Point of View

Big enough already, thanks

June 12, 2010 

Although I am not a psychic, I could sense the hackles rising on the necks of fellow North Carolinians as they read a recent Tar Heel of the Week feature about Raleigh's city planning director, Mitchell Silver.

Silver was described as a fast-talking "big city guy with big city ideas, trying to make Raleigh and the Triangle ... one of the nation's next 'it' zones."

Many, perhaps most, natives of this area, as well as long-time residents who have made significant contributions here, don't object to Silver's being a big city guy with big city ideas. We just wish that he and those who share his views would take their notions someplace else - perhaps to a big city.

The notion that a New Yorker whose only experience has been at the public trough in large cities should seek to impose his "visions" on others goes to the very root of the average citizen's growing disgust with government at all levels.

Silver's belief that Raleigh needs to be a bigger global city is nonsense. Those of us who experienced a smaller, more user-friendly Raleigh of 40 and 50 years ago (when Mitchell was a toddler) know with dead-on certainty that the quality of life in Raleigh has decreased each decade in inverse proportion to the area's growth.

Each year, the area experiences a steady increase in the cost of living, crime, traffic delays, traffic-related deaths and injuries, air pollution, environmental degradation, the level of stress that we all must endure and bureaucratic intrusion into many aspects of our daily lives.

For a number of years in the mid- and late 1960s, I worked as an advertising copywriter with the firm charged with promoting industrial growth in North Carolina. The state's biggest selling points, based on stringent market research, were our rural and small-town culture and the values that it stimulated and nourished among the residents. Today, virtually all polls on the subject agree that the majority of Americans prefer small towns over big cities. Yet, every small town wants to be a big town, and every big town wants to be a big city. The idea that continuous growth promotes a higher quality of life and lower taxes is not just a lie, it is a damn lie.

In 1970, Raleigh's then-city planner, A.C. Hall, presented a persuasive case, based on national data and experience, that a city with a population larger than 200,000 was essentially unmanageable. That study has been rigorously ignored by successive city councils as Raleigh has marched down the road to bigness.

Virtually all of the messes in Raleigh - from Capital Boulevard to the Fayetteville Street Mall and its destruction and the tacky sprawl that destroyed once-lovely Longview Gardens on the "sunrise side of the city" - are the handiwork of professional planners whose arrogance made them believe they knew what was best for the rest of us.

If Silver wants to see his grand vision of a "greater Raleigh" come to fruition, he should follow the lead of Willie York and the York family, Ed Richards (a fellow New Yorker), Seby Jones and his family and others like them, all of whom had visions for Raleigh and backed them with their own or borrowed money and subjected them to the ultimate test - the merciless marketplace. Otherwise, Silver should do us all the favor of keeping his big city ideas to himself. Government is the servant of the people, not its master.

Grady Jefferys is a former writer and editor for The News & Observer, WRAL-TV and other national and regional publications and broadcast stations. His latest book is "Fighting Annexation: How To Protect Your Property Rights Against Municipal Tyranny."

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