The attraction of Raleigh’s favorable quality of life and cost of living may be their undoing, as continued rapid in-migration translates to more daily trips stuck in congested traffic, more trees cleared for maximum infill, and fewer young and old residents who can afford to live here. So where is Raleigh headed? Except for the most avid boosters of Raleigh’s mega-city future, most Raleighites prefer the idea of sustainability that underpins Raleigh’s long range plans for growth that is more economical, environmental and equitable. To succeed, we will have to grow in ways and in locations that bring fewer cars, more trees and broader prosperity.

Knowing we could never build or maintain enough roads to keep pace with growth, Raleigh’s current Comprehensive Plan calls for the vast majority of new growth and density to go where fewer cars and roads will be needed in the future. This urban tier includes downtown and along high-frequency transit corridors that connect to mixed-use centers around the city. Raleigh’s Plan recommends urban tier development that is more compact and walkable, mixed-use and mixed-income, located where connected sidewalks, bike lanes and our expanding transit system can reduce car trips.

What about densifying Raleigh’s single family neighborhoods?

Density is not an end in itself, but rather a means to promote sustainable and affordable growth. For neighborhood areas within a safe and convenient walk(1) to frequent transit(2), it’s realistic to expect fewer car trips and car-related impacts in the future. In these walkable neighborhood areas, many cities are promoting both ‘gentle density’ and affordability with a combination of slightly higher densities and somewhat smaller maximum dwelling sizes.  For Raleigh’s suburban neighborhoods without walkable access to frequent transit – outside the urban tier – adding density makes less sense. In these areas, the economic benefit of suburban infill will often be outweighed by the economic, environmental and social detriments of sending serviceable, affordable homes to the landfill, while replacing them with larger, less affordable and more car-dependent development that only increases traffic congestion and environmental impacts.

In recent years, cities like Seattle, Minneapolis & Portland have engaged in extensive community conversations about how to become more equitable. One of those ways is to permit more density in low-density areas. While talk of eliminating single family zoning has made headlines, in most cases, the results of other cities’ community conversations about density follow the same logic as Raleigh’s Plan: adding density while preserving and improving affordability in the urban tier, near downtowns and within walking distance to frequent transit service and daily destinations. Investing in urban tier transit, affordable housing and strip redevelopment promotes growth that is more economical, environmental and equitable. Any discussion about the fair distribution of added residential density will have to address the many private covenants and Homeowner Association rules that prohibit such changes.

How can we move past the polarized positions that leave us divided into pro-development versus pro-neighborhood camps?

Moving from ingrained social, economic and regulatory disparities toward more equitable growth is a complex undertaking. Livable Raleigh supports the path taken by other progressive cities.  Let’s engage in a strategic and authentic community conversation about our values related to growth, equity and promoting sustainable density. To that end, the City of Raleigh Planning Department has prepared a Citywide Housing Affordability Strategy: Study and Outreach Scope of Work We at Livable Raleigh endorse this engagement and visioning strategy wholeheartedly and call on the Raleigh City Council to bring staff’s proposal forward for public deliberation and adoption.

(1) A ‘safe and convenient walk’ is up to ½ mile maximum – about the distance from the State Capital to Memorial Auditorium
(2) ‘Frequent transit’ arrives at least every 15 minutes throughout most waking hours.

— Livable Raleigh Editorial Board