The New Residents of Chapel Hill


By Laurie Paolicelli

Chapel Hill is not just one town: it’s a patchwork quilt of memories and experiences. Some old experiences are widely shared — becoming an alum, witnessing national championships, dinners at Crook’s Corner. But others have a fresher gleam. As Chapel Hill grows it attracts new families who don’t have that shared history. Who are they, and what does Chapel Hill look like?

Katie and Patrick Hsiao walking their beloved Ermis in Merritt’s Pasture.

Katie Garbarini was in her mid-twenties when she moved to Chapel Hill; a job with UNC Healthcare is what brought her. “Everything seemed so close together,” she says. “I could easily get to restaurants, shops, friends’ houses.”

Patrick Hsiao’s spent most of his life in Asia. After college at University of South Wales in Australia, he moved to the United States and wasn’t sure where he would plant roots. After moving to the States, he lived in New Jersey, New York and now calls North Carolina home.

A Big Fish caught by Patrick at Cane Creek Reservoir.

After college at University of South Wales in Australia, his family moved back to the United States and settled in Connecticut, his mother’s hometown.

A long road trip brought him here and he found what he was looking for. “Lots of green and recreational opportunities. I felt at home.”

Clearwater Lake Dam is a dam located just 3.5 miles from Chapel Hill near Orange County.

Today, Patrick and Katie are married. They both work at home, Katie with a non-profit advocacy organization and Patrick with a software company. We got to know them a bit, and discovered what Chapel Hill looks like from their perspective.

Was it the liberal ethos of Chapel Hill that attracted you?

Katie: “Not specifically — I came to Chapel Hill for a great job opportunity with UNC Healthcare. However, working at UNC opened my eyes to the diversity of perspectives and circumstances of families in Chapel Hill and across the state of NC.

Patrick: “I ended up in Chapel Hill by chance, but I was looking for somewhere to live and the liberal vibes and college town atmosphere were some of the things that attracted me to the area.

Are you aware of the key issues that local government focuses on?

Katie: “We don’t typically vote locally. If there’s any issue at the state level, we will get out and vote, but local politics don’t drive us to the polls.”

What if a local politician took the time to knock on your door and say hello and tell you the issues?

Patrick: “We generally don’t answer the door if we don’t know the person.”

From a community perspective, are there any issues that keep you up at night?

Patrick: “I’ve wondered if we have the infrastructure to handle the traffic that is coming with the area’s growth. I got stuck in game traffic on my way to the grocery store once. It did not move.”

Katie: I am concerned about how to best support the homeless population in Chapel Hill. I recently met a woman who looked very vulnerable—it occurred to me that I wouldn’t know how to tell her about local beds, shelters, and places she could find help.”

You’re young and newly married. What do you love about Chapel Hill?

Katie: “Oh we love our community, we love our neighborhood, the dog parks, the trails, and our easy access to everything we need. Last month we walked over to Southern Village and sat outside and listened to the NC Symphony.

NC Symphony on Southern Village Green.

Patrick: “I love to get outside, and fish at Cane Creek Reservoir. I joined the Triangle Adult Soccer league and met tons of friends. There’s always something to do here. I grew up watching European football so we had a great time walking to Kenan Stadium for Wrexham versus Chelsea game.”

Kenan Stadium, Wrexham vs. Chelsea game.

Of course, restaurants came up often. Patrick and Katie spent their first date at Bar Taco. Hands-down their favorite restaurant is Pizzeria Mercato in Carrboro. A close second is Bangkok 54 for Thai Food (near Mardi Gras Bowling), followed by The Lantern and Al’s Burgers.

In short, they’re our future and they love it here. But they worry about those newbies following in their footsteps.

“I realize that if we came here today, I couldn’t afford this housing market,” Katie says. “The bigger homes we’ve looked at tend to average around $600,000. As much as I love this community, I don’t know if I want to live here enough to buy a $600,000 house.”

Chapel Hill, 2023.

Clearly, Chapel Hill’s allure is a double-edged sword: its desirability may create difficult financial scenarios for newcomers. Growth, too, has its pros and cons, but our responsibility to ourselves and our community is to bring in the new without losing what we value about what makes us who we are. This may be a difficult, but certainly not an impossible, goal.

That’s why they call us Tar Heels, after all.

Alternative sources of transportation, including bicycle paths, are important to Katie and Patrick.

Laurie Paolicelli is executive director for the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau, a position she has held since 2005. Laurie has worked in tourism and marketing for twenty-five years, having served in leadership roles in Houston and California convention and visitor bureaus. She is a native of the Twin Ports of Duluth, MN/Superior Wisconsin. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business and Communications from the University Wisconsin-Superior and graduate certification in Technology In Marketing from the UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media.

Share This Article

Scroll down to make a comment.

Be the first to comment on "The New Residents of Chapel Hill"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.