Old West Durham, North Carolina

Old West Durham, formerly known as Hayti, and its economic decline in the latter half of the 20th century, is a typical example of the negative effects of urban renewal on African-American neighborhoods. Hayti, named after the first independent black republic in the western hemisphere, was established during the 1880s as a result of the growing tobacco trade in Durham. Soon the community became economically and socially independent and grew to be one of the most successful black neighborhoods in the United States. Beginning in the late 1950s, there was an increased interest in connecting downtown Durham with (mostly white) suburbs in the southern periphery of the city, however, the tight-knit community (both physically and socially) of Hayti stood in the way of increased mobility for these residents. In 1957, the North Carolina General Assembly approved a bill for urban renewal of the Hayti neighborhood, citing slum-like conditions: high density, health issues and poor planning of commercial and residential development. The bill included plans for rezoning of much of the neighborhood to build the Durham Freeway, a large highway that ran directly through the neighborhood, and to allow for the construction of more parking and wider streets to increase automobile accessibility. Not only did the plan cost millions of dollars and take over 14 years, but it displaced more than 4,000 and irreparably destroyed the commercial viability and social cohesiveness of an entire community, all for the sake of greater car mobility. Today, the Hayti area remains one of the most economically neglected and exploited areas in all of Durham.

Sources:
Anderson,  J.  B.  (1990).  Durham County: A History of Durham County, North Carolina.  Duke  University  Press, Durham, N.C.
Durham Redevelopment Commission, Durham, N.C. (1960).  Hayti-Elizabeth Street renewal area: general neighborhood renewal plan: project no. N.C. R-7 (GN).  City Planning and Architectural Services, Chapel Hill, N.C.

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