Durham Mayor Bill Bell addressed the Duke Student Government Senate meeting Wednesday night about the current state of Durham and the projects his office is working on.

Bell has been the mayor of Durham since 2001, and he said that Durham has undergone an economic transformation during his time in office. This has, he said, been in part due to the presence of Duke and the Research Triangle Park. He noted that his focus for 2014 will be the reduction of poverty and that the Duke community will be essential in this project.

“Durham is a city that still has pockets of poverty,” Bell said. “We’re going to go neighborhood by neighborhood, year by year, because changes like this don’t happen overnight.”

Bell highlighted the transformation of the Tobacco District into office buildings, which allowed the city to retain the historical significance of the district while creating workable space for new businesses. He noted that the University played a significant part in this renovation, as many university offices have moved into Tobacco District buildings.

Bell said the Durham City Council is also considering an increase in the property tax—which would amount to $2.8 million—to allow for the expansion of parks.

In the future, Bell said that he hopes Duke students and faculty will continue to involve themselves in the Durham community, despite the tendency among some students to isolate their Duke education from their role as a Durham resident.

“Duke used to be an island in Durham,” Bell said. “A lot of that has now changed, as not only the students, but the staff, the administration, have all become more involved in the community.”

Bell said that he has spoken to people who had participated in Duke-sponsored tutoring programs as children, and they said the opportunity to learn from Duke students greatly affected their lives.

In addition, Bell said he hopes students will become actively and politically involved in the Durham community, and he noted that the votes of a few can have a significant impact on the future of Durham.

“I won the first election by 500 votes,” Bell said. “I’m a living example that yes, the vote does count.”

In other news:

Junior Will Giles, a DSG presidential candidate, addressed the senate on the concerns he has with several current DSG systems. These included the senator appointments, rather than elections, with vacant seats or at-large senators, and lack of open discussion surrounding issues such as the 40 Percent Plan and the new bike sharing program.

Sophomore Daniel Kort, president of Blue Devils United, and senior Jacob Tobia, vice president for equity and outreach, presented a resolution to include an optional question on undergraduate admission applications asking students about their sexual orientation and gender identity. The senate approved the resolution.

“I expect that the addition of this question holds the power to drastically strengthen Duke's LGBTQ community because we are making strides towards maximizing the recruitment of our best queer applicants,” Kort said.

The senate granted $2,946 through the Student Organization Funding Committee to Blue Devils United for the What I Be Project—a campaign about student insecurities. The senate also granted $1,125 to fund the Red Flag campaign to address gender violence and $2,380 to Alpha Kappa Delta Phi for the Dumbfoundhead concert on March 4 in Reynolds Theater.

The senate granted recognized status to Starting From Scratch, a student organization that will teach computer science to middle school and high school students.