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Using Preservation to Stop Gentrification Before It Starts

In Durham, North Carolina, residents in the city’s last mill village are hoping a local historic designation will protect them from nearby real estate shifts.
One mile from Golden Belt, housing prices in downtown rose 63 percent between 2004 and 2014, according to a Washington Post analysis.
One mile from Golden Belt, housing prices in downtown rose 63 percent between 2004 and 2014, according to a Washington Post analysis. Connie Ma/Wikimedia Commons

In Durham, North Carolina, preservationists are hoping a local historic designation can prevent—or at least delay—gentrification.

The Durham City Council approved the designation for Golden Belt last fall, putting the neighborhood in a position to be a guinea pig in this experiment. Unlike most communities on the National Register of Historic Places, Golden Belt is a racially diverse area with a mix of renters and owners and has always been a mostly working class community. It hasn’t yet fallen prey to the intense market forces currently reshaping the city, and residents spent a decade striving to give the area protections that they hope will help both its people and its character remain in place.