Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Community Profile: Chapel Hill, NC

Chapel Hill is a town in North Carolina and the home of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH), the oldest state-supported university in the United States. As of the 2000 census, it had a population of 48,715. As of 2004 its estimated population was 52,440.
The 2005 Metropolitan Population was: 1,509,560, for The US Office of Management and Budget's Metropolitan Combined Statistical Area known as Raleigh-Durham-Cary (formerly known as the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill Metropolitan Statistical Area).
Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh make up the three corners of the Research Triangle, so named in 1959 with the creation of the Research Triangle Park, a research park between Durham and Raleigh. Since the early 1980s, the bedroom community of Cary, near Raleigh, has grown to be more than twice the size of Chapel Hill.
As is typical of college towns, Chapel Hill has historically tended to be politically liberal. In fact, disgruntled conservatives have referred to the town as "The People's Republic of Chapel Hill." Former U.S. Senator Jesse Helms once called the town a "zoo" and suggested it be "walled off" from the rest of North Carolina.
In addition to the high per capita income and highly educated adult population, residents of Chapel Hill have made public education a priority; resulting in Chapel Hill being widely recognized for the quality of its school system, which it shares with Carrboro. Chapel Hill's two high schools, East Chapel Hill High and Chapel Hill High, are rated as the 38th and 74th best high schools in the U.S. by Newsweek, respectively.
The town also shares with Carrboro a vibrant music scene. Cat's Cradle in Carrboro is often rated as one of the best clubs in the country for live music, and Local 506 and other Chapel Hill bars (such as the Cave, and Reservoir) often host local, national, and international acts in all genres. Valient Thorr, The Squirrel Nut Zippers, Superchunk, Archers of Loaf, James Taylor, Southern Culture on the Skids, and Ben Folds Five are among the notable musical acts whose careers began in Chapel Hill. Chapel Hill has also been a center for the modern revival of old-time music with such bands as the Hollow Rock String band, the Fuzzy Mountain String band and the acclaimed Red Clay Ramblers.
Chapel Hill was also the founding home of now defunct indie label, Mammoth Records and is also the founding home of another top indie label, Yep Roc Records which is owned by Redeye Distribution. Bruce Springsteen has also made a point to visit the town on several tours. His most recent appearance was on September 14, 2003 at Kenan Stadium with the E Street Band, and his fourth appearance overall. U2 also played at Kenan on the first date of their 1983 "War Tour" where Bono infamously climbed up to the top of the stage, during pouring rain and lightening, holding up a white flag for peace.
Also, Chapel Hill is rapidly becoming somewhat of a hot spot for pop American cuisine – which is likely due to the college town's entrepreneur-friendly business startup environment and national media attention surrounding a few local culinary notables, like Foster’s Market (Martha Stewart’s Living), CaffĂ© Driade (Food Network’s “$40 A Day With Rachael Ray”), The Cackalacky Classic Condiment Company (Food Network's "BBQ With Bobby Flay" and "Rachael Ray's Ball Park Cafe Special," Comedy Central's "Insomniac," OLN's "BBQ All Star Showdown," Associated Press, Public Radio International, etc.), and The Lantern Restaurant (Food & Wine Magazine, Southern Living Magazine, etc.)
The area of Chapel Hill and Carborro combined is home to many hip, independently owned coffee shops (such as Open Eye Cafe, 3 Cups, Caffe Driade, and Padgett Station) and bars.
The Morehead Planetarium was, when it opened in 1949, one of only a handful of planetariums in the nation, and it has remained an important town landmark. During the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs, astronauts were trained there. One of the town’s hallmark features is the giant sundial, located in the rose gardens in front of the planetarium on Franklin Street. UNC-CH has been very successful at college basketball and women’s soccer (Mia Hamm played as an undergraduate at UNC) and an obsession with the sport has been one of the most distinctive features of the town's culture, fueled by the rivalry among North Carolina's four ACC teams: the UNC Tar Heels, the Duke Blue Devils, the NC State Wolfpack, and the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. More recently, the town has received regional notice as the site of a large annual Halloween street party, with an attendance regularly exceeding 70,000.
The colorful brick wall of an alley: one of many murals in Chapel Hill by artist Michael J. Brown. For more than thirty years Chapel Hill has sponsored two annual street fairs, Apple Chill (which was canceled in 2006 due to increasing violence in April and Festifall in October. The fairs offer booths to artists, craftsmen, nonprofits, and food vendors. Performance space is also available for musicians, martial artists and other groups. Both fairs are attended annually by tens of thousands.
Like many college towns, Chapel Hill has some unique retail opportunities. A Southern Season is based in Chapel Hill, although it also serves a wider audience through its mail-order business. Chapel Hill also has some village communities, such as Meadowmont Village and Southern Village. Meadowmont and Southern Village both have shopping centers, green space where concerts and movies take place, community pools, and schools.
Chapel Hill, or at least the town center, indeed sits atop a hill--originally called New Hope Chapel Hill after the chapel once located there. The Carolina Inn now occupies the site of the original chapel. The town was founded, in 1819, to serve the University of North Carolina and grew up around it. The town was chartered in 1851, and its main street, Franklin Street, was named in memory of Benjamin Franklin.
In 1968, only a year after its schools became fully integrated, Chapel Hill became the first predominantly white municipality in the country to elect an African American mayor, Howard Lee. Lee served from 1969 until 1975 and, among other things, helped establish Chapel Hill Transit, the town's bus system. Some 30 years later, in 2002, legislation was passed to make the local buses free of fares to residents and visitors alike, leading to a large increase in ridership; the buses are financed through Chapel Hill and Carrboro city taxes as well as UNC-CH student fees.
In the latter part of the 20th century, the town grew considerably and became wealthier, with affordable housing and combating urban sprawl emerging as major local issues.
By the late 20th century, higher proportions of the local population worked at jobs unrelated to the university; town surveys indicated that a majority of people working in the town were no longer able to afford in-town housing, and so many people working for the university itself weren't able to afford to live in Chapel Hill, or even Carrboro, that charter bus lines were doing a brisk business in almost nothing but bringing in from nearby counties a workforce of secretaries and others on which the university depended.

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