As Raleigh’s government tries to define the future of the city, council members and staff imagine better bus service, new approaches to affordable housing and a redefined brand for Raleigh.
These topics and more were up for discussion at the Raleigh City Council’s retreat on Thursday and Friday, where the board spent hours refining a “strategic plan” that would put dozens of initiatives on the agenda in the next few years.
Some of the initiatives, such as reducing waste, are broad, while others are fairly specific, including a call for further development of the city’s fiber-optic network.
This year’s retreat was a continuation of a similar event a year ago. Raleigh staff spent hundreds of hours distilling the earlier council conversations into a six-part draft plan for the city, which the council worked to refine this week. It’s the first such document in the city’s recent history.
The city hosted the two-day event at an estimated cost of $16,000. About $5,000 will go to Novak Consulting Group, which provided a facilitator to keep the talks moving and moderate some discussions. The first day included talk about taxes and council relationsips.
The question of what, or who, Raleigh is was a dominant theme for the council this week. How would they summarize the “vision” of a place that ranged from urban to rural?
“One of the problem that’s still around is the old mentality of inside the Beltline, outside the Beltline,” said Councilman John Odom.
Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin said it has been difficult to find agreement on a “brand” for Raleigh.
“People almost got into fistfights – that’s a little bit of an exaggeration – it was very heated discussion,” she said of a recent meeting of tech-minded “innovators.” The word “sexy,” she said, prompted backlash.
“People are like, ‘Raleigh is where you come to get married and have babies,’ ” Baldwin said.
Instead, she suggested, the city should try to tell “stories” about itself and its people. The diversity of lifestyles, Councilman Wayne Maiorano said, can be an asset.
“One of the things that makes us unique is we have an urban core, a suburban ring, and a rural outer ring,” he said.
Development and transit
The city’s new strategic plan also prompted new talk about development and affordable housing.
Baldwin, for example, would like to join Gov. Pat McCrory in tearing down the monolithic Archdale state office building on the northern end of downtown.
There also was a suggestion that the city try to encourage new construction – or reconstruction – in areas beyond downtown.
“I think we’ve tended to operate more in the areas where we expected growth to come,” Stephenson said. He wants Raleigh’s government to more deliberately plan for and encourage redevelopment in more “challenging” areas, he said.
Council members also showed interest in a revamped bus system, possibly with rapid-transit bus lanes and newer, better vehicles.
“It’s quite embarrassing, the bus service,” said Councilwoman Kay Crowder. A more reliable, timely service could attract new riders, she said. A city staffer suggested that solar-powered displays at stops could show arrival times.
“Getting the frequencies right is the first thing we can do to improve travel times,” said Hall, the manager. The draft strategic plan suggests the city host an annual summit on regional transportation, review its plans and “strengthen connections between modes” of transport.
Stephenson wants more action near future transit stations, and suggested that land-banking, or the purchase of land by the city, could help bring dense, attractive development to those areas.
A final draft of Raleigh’s strategic plan will come up for council review in the year ahead. The city has not yet made a draft available online.
The draft also includes calls for new help for homeless people, an evaluation of new affordable housing strategies, a review of compensation for employees, new metrics of “stakeholder” satisfaction, the expansion of green space, and the development of an “innovation lab” that would help start-ups, small businesses and minority-owned businesses.
Joyce Munro, the city’s finance director, said Raleigh’s staff have been waiting on a more comprehensive vision for years.
“I have been waiting for 10 years for this opportunity,” Munro said. “I know that I am not alone.”