Raleigh should reach high, but also tend to the basics

The Sir Walter building in downtown Raleigh.
The Sir Walter building in downtown Raleigh. cseward@newsobserver.com

Raleigh has so much going for it, and I am thankful to call her home. It is gratifying to see how the city has evolved in mostly positive ways as the population rapidly grows.

When I moved here in 2003, it was difficult to find a good salad for lunch downtown much less a dumpling or falafel. But what Raleigh did have was people that cared for their city and wanted to help it grow, and by and large Raleigh was a place where their talents were welcomed, and young people could afford to live and take risks. That ability to retain and foster young talent has borne fruit in so many sectors from tech to design and arts to restaurants and much of what makes Raleigh great is homegrown. I’m hoping that will be the case for the next generation.

What young people want in a city isn’t really so different than what anybody else does: good jobs, vibrant culture, an embrace of diversity and justice, affordable places to live, reasonable commutes, and eventually great schools for our kids.

Raleigh does well on some of those and is struggling in others. To me, a great city can reach for new heights with projects like Dorothea Dix Park and new transit lines, while still focusing on the fundamental services that every city needs.

When I see affordable housing pushed out to neighborhoods with no sidewalks, and state legislators talking about breaking up the public school system, I worry that we won’t care as much about those less glamorous issues as we do about making the Best Of lists. To that end, I’m energized by the wave of young progressive candidates running for office in Raleigh, and the upswing in civic groups that care enough about their city to criticize it when it can do better. We can only reach new heights if we have a firm foundation.

Elizabeth Alley, a former urban planner for the City of Raleigh, is now working in the private sector. Her work ranges from historic preservation, urban design, and downtown development to strategic planning.