My husband and I recently took a walk on the former Dorothea Dix campus after civic activist Matt Tomasulo erected pink flags around the property and urged Raleigh residents to do some exploring.
First off, wow! Dix is beautiful. It has a number of natural advantages: unparalleled views of the downtown skyline, rolling hills, mature trees, meadows, soccer fields, forest and a creek edged in part by the greenway. It also has numerous structures, ranging from wood and stone residences to unremarkable post-WWII barracks-like buildings.
Our minds began racing about what the newest Raleigh park could become. In the normal course of planning, a committee is formed, and it studies other parks and comes up with an economical vision that, at best, is just a notch better than anything that has been done in the region. That approach would be a missed opportunity in this case.
There is an unusual concentration of creative folks in the Triangle, and we think they might have some great, novel ideas about what Dix Park should look like.
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To get the ball rolling – and with no claims to expertise in this area – we have the following ideas. First, leave the trees and hills alone, but tear down most of the buildings. With our local art community, sculpture seems like a no-brainer. Maybe some of our great artists could contribute installations? Check out the Parc Guell in Barcelona for some wild examples of park sculpture. A fantastic event space could provide rental income for the park, and the wedding photos would be spectacular. Greenery at ground level, including flower gardens seems like an obvious component; the High Line in New York is inspirational in its use of native species in original ways. The horticulture school at N.C. State could help here.
Food trucks or concessions, with tables and chairs as well as benches, as in Pullen Park and the recently renovated Bryant Park in New York, are essential. More adventurously, check out the enormous pagoda-shaped beer garden in the Englischer Garden in Munich. For local beer fans, wouldn’t a Raleigh version of that be cool? If that is a stretch, how about a tea house?
Walking, biking and running would likely be the primary activities at Dix, encouraged by the addition of more paths. Speaking of bikes, what about a velodrome here? Fields for organized sports are always in short supply and would continue to have a place at Dix. Road races of short duration might be run there, which could take some of the stress off our city streets caused by frequent race closings.
What about a band shell – not to compete with the Red Hat Amphitheater, but for free concerts? A climbing wall? A skate park? An outdoor roller rink that could be iced over for two months of the year now that Raleigh is losing the rink on Fayetteville Street?
More practically, could a solar array or wind turbine provide energy for the park?
The Triangle is a hub of research on renewable living, and Dix should showcase some of these emerging ideas. Park planners should encourage connection to surrounding neighbors such as the Farmer’s Market, Centennial Campus, the new cathedral, Pullen Park, Boylan Heights and Kirby-Bilyeu. Most crucially, Dix Park needs to be linked to downtown, by bus or by another means. The train tracks, which run through Dix, need to be moved or better integrated with the park and the chain link fencing around them removed.
As Raleigh residents, we all now own the Dix property. These are the musings of one middle-aged lady, and my opinions are bound to be limited by that condition.
So come on, Raleigh, check out the site and then share your thoughts about what Dix should be.
Siobhan Millen, a former lawyer, loves living in Raleigh.
Read the Jan. 24 article “Doing right by Raleigh’s Dix Park” about the ongoing work of drawing up a master plan for the park at nando.com/dixplan.