The independent news organization of Duke University

A sense of community

Promoting a sense of community between three distinct groups can be a daunting task, but one which University officials hope has been achieved by the year-old Trinity Heights housing development.

In an attempt to provide stability for communities surrounding Duke as well as a medium for student, staff and local interaction, University officials conceived the idea of Trinity Heights in the late 1990s. The development is made up of 40 units located off East Campus, and all of the Trinity Heights homes must be inhabited by Duke employees.

A current member of the neighborhood, Associate Professor of Biology John Willis, conveyed enthusiasm about the project. "It's a great place to live. The houses are well built, it's convenient, and there is a growing sense of community," he said.

The homes are new, but in an attempt to preserve the character of the surrounding Walltown neighborhood, they mimic the classic style of past Walltown buildings. Trinity Heights' structures include large windows, quaint porches and landscaping that allow them to fit in well with neighboring homes.

The development is a stark contrast to the land's prior usage. Jeffrey Potter, director of real estate administration, explained that most of the land on which Trinity Heights now rests has been undeveloped for many years. "People had been telling us for years to give it away or make a park. They wanted us to do something," he said.

The result of these requests and the desire to help develop the surrounding community led to the concept of Trinity Heights. Ellen Davis, associate professor in the Divinity School and a Trinity Heights resident, said she is pleased with what the development has brought to the community.

"The fact that people sit on their porches and chat over the back fence or cross the narrow streets to talk, or simply yell across them, distinguishes our neighborhood from many, and the children of University and non-University people seem to be mingling and bringing adults together with increasing frequency," she said. "We do love this neighborhood."

In addition to the beauty of these homes, some residents are optimistic about the sense of community the development is encouraging. Eric Pritchard, associate professor of the practice of music, agrees that Trinity Heights is contributing to a real sense of community between Duke faculty, other residents and students.

"The influx of new residents has sparked the revival of the Trinity Heights Neighborhood Association, which is organizing social and community building events and working to make the area safer together with other grassroots organizations and the city police department," he said. "Last spring, the association also sponsored a meeting between the members of a local fraternity and their neighbors who had been concerned about loud parties."

John Burness, Duke senior vice president for public affairs and government relations, said one of the most important goals of the project is to encourage staff to live closer to the University. "We thought it would be useful to attract faculty and staff to live near the campus and participate more fully in the lives of students," he said. "The project clearly did that."

In addition, Burness noted that the project has achieved other anticipated goals, such as offering employees housing at an affordable price and having a positive influence on Durham's tax base.

Potter feels that the investment and care with which the University went about creating these homes has encouraged investment by other homeowners in the area.

Cecilia Goldman, who has lived in Walltown for 15 years, said Trinity Heights is a welcome addition to the community. "I'm happy to see development going on in this area, and I think that Trinity Heights and its residents are going to add a lot to the character of this neighborhood," she said.

Because of the success of the project, the idea of building a "Trinity Heights II" has not been ruled out, said Executive Vice President Tallman Trask.

"I'm not sure if we'll do another one, but given the popularity and quick sell-out of this one, we are looking at the possibility of doing something similar as part of the Central Campus redevelopment," he said.


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