Raleigh should be more ambitious with parks bond

June 8, 2014 

The lot at Pullen Park in Raleigh was full on a 2011 Friday

ETHAN HYMAN — ehyman@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

Now that Raleigh is the host city for the International Bluegrass Music Association, holds umpteen road races a year, has a little something for everyone in the cuisine department, how about more imagination when it comes to the city’s offerings in parks and recreation?

Most of the things that would be funded with a roughly $92 million bond issue, possibly going on the ballot this November, would fall under the category of maintenance. That’s fixing up existing parks or renovating Chavis Park or building a community center at Baileywick Park in Northwest Raleigh or replacing the Pullen Arts Center.

That’s all well and good, but the city ought to be more aggressive and ambitious with parks, given its growth. Raleigh’s a well-run city, but it’s not exactly daring. Various folks have used the term “beige” to describe it.

So, toward the goal of adding a bit of color, the council should add to the parks mix the Falls Whitewater Park, with a cost of roughly $3 million. A whitewater course for canoes and kayaks would be built on the Neuse River just below the Falls Dam.

And why not add more pools and bike trails and greenways along the way as well? Such projects are not prohibitively expensive, and they do much for livability.

Politicians, in this case members of the Raleigh City Council, worry about the possibility that a bond proposal will fail due to the increase in property taxes that would result. But in this case, a $92 million bond would mean about $50 a year to the owner of a $300,000 house. Raleigh residents have traditionally supported bond issues, and they would support this one.

That’s why, given the migration of many new residents from the Northeast and other areas where property taxes are much higher than they are in Raleigh, the council should be bold in what it seeks.

Residents, particularly those with young families, understand the need for new and different offerings in parks, and they will support them.

The need is clear. Go to Pullen Park, near the N.C. State University campus, on any spring or fall Saturday and you’ll struggle for parking, but once that’s overcome, families glory in the rides and the lake and the play areas. People in this community are craving this sort of activitiy, and they’ve always understood it cannot be provided without citizens being prepared to pay a relatively small amount to fund it.

In the past, the city council certainly has been responsible with the public dollar, but it perhaps has not been as imaginative with it as are the citizens the council represents. A whitewater park, perhaps other creative water rides, along with facilities in all reaches and corners of the city are important not just to cope with growth but to encourage an orderly expansion of the city’s core.

So let us hope city council members will dare to dream a little, and will dare to invest in those dreams.

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