Northside’s Neighborhood Advocate

Northside’s Neighborhood Advocate

Get to know a lifelong Chapel Hill resident who has devoted her retirement to preserving the Northside community.

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Kathy Atwater spent three decades as the administrative assistant of the UNC School of Medicine department of surgery. She retired in 2008 and still works part-time with the university in Wilson Library. Kathy was born on Lindsey Street in the Northside neighborhood and still lives there, although not in the same house.


“I grew up in this neighborhood. I learned the value of family and relationships here. The strength of the neighborhood is dependent on the people who live in it – Northside has been, for me, a valued part of my upbringing.

Photo by Briana Brough
Photo by Briana Brough

At its core, the neighborhood is made up of families. I was raised by those families, by people who were supportive of everyone, young and old alike. We never had to worry about feeling unsafe because everyone looked out for each other. The people in this neighborhood work for the university, for The Carolina Inn, for the school system, at the hospital. There is a lot of input into what makes up Chapel Hill from this neighborhood.

I want that same sense of coming together and community for the neighborhood now. I want for families to still have an environment they can raise their kids in.

Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of homes sold to developers who have used them more for economic gain by renting to students. I have no problem with student rentals. But anybody who comes into a neighborhood should have the same respect for this place as if they were living in their parents’ home. This is somebody’s home.

We’ve also had problems with homelessness because people are unable to stay in their homes with property tax increases and with older residents passing on. I’m thankful for organizations like Habitat for Humanity and Empowerment who are working for affordable housing. I’ve considered moving many times. But I felt like this is where God wanted me to be.

As far as permanent residents, I still know most everybody. We try to have a block party every year where the community can come together and get to know the neighbors. Growing up here, I learned to communicate and be friendly with everyone. When we pass someone on the street, we speak, whether we know them or not, because you’re going into the same environment with that person. That connection makes it more of a neighborhood and more of a community. That’s the spirit that has contributed to Chapel Hill and made the town what it is. That’s what’s important to remember, not only in Northside but in all of the communities in Chapel Hill that have been here for a long time.”

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Jessie is a former Chapel Hill Magazine editor-turned freelance culture writer based in Chapel Hill. She tends to structure her days around a morning cup of coffee and evening glass of wine.