I have never known someone to move so many times, yet move so short a distance. In the past four years my best friend, Lauren, has lived in three different houses along the same two-mile stretch of Raleigh's Boylan Avenue. She started near "GloSo," the trendy Glenwood South district, and is now nestled snugly in the heart of historic Boylan Heights.
Almost every night after work, I join Lauren on her porch and park myself in her rocking chair with a bottle of wine. We never have to pay to go anywhere to be entertained thanks to the plentiful supply of colorful characters who traipse through her front yard. We know that it is time to call it a night when the street sweeping truck faithfully passes by on its midnight route, cleaning away the filth that fell to Boylan Avenue throughout the day.
It was only when she moved to her current house that we began to notice anything strange about our street sweeper's route. The arrival of the truck always signaled the end of our night, but we soon realized that it symbolized much more than that. We had always assumed that the truck cleaned Boylan Avenue in its entirety, but from Lauren's new porch we realized that the route almost always ends abruptly at South Street. Sadly, this sudden halt seems to represent the growing issue of divide and gentrification that exists in this unique neighborhood.
Boylan Heights prides itself on its diversity. The historic neighborhood is not only home to Mayor Meeker, but on a single block are the homes of tenured professors, young graduate students and single professionals all amid scattered homes of poorer families crammed together in small bungalow houses. The Glenwood South end of Boylan regularly hosts predominantly giddy young white professionals returning to their homes after an evening of bar hopping at trendy bars such as The Rockford and Aura, while a mile down the road artists are burning midnight oil huddled in the Antfarm studio or Rebus Works.
The South Street side of Boylan signals a divide in cultures and, unfortunately, races, income level and consequently, crime. At night, blue lights are a common sight. Streetwalkers and crack dealers creep in shadows. On a positive note, there is also a wealth of often-overlooked, long-standing black-owned businesses that fare very well all along South Street. This duplicity is both a treasure and a curse. How can these businesses and families be included in the famed Boylan community without being ostracized and forgotten?
Gentrification is a very real and pressing issue. The clash of cultures that gives this eccentric neighborhood its decidedly priceless character is the very thing that is threatening its existence. If prices continue going up because of the resurgence of interest in this community, families and businesses face the danger of being shut out and closed down. I don't profess to know why the street sweeper stops so abruptly at this South Street intersection, why the so-called Central Business District is only defined from Peace Street to South Street. I called the Department of Street Maintenance and they couldn't seem to give me a clear reason, either. All I know is that nearly every night from Lauren's porch I see the clear division. Why is it that the mayor's portion of the street is religiously cleaned while the struggling end of the block seems to be forgotten?
It is important for me to stress the strength of community and support that exists within the boundaries of this amazing community. The individuals that live here are extremely giving to one another and take pride in the rich cultural character. The Boylan welcoming committee regularly brings freshly baked cobbler to new neighbors; there was an amazing group effort to raise money to build a swing set for the children of a struggling family on the block; and the Boylan Art Walk and Annual Bash are highly celebrated events. It is the outside interest in the neighborhood and growing trends endangering its survival that concern me the most. We must work together to preserve the survival of this neighborhood; perhaps a good start would be to include the entire street on the almost nightly cleanings.
For now, I will continue to enjoy the neighborhood in its entirety, with its stunning skyline view, all from my spot on Lauren's breezy porch.