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The Daily Tar Heel

Party Aims to Take Back Area Streets

For three hours, starting at 2 p.m., a vacant lot at the corner of Graham and Sykes streets, which community members say is notorious for drug activity, took on a different look.

The picnic tables that outlined the gravel lot were loaded with food and games. Laughing children sprinted between the activities as older residents chatted with neighbors. The second "Take Back the Streets" block party, which drew between 60 and 70 residents, was even more successful than the one last fall.

EmPOWERment Inc., a local affordable housing advocacy group, and the Sykes Street Steering Committee organized the event. The committee is composed of various community members, including representatives from UNC's Department of City and Regional Planning. "This is really great," said Mark Chilton, director of EmPOWERment. "Last time we had about 30 people, and 15 of them were cops."

Fewer than 10 cops and fire officials mingled with the residents, while the blaring beats of Destiny's Child were interrupted periodically to conduct a drawing for free prizes.

Deborah Bailey, a Northside resident and an active member of the steering committee, was the emcee for the party, announcing that there were free cookies for children 10 and under and later for children 13 and under. "The connotation is that (the party is) just for children, but we want everyone to come out," Bailey said.

As promised, the party delivered free food, good music and fiery speakers. But some residents said they got more out of the event. Vera Compton, who lives at 620 Sykes St., sat with her friend Dekisa Denning while her two grandchildren played. "I've been here three months on Sykes Street, and I've seen some drugs," she said. "I think it'll help if everybody sticks together."

As a second attraction, EmPOWERment took advantage of the party to market an affordable house in the area. The one-story house, which stands across the street from the party at 501 Sykes St., is for sale for $70,000 after EmPOWERment gutted it and made it livable. The average home in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area costs about $237,355, according to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce's Web site. "The old tenants actually abandoned it, but we've put in new windows, carpet and fixtures," Chilton said. "It's totally reconstructed."

Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy made an appearance at the party and commended the work of EmPOWERment and the steering committee before he joined in on the cha-cha slide. "They're changing the nature of this neighborhood one house at a time."

The City Editor can be reached at citydesk@unc.edu.

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