On Monday night, Mayor Nancy McFarlane welcomed new Raleigh City Council members and veterans to their terms, which began this week. At the Meymandi Hall downtown, the mayor, it must be said, set an appropriately high bar for the issues the new council will consider, and she hit the right note in saying that public service is sometimes personal.
For her, that meant a toddler granddaughter, Madison, to whom the mayor addressed some of her remarks.
Public service, the mayor said, is about serving a city and the future, but “it seems like a cliche, until you actually have a grandchild. Then it’s personal.” The mayor drew applause and laughter when she followed by saying, “So I’ve said this before, but this time, I really mean it. We got a park!”
She referred, of course, to the city’s acquisition of the Dorothea Dix property on the edge of downtown Raleigh, 308 acres designated as a signature park. And it is McFarlane’s signature achievement as mayor. It was a tough go with the General Assembly, with city officials being frustrated by delays and politics, but in the end the right thing happened, and McFarlane is due credit.
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She signaled to council members that determining what to do about Dix would be a major task for them. But in addition to asking what they want Dix park to be, McFarlane charged members to ask, “What do we want Raleigh to be?” She said the city must maintain its infrastructure to keep up with growth at a time when other cities are struggling.
The mayor gave a straightforward account of how well the city has done with the arts. Smiling, she said, “And we do love a festival.” That means the World of Bluegrass, but it seems Raleigh’s downtown streets are often blocked for other events. The mayor used that point to press what clearly is an emphatic priority: public art. “The arts,” she said, “are an integral part of how we define ourselves.”
Raleigh, she said, is many things to many different types of people, from college students to retirees to tourists to school kids to young families. Raleigh has rich, and Raleigh has poor.
The city council’s charge, she said, is to make decisions with all those groups in mind and with that vision of what Raleigh is to be always in mind.
A priority for McFarlane now is a transit referendum, to get the city moving, along with Orange and Durham counties on a long-term transit plan that will include better bus service and perhaps commuter and light rail. This is going to be vital for the city’s future, a future that could be choked by traffic. And it’s vital as well if the city is to have a balance in its citizenry, with affordable housing for the lower-income family and for the middle-class family. “We cannot,” the mayor said, “become a city that is too expensive to live in.”