Published: Nov 30, 2011 02:00 AM
Modified: Nov 28, 2011 05:05 PM
Looking out from the north end of the R. Kelly Bryant Pedestrian Bridge, you behold a 100-foot remnant of Lakeland Street leading to an vacant lot.
Today, you can to do something about it.
A variety of agencies will hold an open-space beautification project at 1405 Humphrey St. and have invited the public to help make over the vacant lot with crape myrtles, gardenias, azaleas, pansies and an assortment of herbs.
Robin Dixon of the city's Neighborhood Improvement staff said her department "are the folks overseeing it," but N.C. Central University, the Environmental Protection Agency, neighborhood residents and others have hands on the project. Money for landscaping comes from a $40,000 state grant to the Northeast Central Durham Livability Initiative, a neighborhood-uplift project coordinated by Neighborhood Improvement.
The goal is to "build civic pride and inspire neighbors to keep this area looking its best," according to a statement from City Hall.
It could also make the approach to the bridge across the Durham Freeway safer.
Long-range plans tie the bridge into the city greenway system, and as an access to a proposed commuter-rail station at nearby Alston Avenue.
In the meantime, the bridge is part of a walking route for the Bull City Cruisers, a club started last year to encourage residents of Northeast Central Durham to get exercise by walking through their neighborhood.
However, the area within 500 feet of the north approach averages about 40 reported crimes a year: assaults, robberies, the occasional car theft.
According to Durham Police Department spokeswoman Kammie Michael, the theory of "Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design" holds that well-maintained areas tend to discourage crime and landscaping "has been used to make businesses, homes and other locations less likely crime targets."
"Also, if bushes and shrubs are well-trimmed then there are fewer places to hide," she said.
And, coming from any directions, the bridge surroundings look more desolate than anything else.
From the bridge, Lakeland makes a T-intersection with Humphrey Street: a block and a half from end to end, fronted by one rental house, two churches and overgrown space.
The setting itself lies in a sort of elongated island, with the Durham Freeway to the south and the Pettigrew Street/Norfolk Southern Railroad corridor a block to the north.
Decades ago, it was part of a modest 1920s-vintage residential section stretching far to the south, toward Lincoln Hospital and N.C. Central University.
Then the freeway came through, eliminating most of the section's northern edge but leaving a couple of residential blocks in an otherwise industrial zone.
The N.C. Department of Transportation built a pedestrian bridge to reconnect the neighborhood, but, with dark approaches and solid metal walls all the way across, it became a hangout for drug dealers and muggers.
The city closed the bridge in 1995, and user safety was a major concern in designing its replacement.
For one thing, a patch of woods at the north entrance was cleared off. To get to or from the bridge now, you can walk up Lakeland Street or come up a bicycle/handicapped approach across open ground.
So far, though, the rate of reported crime remains unchanged.
Time will tell about today's beautification.