A debate echoes through Cameron Village's new 'canyon'

September 25, 2013 

More than 60 years ago, developer Willie York had a vision to build a “town within a town” just west of downtown Raleigh. What resulted was Cameron Village, a low-scale collection of shops and stores that opened in 1949 as the first shopping center between Washington and Atlanta.

But now the vision that became a thriving landmark is having a growth spurt. The town within a town is now a village sprouting a city. Two new apartment buildings – Crescent Cameron and 401 Oberlin – are rising on opposite sides of Oberlin Road. Their height and scale have created what some are calling a “canyon” of development that looks more like an urban street-scape than the lower, suburban-type buildings the new buildings replaced.

The change has caught some longtime residents by surprise. Suddenly a familiar corner in their pleasant, drivable part of town has been engulfed by two buildings that will bring 532 apartments and more than 20,000 square feet of new shops and restaurants.

The change has also focused attention on population density and mass transit.

Obviously, nothing can be done to unmake the apartment buildings nearing completion. The question is whether they become the vanguard for Raleigh development or a symbol of development to avoid in the future.

The answer is that density is good. It’s certainly preferable to suburban sprawl. And it’s what younger and newer residents want: a living space close to the stores, restaurants and entertainment an urban center provides.

The problem is that the pieces of the new urban mix aren’t arriving together. Raleigh is becoming more dense but has not yet built the mass transit that urban density requires and makes possible. Without it, the city is just piling more people – and more cars – into tighter spaces. That’s not progress. That’s a traffic jam.

It’s good to see Cameron Village grow up. Now it’s time to push for more buses and light rail and trollies to show up.

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