Durham non-profit creates revitalization without gentrification via creative reuse

For years, people in Durham, North Carolina have come to The Scrap Exchange to peruse the aisles, searching for all sorts of things: old tires, dishes, fabrics, books, albums, and much, much more.

Laura Bristol and her granddaughter come to the nonprofit creative reuse center every Friday. “There’s always something new here,” said Bristol. “It’s like a treasure hunt.” And by new, she means new to them. The Scrap offers just that: deferring 140 tons of solid waste from going to the landfill every year and instead, putting it in the hands of those who love to create.

Matching that theme of taking the abandoned and turning it into something new, is exactly what Ann Woodward, Executive Director of The Scrap Exchange, says is driving the revitalization of the Lakewood Shopping Center into a Reuse Arts District.

Nearly sixty years since the Lakewood Shopping Center opened in Durham, North Carolina, The Scrap Exchange seeks to revitalize this distressed property in a way that honors and serves the surrounding neighborhood. The Scrap Exchange is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization with a mission to promote creativity, environmental awareness, and community through reuse.

Parcels in and around the shopping center are being bought and sold, with new restaurants, bars, and coffee shops sprouting amid plans for new housing. What does this mean to the residents who are here now?

The Scrap Exchange was ahead of the curve. In December 2013, we purchased the abandoned Center Theatre building and in August 2014 moved operations to Lakewood. At that point, the area was still perceived by many as somewhat sketchy, in the same way that downtown Durham was when The Scrap Exchange moved there in January 2000.

These are the kinds of places that work for The Scrap Exchange. We need lots of space, and we don’t have lots of money. We come pre-development. We bring our own ecosystem with us and we are an arts and culture economic development machine. As artists and activists, we could not ask for a better template than a partly abandoned strip mall.

Historic photo of Lakewood Shopping Center via Open Durham.

In 2016, we began working to seize the opportunity presented by 80,000 square feet of empty space across the parking lot from us. We leveraged a short-term loan from North Carolina Community Development Initiative—a community development organization—to purchase the north end of the shopping center.

Our footprint is now 105,000 square feet of commercial space situated on 12.5 acres of land. Our goal is to steward this valuable community asset and turn this underutilized property into a hive of culture and creativity through a campus-wide concept: the Reuse Arts District (RAD).

The Reuse Arts District (RAD) will be a multi-faceted cultural, environmental, historical, recreational, and community-based destination. With The Scrap Exchange at its core, RAD will transform 12.5 acres in Durham’s developing Lakewood neighborhood. Reuse arts programs will enliven a space that will feature community gardens, a sculpture park, affordable housing, shipping container mall, basketball court, skateboard park, and adventure playground.

RAD has the potential to house and manage a variety of reuse arts programs and become a community anchor in the continuing revitalization of Durham’s Lakewood neighborhood.

To maximize its global reuse impact, The Scrap Exchange is seeking to establish the National Center for Creative Reuse (NCCR). Once established, this new 501(c)(3) will:

  • Drive philanthropy and funding for a national and global reuse revolution;
  • Be a one-stop-shop for research and data analysis related to reuse, culture, economic development, resource recovery best practices, job creation, arts education support, and programming;
  • Provide creative reuse center startup support services through consulting, education and training, and a future franchise model; and,
  • Expand creative reuse concepts in science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) education

All images courtesy of The Scrap Exchange unless otherwise noted.

See full op-ed by Ann Woodward in INDY Week.

Watch ABC11 news video.

See The Scrap Exchange website.

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