RALEIGH — Raleigh Planning Director Mitchell Silver’s new job as parks commissioner for New York City is a big step up – and a sign that Raleigh is now competing for leaders with far larger cities.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio stood with Silver on Friday to make the announcement at Seward Park on New York’s Lower East Side.
“No one is more qualified to usher in a new era of expanded access and sustainability than Mitchell Silver,” de Blasio said in a news release. “With Silver at the helm of (the parks department), we’re confident that every neighborhood park, in each of our boroughs, will be well-maintained, safe and easily accessible.”
Raleigh leaders said the new gig speaks to Silver’s talent and prominence on a national level. Though he’ll be hard to replace, it’s a good sign for the City of Oaks, they said.
“It also says a lot about Raleigh as a city that New York is looking here for their future leaders,” Mayor Nancy McFarlane said.
Silver, 53, has worked in Raleigh since 2005 but recently served as president of the American Planning Association from 2011 to 2013. He was widely thought to have been a finalist earlier this year to head de Blasio’s planning department but was passed over in favor of an in-house hire.
While Silver wasn’t responsible for Raleigh’s park system, de Blasio’s news release points to the planner’s effort to tie parks into major city planning documents such as Raleigh’s comprehensive plan.
McFarlane also thinks Silver’s a good fit to lead parks. “Mitchell loves new challenges,” she said. “One thing he’s very in tune with is how people interact and work and play together.”
In Raleigh, Silver will leave behind planning documents intended to guide the city’s growth for decades to come: the comprehensive plan and the development code approved last year. Both foster a walkable, transit-friendly city with a number of high-density, mixed-use districts.
“I think his legacy will be felt for many, many years to come,” City Councilman Bonner Gaylord said. “Some of the changes that he navigated was a transition from a focus on primarily suburban development patterns to allowing more urban development. He certainly brought ideas gleaned from much larger cities.”
Silver’s departure will mean the first big hire for City Manager Ruffin Hall, who has been on the job for just a few months. Department leader appointments don’t go before the City Council. Hall said he doesn’t yet know when Silver will leave Raleigh, but he’s appointed deputy planning director Ken Bowers as interim director.
‘Hard to turn down’
Silver is a native of New York and has plenty of ties there, including time as a policy and planning director for the city as well as principal of a planning firm.
Silver did not return calls seeking comment Friday but spoke about the career move at de Blasio’s news conference. “I loved the job where I worked in Raleigh, and I did not want to leave,” he said, according to Crain’s New York Business. “But I have to say, after meeting with the mayor, hearing his vision for New York and his desire to have a park system that was equitable, innovative, healthy and safe, he had me at ‘Hello.’ ”
Silver also said he supports de Blasio’s plans to make parks in poorer neighborhoods comparable to those in wealthy areas. He’ll be overseeing 29,000 acres of parkland and 1,900 parks.
McFarlane said she doesn’t fault Silver for leaving, and she expects other city planners will pick up where he leaves off with a new plan to shape downtown. “New York’s kind of hard to turn down when they call,” she said.
Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter