Downtown Raleigh is on the move. The question is: Where’s it going?
The answer depends largely on forces the city can’t control. Those forces include the national economy, business trends and the extent to which the federal government will invest in mass transit, affordable housing and the research that drives the Research Triangle.
But while the city’s government, civic and business leaders and city voters and taxpayers can’t dictate downtown Raleigh’s future, they certainly can envision it. That’s exactly what has been done.
Over the past year, hundreds of people contributed their views to that vision in a series of open community meetings, debates and online forums. The result is a report simply titled: “Downtown Plan, The Next 10 Years.” The 63-page report will be unveiled Monday at a special 4 p.m. meeting of the Raleigh City Council.
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The plan is more than a wish list. It is a detailed road map leading to a downtown Raleigh of 2025. It follows in the tradition of the 2003 Livable Streets plan. That plan led to the opening of the Fayetteville Street Mall to traffic and the opening of a vista from the state Capitol to Memorial Auditorium.
Changes called for by the Livable Streets plan are credited with revitalizing the capital’s once moribund downtown. But the new downtown plan is arguably more consequential given that it seeks to steer a larger and faster-changing city core.
The challenge Raleigh faces now is to avoid being run over by downtown’s growth. There are already signs of stress over rising rents, the noise from bars serving at sidewalk tables, city parking decks trashed by weekend revelers and whether high-rise development should be allowed in the historically low-rise warehouse district.
The plan responds to these pressures by urging more commercial diversity downtown. Bars and restaurants should be joined by stores and markets. There should also be a diversity of housing and housing prices and more green space to offset denser development, including creating a linear park in the Glenwood South district along with upgrading Moore and Nash squares.
The plan also calls for better connectivity among downtown districts by making biking, walking and transit the preferred ways to get around. The plan should be expanded to describe how the new Dix Park will connect with downtown.
A new, taller, more crowded, faster-moving downtown Raleigh is coming. That’s inevitable. Whether it will be a downtown people will want visit or live in, or whether it will be a congested, expensive, disjointed center they want to avoid, depends on how well the city council sees a better tomorrow today.
The new Downtown Plan will be presented to the Raleigh City Council at 4 p.m. Monday in the Council Chambers, 222 W. Hargett St.