With Dix Park finally secured for our city, Raleigh Union Station under construction, and a building boom underway, a long list of challenges and opportunities are ahead for Downtown Raleigh. The N&O summed it up this way:
“A new, taller, more crowded, faster-moving downtown Raleigh is coming. That’s inevitable. Whether it will be a downtown people will want visit or live in, or whether it will be a congested, expensive, disjointed center they want to avoid, depends on how well the city council sees a better tomorrow today.”
That was my point in May and June when I suggested to Council that with so many important decisions ahead for the future of downtown, let’s make sure we have a strong guiding vision to focus our downtown efforts, especially before we take on anything as significant as downtown remapping.
We don’t have to look too far to see the results of actions taken without and with a vision. The first example is Capital Boulevard, where large strips of land were up-zoned several decades ago to promote economic development and capture retail tax base. But without a clear vision of the outcome, we have discovered that bigger doesn’t guarantee better. The second example is the 2003 Livable Streets initiative, which focused public and private investments on a few clear goals and a strong vision for a reconstructed Fayetteville Street. That vision launched the revitalization of downtown Raleigh.
On any given day, Council is confronted with a complex and often conflicting mix of questions about what to do downtown to get the best results: where to encourage tall buildings, how to sell valuable city-owned land, how and where to promote more urban green space, where and how to promote more living options and fund affordable housing, how to promote a better mix of downtown retail including a grocery store, and where to focus public infrastructure investments and zoning entitlements. Fortunately, all of these issues have been debated in public over the past year and a half and are now reconciled into a coordinated draft vision to guide decision-making over the next ten years. This Downtown Plan provides a set of strategic goals and action items, and five ‘catalytic project’ opportunities for major public and private investments. Now that Dix Park is assured, lets add it to the downtown vision and have a public discussion about how to prioritize our efforts – as we did with Livable Streets – with a clear, bold vision for a great downtown.