Road were 20--25 minutes in 2000. My own trip was longer since I lived in the Mann's Chapel Road area of north Chatham, but then I could walk outside at night and see the Milky Way or look through the window at deer, which I considered ample payback

I wouldn't particularly recommend living in Chapel Hill or Mebane or Saxapahaw or otherwise outside Durham, if you're going to Duke. But I would recommend looking, or talking to people in the Div school who've done so. The not-Durham parts of the area differ from each other (and from Durham) strongly enough that someone could easily find that while Durham is only tolerable to them, or just a town to them some other basically accessible spot might be just the community they're looking for.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:40 AM on April 16, 2005

vraxoin, where are you? We've all written our little bit, but we still don't what you're really looking for -- come back!
posted by fionab at 4:01 PM on April 16, 2005

Response by poster: This is all such great information--I step away from my computer for 24 hours and it's like information Santa came.

The Old West Durham neighborhood sounds a lot like what we're looking for. We'd read about and planned to look into it when we visit next weekend, and now we definitely will put it at the top of our list. Since we only have one car, I'd like for bike/bus to be at least a feasible option from time to time. I don't mind peeling paint or a few weeds in the yard; having spent the last eight years in Austin, TX it would feel like coming home again. Thanks again!
posted by vraxoin at 7:14 PM on April 16, 2005

Old West Durham does indeed sound like a good fit. 3.2.3 really covers the good and the bad the way only someone who loves this place could. I'm in a similar boat as you; two kids and work at Duke. We got a bargain in Forest Hill, and we've gotten a lot of financial help from the City to fix it up. It's a close walk to some great restaurants and two nice parks with playgrounds. Door-to-door to my office is 15 minutes, with a drive. But there are no buses, so two cars are a must. Car dependency is the biggest drawback to this area.
posted by bendybendy at 5:25 AM on April 17, 2005

To throw another option out there I really love living in Parkwood, near RTP. It is very quiet and friendly and I recommend it particularly if your partner won't be working at Duke. The biggest selling point of Parkwood is its location. Even during rush hour it only takes me 15-20 minutes to get to the UNC & NCSU areas and 15 minutes max to get to the Duke area. I need to be able to get to all 3 areas easily and quickly so Parkwood is the perfect place for me.

If I worked in downtown Durham or at Duke I would certainly live in one of the neighborhoods above. However, the drive from Old West Durham to Raleigh everyday is not fun and I couldn't do it everyday.

Living in Parkwood is not a good idea if you want to come home from work/school a couple of times during the day, unless you work in RTP. There is city and regional bus service to Parkwood but the area almost requires a car. But if you want or need the ability to get to all the cities in the area with ease it really is a great place.
posted by smash at 8:37 AM on April 17, 2005

Glad to hear Old West Durham is at the top of your list. Nobody has yet extolled the wonders of Ninth Street, but it is a really nice, walkable commercial district with multiple bookstores and many great restaurants. We rent from Apple (previously mentioned above) and they manage tons of houses in Old West Durham. Of all the realtors we looked at, their stuff was both the best maintained and the most reasonably priced. We have a few maintenance issues now, but in general they've been really responsive My email is in my profile if you have any questions specific to the neighborhood that I can answer.
posted by hydropsyche at 9:33 AM on April 17, 2005

The Old West Durham neighborhood sounds a lot like what we're looking for.

You should definitely look up the OWDNA president, John Schelp (john at owdna dot org), then before you come. He is a walking encyclopedia of information about Old West Durham.
posted by 3.2.3 at 10:46 AM on April 17, 2005

well, not much else to say that has not already been covered. i live in old west durham, and absolutely love it. here are some pictures that will give you an idea of the millhouses common in the neighborhood--try to find something with a porch. more here of a neighborhood greenspace--great place to walk the dog, if you have one. some more here of your potential new neighbors. (mucho self-linking)

your kids will enjoy oval drive park, and if they are old enough, e.k. powe elementary school.

old west durham also boasts, if i do say so myself, the area's finest democratic party precinct committee, Durham3PD.
posted by halcyon_daze at 9:26 PM on April 17, 2005

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