Ned Barnett

Younger Raleigh is different from Older Raleigh. Discuss.

Young people are coming to N.C. State University to learn and staying in Raleigh to work. Young Raleigh natives are growing up in a city much different than what their parents remember. Tech workers are coming for jobs and other young people are being drawn to a place that’s becoming known for its music, nightlife and food.

Yet for all their influence on development and commerce, Raleigh’s young adults are surprisingly quiet when it comes to shaping the city’s politics and priorities. It’s not that they don’t care. Rather, it’s that most of their ideas about what’s right and wrong in Raleigh are discussed in coffee shops, bars, restaurants, private gatherings and online rather than at public hearings or City Council meetings.

Now is a good time to bring those views forward, to hear about how a younger generation wants to shape the city they will inherit. The News & Observer will offer that opportunity at its next Community Voices forum titled: “Raleigh rising – a new generation’s vision for the city of tomorrow.” It will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 28, at the North Carolina Museum of History. Admission is free and open to the public, but please register in advance at Eventbrite.com.

The forum’s panelists are drawn from the city’s young artists, planners, civic activists and entrepreneurs. They are:

Nick Neptune, co-founder of Raleigh’s downtown creative studio and collective, The Assembly, and General Manager of Raleigh’s Transfer Co. Food Hall.

Elizabeth Alley, an urban planner with public and private sector experience who is passionate about creating a vibrant pedestrian realm and directing growth in a way that benefits the whole community.

Molly McKinley, a grassroots organizer for the North Carolina Conservation Network and board member of Oaks and Spokes, a collectively led bicycling advocacy organization.

David Shaner, a technology entrepreneur and the Founder/CEO of Offline, the fastest growing media company for millennials in Raleigh, Durham, Charlotte and Nashville.

Asking young people how Raleigh should change seems a contradiction. Most have come here, or have chosen to stay, because of what they like about the city. But what they also like is that it is a city that’s developing new dimensions and offering new opportunities. Between what the city is and what it’s becoming, there are choices and tensions to be addressed. In that, there’s plenty to discuss.

In terms of median age, Raleigh is getting older, thanks to baby boomers and retirees moving here. But in the city’s fast developing downtown core, it’s getting younger. Younger Raleigh wants to foster and shape the city’s growth toward denser development with more multifamily homes, high-rise buildings and better public transportation. Older Raleigh would like to channel growth, protect neighborhoods and preserve the city’s leafy, traditional character.

Nicole Stewart, who at 36 is the youngest member of the Raleigh City Council, says of what she hears from younger residents is “folks favor density over sprawl. They want to live closer to where they work so that can take alternative transportation. I think there’s a huge environmental aspect to it. They’re being more environmentally conscious.”

Describing older and younger Raleigh residents in broad strokes can obscure what many in Raleigh see alike. As Ken Bowers, Raleigh’s planning director, says, “Millennials are a lot closer to prior generations than people think they are. It’s not like they just arrived from outer space. They are responding to the world they are living in just as prior generations did.”

David Meeker, 34, pays close attention to younger Raleigh and has done well as a result. The son of former Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker – the mayor who helped spark Raleigh’s downtown boom – David is a co-owner of Trophy Brewing. He says more vertical construction is “the green way to grow” and more units in the city will ensure more affordable housing. He’s frustrated that the City Council has not moved “for years and years” to approve backyard dwellings and Airbnb, an app that allows private homeowners to rent out spare rooms.

“Raleigh is a great place to be, but we have to make sure it is an affordable place to be,” he said.

Ashton Mae Smith, 31, is a former City Council candidate and community engagement project manager at the Citrix software company whose new headquarters on the west side of downtown helped lift the once moribund Warehouse District. She sees a lot of agreement between new and older residents that a commitment to equity should guide decisions about growth.

“There’s a lot of energy around harnessing it, a sense that growth is coming and we have to make the best of it,” Smith says. “There are more conversations happening around the concept of equity. How do we make sure everyone is sharing in growth?”

It’s a good question. Really, it’s the question. On Feb. 28, come share your thoughts on that question and others about the Raleigh of tomorrow.

Barnett: 919-829-4512, nbarnett@newsobserver. com

If you go: The N&O’s Community Voices forum – “Raleigh rising – a new generation’s vision for the city of tomorrow” – will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 28, at the North Carolina Museum of History. Admission is free and open to the public, but please register in advance at Eventbrite.com.

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