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Miesian Corners

My Visit to Raleigh

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My company is doing work for the City of Raleigh and for the past three days I've been on a "get to know the Capital City" tour. I've never spent any real time there, so we did a lot of driving. Tour was given by City planning staff on the first day; I was off on my own the remainder. I even took a side trip to the Containment Area.

Here's what I discovered. I don't dislike it like I thought I would. Being a Charlottean, I have been raised to despise Wake County and its environs. Not fair at all. It's a nice place. Here's what I like:

1. Downtown

Downtown Raleigh has good urban form. There are some great high-rises from the 1920s with incredible cornice work. I also like the scale and context of the churches, commerical spaces on side streets and parks. The BTI center looks great, too.

2. Boylan Heights

Cool neighborhood of bungalows. Would live there in a heartbeat.

3. Hayes-Barton

Simply to have the ability to walk to Hayes-Barton Pharmacy for lunch makes this a great neighborhood. The chicken salad was pretty damn good, but the deviled eggs were the ticket.

3. Topograhpy

What can I say, I like hills. Raleigh has really nice rolling topo. Makes for interesting vistas.

4. Trees and Parks

I guess the City of Oaks earns its nickname. Great tree canopy. Nice lakes with parks. One of the things I really liked about some of the parks is that they're not geared to specific sporting activities. There are actual parks designed simply for being outside and enjoying nature.

5. Broughton High School

WOW. The coolest of buildings!

6. C.A.R.Y.

Ok, I'm not the least bit happy to admit the Containment Area isn't as bad as I remember. Nice little dowtown with a great termination vista on the elementary school. And I'll admit it is nice not to have big signs everywhere, but I stand firm in my belief that the" blue awnings only" rule is simply stupid. Give us some color for God's sake!

Ok now time for the things that I found odd, or at least surprising for it to be a large city and the Capital:

1. Downtown.

It's dead. All these great buildings and no one in them. Why the heck are they building new condos when they could rehab some of these? Some of the planning staff told me part of the reason downtown is so void of activity is because RTP drains the life out of both downtown Raleigh and Durham. Makes sense. I stayed at the Sheraton at Hanover Square and boy was it boring. Convienient to City Hall, but that's about it. If Raleigh can find a downtown champion, you'll be far ahead of Charlotte. You still have historical context. All those great storefronts that could be full of cool shops and restaurants. I'd kill for us to still have some of that here.

2. Sidewalks/Infrastructure

How is it that so many great neighborhoods ended up with no curb and gutter and no sidewalks? I almost ran over someone in Hayes Barton who was out for a run. New Bern Avenue is a main gateway to downtown and has neither. This could be an impressive entrance to the Capial from the northeast. Already has a nice tree-lined median.

3. Getting around.

I never want to hear anyone say that Charlotte roads are confusing again! And rush hour! Jeez! I'm used to traffic coming into town in the am, leaving in the pm. No rhyme or reason in Raleigh. Y'all are driving every different direction in the morning and evening rush. Urban neighborhoods don't connect on foot very well. I can't imagine trying to walk from Boylan Heights to downtown.

4. Above ground utilities.

I no longer think Charlotte holds the prize for this one. Somebody at Progress Energy should be strung up and beaten.

5. C.A.R.Y.

For a town that has done a fairly good job of planning, who on staff approved Crossroads?!!? Fire them immediately. What a cluster-f*ck.

6. Broughton High School

Here's possibly one of the best public high school buildings in North Carolina still in use, yet the view of the front is obscured by a sea of mobile classroom buildings. Such a shame.

Ok Raleighwood folks, tell me what I missed. I'm going to be there a lot over the next year, so I want to learn what I'm in store for. Tell me where I missed the mark or misunderstood what I saw.

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I've gone back and forth from charlotte to raleigh for almost 3 years and you hit the nail on the head with the likes and dislikes...

I esp don't understand why dt is so dead. They deff. love to drive up there

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Having lived in Raleigh all my life and today still, I understand what you are saying. Downtown is actually pretty nice when it comes to historic preservation and involvement of surrounding buildings, but there is no true new officebuildings other than 2Progress Plaza. We are in serious need for something new. Fortunately I went to Sanderson, the archrival of Broughton, so i didn't have to get to know the mobile classrooms to the extent that they have to know them. All you say is true and city leaders are on the right track to improving Raleigh's downtown and surrounding areas.

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yea your pretty much right on the head for raleigh. The only not dead place is glenwood south and thats about it. Dont know if you have been down there, but try a restaurant or a bar there one night. But yea downtown is dead other than that and maybe moore square some nights.

