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'Like a rebirth'

With 45,000-plus on Fayetteville Street, Raleigh's pride was showing


Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker was busting his buttons Saturday as he led the first cars down Fayetteville Street since it was closed to traffic in 1976 to become a pedestrian mall. - PHOTO BY ART HOWARD (C) 2006
  • Photo by Art Howard (c) 2006
  • Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker was busting his buttons Saturday as he led the first cars down Fayetteville Street since it was closed to traffic in 1976 to become a pedestrian mall.

I see from Art Howard's wonderful pictures that Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker was smiling (not grinning wildly, that's not our Charles, but somebody told me he was about to bust it, and why not?) as he led the motorcade Saturday night onto Fayetteville Street.

I couldn't see him, because I was stationed in the Indy's tent, back behind the planters in the middle of the wide sidewalk, and the crowd along the parade route was about six deep. On our blog, I'd boldly predicted (or Greg Hatem and Dan Douglas had) a crowd of 20,000-30,000. Turned out to be, what, 45,000? (My guess, and WTVD's.) The city says 60,000-70,000.

Whatever. Great night. Great night. The gods were smiling, too--a cool breeze in July? I think this post, from the Triangle forum on www.urbanplanet.org, says it all:

"I don't want to sound pretentious when I say this ('acarelesswhisper' begins) and the only reason I'm saying it is to make my point. I've been to many cities all over the world and I can recognize civic pride. A lot of the time [it] comes across as people walking with confidence and purpose, taking on a real community. When I got there last night in the beginning, I got a sense that people weren't really confident in their city because they weren't used to a downtown environment; however, after the parade, it was like a rebirth.

"Later as I was walking, it hit me--the same vibe that I had gotten before from other cities I've been to. It seemed like a true confidence. People were impressed and proud of their downtown. This truly was a great night in the history of Raleigh. I believe Raleigh can become a great Southern city after last night. I say Southern ... not because it's in the South, but because there is a definite Southern charm within the urban feel--at least that is what I felt. Raleigh seemed to have that 'cool' diversity--conservatives, liberals, hippies, different ethnicities, gay/straight, and it all existed in peace.

"It was a great night."

Even better than the Stanley Cup.

Back in our tent, we took a little poll, very unscientific, as people came by to chat, grab some candy, or for those who were thinking ahead, take one of our free Indy fans. (Wish you had one now, don't you?)

How'd they like the new Fayetteville Street? we asked. "Very cool, worth the money" was the leading response, with 111 votes; "Still thinking about it" got 40; "Not cool, not worth it," only 9.

Only one "very cool" voter took time to add that F Street "needs diagonal parking, doesn't need the planters." Don't know who it was; did not influence him in any way. (Hometown was listed as Charlotte.)

We also asked about the TTA commuter rail project. "All for it, build it now" led with 105 votes. There were three other choices on this one. "Build it someday, but later" ran second with 28; "Can't imagine it, but maybe" got 18; "Waste of money" trailed with 11.

No, Russell Capps didn't come by.

But David and Lisa Price did. And the congressman, while shaking his head unmistakably as we talked about the TTA project, said that "conversations" are rife about how to keep it alive if--and he didn't say this, but he didn't have to, because it's widely expected--it gets the old thumbs-down from the Bush-led Federal Transportation Administration come September.

People keep asking what's going to happen with the TTA. Truth is, I don't know; I don't think anybody does. Price says he hopes the fact that the feds have about $100 million in the project already (not to mention a decade's worth of go-aheads) will keep them in it, even if they aren't ready to pay the rest of their $485 million share for the final build-out.

We also ran into Mitch Silver, Raleigh's new planning director. He's intent on refining Raleigh's TODs--that's transit-oriented districts--so that dense developments go up more easily, and with less red tape, within one-quarter mile of the TTA stops. Is he sure we're gonna have TTA stops? Yes, he is.

How many people turned out for the opening of the new Fayetteville Street? 20,000? 30,000? 60,000? You count 'em and let us know. - PHOTO BY ART HOWARD (C) 2006
  • Photo by Art Howard (c) 2006
  • How many people turned out for the opening of the new Fayetteville Street? 20,000? 30,000? 60,000? You count 'em and let us know.
So, my best guess is: The TTA will get approval from Washington (if no money) to start developing the land it's already bought for station stops. It'll enter into partnership with one or more developers willing to buy adjoining tracts (TTA's still negotiating with Cherokee Investments to be the "master developer"), and together they'll start hunting for investors to build the stores, offices and condos that so many of the designated stops lack.

The good news: These designated stops don't have much of anything around them except virgin land. There's not a lot of expensive crap to tear down and replace. You get to start from scratch and build big.

So eventually, TTA will have the money for a more substantial "local" share of the costs, and the feds will be persuaded that there will indeed be riders on the line. (And the Bushies will be out, thanks to $4 gasoline and world mayhem.) And then the TTA will be built--and linked to all sorts of other rail and bus services.

Can't imagine it yet? Then you weren't downtown Saturday night with the 45,000-70,000 folks who were.

Pick a downtown (and Wal-Mart)

If you're into what kind of city Raleigh's going to be as it grows up ...

  • Planning Director Silver is dead serious about overhauling the city's '80s-vintage "comprehensive plan" with its famous "flexibility" and three (or is it five?) downtowns ("regional centers"). He's going to start with population projections, tally the land available for development, divide the one into the other to figure how much density is needed, and then--here's the tough part, but he says he's determined to do it--designate where the density should go. Should it go around the Beltline? Up Capital Boulevard? Or only in the real downtown, plus designated transit corridors?

  • Deputy City Attorney Ira Botvinick put his finger on the missing dimension of city planning last week. The comp plan is a 20-year document, he said. So in places where dense development would be permitted if transit existed there, but there is no transit even contemplated, why not say (he suggested), "the use is consistent with the plan, but not now." Use, scale and time--the final frontier. And the antidote to sprawl.

  • Interesting talk Monday night at City Hall by UNC business school star James Johnson Jr. on the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) of Southeast Raleigh. First question to him: What about the proposed Wal-Mart on Sunnybrook Road? His answer: Get the Wal-Mart you want, not just the cheap one they're pitching. Get one that delivers food to elderly customers, for example. "You have a say in it," he declared. "[But] I would encourage you not to throw the baby out with the bathwater." That was his overall message too: Stop thinking what happens in Southeast Raleigh is somebody else's fault, and start taking charge of the community's future yourselves.

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