Wake County

Here’s the advice young people are giving Raleigh

Community Voices panelists from left to right: Nick Neptune, Elizabeth Alley, David Shaner and Molly McKinley.
Community Voices panelists from left to right: Nick Neptune, Elizabeth Alley, David Shaner and Molly McKinley. ajohnson@newsobserver.com

Be bold. Take risks. Speak up for the people who aren’t in the room.

That was the resounding message to Raleigh leaders during a forum Wednesday at the N.C. Museum of History. Four panelists – an artist, an urban planner, a self-described local government nerd and an entrepreneur all under the age of 40 – talked about their vision for Raleigh and described what the city is doing right and wrong.

The event was the seventh forum in a series called Community Voices organized by The News & Observer.

“The big takeaway for us is leadership is in this room,” said panelist Nick Neptune, co-founder of The Assembly, a creative studio and collective. “The answers are in this room. They are in this space. The city gives birth to ideas. Our institutions, our schools give birth to ideas. And it’s about harnessing those and leading with those. The potential exists to do great things right here in our own backyard. We don’t have to wait for some white knight on high to come save us.”

Several Raleigh City Council members, including Stef Mendell, David Cox, Nicole Stewart, Russ Stephenson and Mayor Nancy McFarlane, attended the forum. Stewart, the youngest member of the council, said she’d worked with three of the panelists and hoped her fellow council members heard their message.

“I really think it’s the ‘be bold,’ ” Stewart said after the event. “And to be concerned with access. Whether that’s access to jobs, transit, good health care, affordable housing. And that young folks are excited and hopeful for the future and are not fearful.”

Several of the panelists focused on Raleigh’s continued growth and stressed that the city needs “thoughtful, bold policy movement.”

“We didn’t choose that growth and we can’t choose to stop it,” said panelist Elizabeth Alley, an urban planner. “We can embrace our popularity or be a victim of our success.”

Mendell, who was elected to the council last fall along with Stewart, said she was interested in hearing different perspectives about the future of Raleigh. She said the city has identified areas along transit corridors for increased density.

“One of the things I keep harping on is ... it’s not going to help solve the housing problem if all of the increased density continues to be very expensive housing,” she said. “High-rise apartment complexes or condos, luxury (apartments) with high price tags or high monthly rent, that’s not going to help the problem. We need to find a way to introduce density that is more affordable.”

About 200 people attended the event. Audience members asked panelists about racial bias in the Raleigh Police Department, food insecurity, how to address homelessness and what can be done to improve transit.

Panelist David Shaner, founder of Offline Media, said the best way he could answer those questions was by lifting up the voices of people working on those issues in the city.

“I hope we see Raleigh decision-makers make bold moves in the next few years,” said panelist Molly McKinley, a board member of Oaks and Spokes. “And I encourage folks to talk to their neighbors. We all love this city. We’re all here for a reason. And we all have big ideas. We just need to get together more often.”