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Glenwood south is alot of fun at night but thats it... North Hills is a nice redevelopment... I enjoyed it but imo nothing to write home about

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Thanks for the report. I've also noticed many of the things you noted. I am always quite surprised at how much worse the traffic is in Raleigh as compared to Charlotte.

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Being a Charlottean, I have been raised to despise Wake County and its environs.
I'm curious; why's that?

1.

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Orulz, Charlotte loves to hate Raleigh because it's the Capial City and is the hub of Eastern North Carolina. Charlotte-Meck has always had the impression that it has never gotten its fair share of tax dollars, but Raleigh always gets anything it wants. Likewise, Raleigh loves to hate Charlote due to the Eastern view of "The Great State of Mecklenburg". And never the twain shall meet...

As to your point about Asheville High, agreed. Great building. So is Roanoke Rapids High.

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In my little "Triangle world" I rarely even think about Charlotte, except maybe on these forums. It's just so far away from Raleigh...it might as well be in another state. I do envy Charlotte's skyline though, but aside from that it seems a if the 2 cities resemble each other alot, at least in the sprawl department.

How long does it take to get from Raleigh to Charlotte anyway? Last time I visited Charlotte was when I lived in Wilmington, had to take Hwy 74 and I swear it took like 4-5 hours.

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In my little "Triangle world" I rarely even think about Charlotte, except maybe on these forums. It's just so far away from Raleigh...it might as well be in another state. I do envy Charlotte's skyline though, but aside from that it seems a if the 2 cities resemble each other alot, at least in the sprawl department.

How long does it take to get from Raleigh to Charlotte anyway? Last time I visited Charlotte was when I lived in Wilmington, had to take Hwy 74 and I swear it took like 4-5 hours.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Takes about 2.5 hours to get to Charlotte from Raleigh.

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I agree with a lot of your initial assessment. This area does have a great number of Oaks and Pines, and there is a lot of tree preservation. The rolling geography in parts of the North to Southwest crescent in Wake County is also quite nice--especially considering that the absolute highest point in Wake County only tops out at 550 feet above sea level.

Raleigh's sidewalks are ugly and often seem like they are an after-thought. Though connectivity is a lot better than some cities, Raleigh's sidewalks generally don't stimulate pedestrian confidence.

Despite Cary's sprawling layout, it continues to feel more manageable and "human scale" than the newer parts of Raleigh--I guess because of how they've zoned it and how nothing is really very tall (signs, buildings, etc). What I mean is that I feel Cary's mixed suburban zoning is better than Raleigh's IMO. Look at how most housing developments are anchored by a small professional/office park and a retail plaza of some sort. I believe this style of development is the reason why Cary's traffic situation isn't as bad as it could/should be.

I still don't want to live in suburbia forever of course--eventually I would like to move somewhere in the older core of Raleigh or in a future urban-ish Cary development--somewhere along the proposed TTA line. I believe that C-Tran's adoption of fixed routes will help steer denser development along key corridors in Cary.

For what it's worth Cary has a growing network of connecting greenways, maintained sidewalks, and bike lanes. For a purely suburban place, it isn't so bad. The downtown plan as well as the Northwest plan and the new NC55 zoning exemplifies Cary's interest in branching away from the mess made during the 1980s and 1990s.

Crossroads is one of the worst shopping center designs I've ever seen. It is the product of desperate development in the early 1990s. There is a long story behind that place too.

Back in the late 1980s, it was supposed to be "Crossroads Park Mall", and was touted to be the largest mall in the region. The land was cleared all except for one die hard landowner who refused to sell. It was quite funny seeing all those acres of level red clay, with a rectangular block of trees in the middle and a small house. Needless to say, the dude sold his land finally.

They even built an exit ramp specifically for the mall which consisted of a bridge over US1, connecting to the Walnut St on-ramp from US1 south.

That land was also bulldozed, but by that time the project was losing steam. Not only that, but a large expansion at Cary Village Mall (now Cary Towne Center) around 1990 steered the hype away from Crossroads. The project was abandoned, and all we had was a field of clay. Funny that the new exit ramp they built over US1 terminated in the mud pile.

After sitting idle for a while, the project was revised and the present-day shopping center was built. I think this was sometime around 1992 or 1993, because I remember being 16 and driving there by myself for the first time (a stressful event even back then).

