Directing Raleigh's Future

A new comprehensive plan being released in Raleigh has many -- both in and out of the city -- wondering what's the best way to grow in the post-sprawl world.
March 22, 2009, 7am PDT | Nate Berg
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"The era of suburban sprawl is ending, these planners maintain, not simply because of high gas prices, but because it is fundamentally unsustainable. As Christopher Leinberger, a fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., put it in a recent talk, the more "drivable suburban" neighborhoods a city allows, the lower the quality of life becomes for everyone living in them. The fastest-growing market now, said Leinberger, a developer, is for "walkable urban" places: the kind Raleigh doesn't have, yet needs to create, that are modeled on what cities were before cars took them over."

"Such places are far more complicated to build and manage than the suburbs, Leinberger said. But done right, these areas improve as they grow. They have more cultural diversity and housing options-and with public transit, the chance for people to save money by owning fewer cars, or none. If Raleigh fails to create them, Leinberger warned, 'You will be left in the 20th century.'"

"The question for Raleigh is where these walkable urban places should be."

"Leinberger's analysis and the other experts' jibes with the basic goal of the comprehensive plan to curb sprawl and guide development into designated "growth centers." Yet it also raises the issue of whether the plan identifies too many centers-including some in places that can never be urban."

"In addition to the downtown regional center, the plan shows seven other "city growth" areas. Some of the seven are tangential to a string of distinct, "transit-oriented development" zones along a planned commuter-rail line; some are along the beltline highways (Interstate 440 and Interstate 540) and nowhere near the transit corridor."

"The plan invites the redevelopment of shopping centers and strip malls along these and other major roads, such as Capital Boulevard, as mixed-used urban spaces. But to hear the planners tell it, such redevelopments are rare."

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Published on Wednesday, March 18, 2009 in Raleigh Durham Independent Weekly
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