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I recently visited Raleigh for the first time ever - prior to my moving there in 3 weeks. I agree with the assessment - downtown is deeeeaaad. I live in minneapolis, and downtown there are sidewalk cafes, everyone's out walking/chatting/eating lunch even when the weather is not great. I'm going to be working in downtown Raleigh and feeling depressed about the atmosphere. How hard would it be to get a couple of tables outside the restaurants and get some activity out on the streets? Hope this redevelopment of downtown is coming soon. Glenwood South seemed a little more active and interesting.

Also agree that streets are very confusing - but maybe because I'm a newcomer.

p.s. - Does anyone walk anywhere in Raleigh? Or are people chained to their cars?

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I recently visited Raleigh for the first time ever - prior to my moving there in 3 weeks.  I  agree with the assessment - downtown is deeeeaaad.  I live in minneapolis, and downtown there are sidewalk cafes, everyone's out walking/chatting/eating lunch even when the weather is not great.  I'm going to be working in downtown Raleigh and feeling depressed about the atmosphere.  How hard would it be to get a couple of tables outside the restaurants and get some activity out on the streets?  Hope this redevelopment of downtown is coming soon.  Glenwood South seemed a little more active and interesting.

Also agree that streets are very confusing - but maybe because I'm a newcomer. 

p.s. - Does anyone walk anywhere in Raleigh?  Or are people chained to their cars?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Raleigh actually has an excellent greenway system, but if you mean walking to shopping, etc, that probably wont' happen until more retail comes downtown.

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I recently visited Raleigh for the first time ever - prior to my moving there in 3 weeks.  I  agree with the assessment - downtown is deeeeaaad.  I live in minneapolis, and downtown there are sidewalk cafes, everyone's out walking/chatting/eating lunch even when the weather is not great.  I'm going to be working in downtown Raleigh and feeling depressed about the atmosphere.  How hard would it be to get a couple of tables outside the restaurants and get some activity out on the streets?  Hope this redevelopment of downtown is coming soon.  Glenwood South seemed a little more active and interesting.

Also agree that streets are very confusing - but maybe because I'm a newcomer. 

p.s. - Does anyone walk anywhere in Raleigh?  Or are people chained to their cars?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Anybody who owns a car in Raleigh is 100% chained to it. (Okay, there are a few exceptions but rounding up is easier.) The thing about it is, these people are completely oblivious to the fact that they are car-dependent and they have no idea that any other lifestyle could possibly exist. And believe it or not, the city's car dependancy is getting worse. For example, at NC State University, the student body population isn't really increasing very much, but as more and more "student apartments" are being built 5 miles or more from campus, the demand for parking is going through the roof. To these people, walking and biking outside of a mall or parking lot has no meaning except recreation and exercise. I bet that even among the few "trail blazers" who are starting to move downtown, there are precious few who actually walk to their destinations on a daily basis.

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p.s. - Does anyone walk anywhere in Raleigh? Or are people chained to their cars?

I do! (walk to work every day :P )

Definitely Raleigh is not a very walkable city, but as DT becomes more interconnected with development and residential activity, it will become more viable as a walkable place. With Fay St, Blount St, the convention center/southend & BTI redevelopment district, and other developments on the way, it's only a matter of time...

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...For example, at NC State University, the student body population isn't really increasing very much, but as more and more "student apartments" are being built 5 miles or more from campus, the demand for parking is going through the roof. To these people, walking and biking outside of a mall or parking lot has no meaning except recreation and exercise. I bet that even among the few "trail blazers" who are starting to move downtown, there are precious few who actually walk to their destinations on a daily basis.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

This is one of the main reasons Raleigh is doing a SW District Plan. It appears on the surface that NC State is responsible for many of the problems the area faces. It doesn't want to be in the biz of housing, so it pushes students to live off campus. In my opin, Centennial Campus is a bust for no other reason than it offers no residential (yes, I know there are about 10 condos down near Lake Raleigh, but that's a drop in the bucket for what the campus REALLY needs in order to work). Land planning around the campus is terrible. Mission Valley is a prime example.

Anyway, I didn't start this thread to bash Raleigh. I started it to find out why things are the way they are and to gain some insight to help me in my job. Thanks to everyone for posting their thoughts.

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All the new housing developments outside of the center city and almost all new Shopping centers i.e. North Hills Redevelopment are walkable. Brier Creek, Triangle Towne Center Area. They just need to work on downtown. Besides We have the most extensive greenway system in the state for walkers and bicyclists as evidenced by the recent completion of the pedestrian bridge over I-440.

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All the new housing developments outside of the center city and almost all new Shopping centers i.e. North Hills Redevelopment are walkable.

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