Placemaking: New Bern Avenue | Wake County | Indy Week

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Placemaking: New Bern Avenue

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Streetcar transit in East Raleigh from the downtown core to WakeMed? Great idea, says neighborhood leader Octavia Rainey. But first, do something about the No. 15 city bus, which runs the same route now, albeit not with enough frequency, and is always packed—and late. Rainey knows; she rides it.

Rainey agrees with the STAC planners who've penciled in New Bern Avenue as a potential streetcar route ripe for denser, transit-oriented development. It also could loop around to Poole Road—both have undeveloped and under-developed lots within a five-minute drive of the booming downtown core.

"If we can make that corridor happen, it could jumpstart everything around it," she says, and in a part of Raleigh that's historically lower-income and would benefit from the investment. For example, Rainey notes, the decrepit Longview shopping mall is for sale on New Bern, and there's a potential buyer sounding out the neighborhoods now. Redeveloped as a mixed-use center, with apartments located above the ground-level retail or office spaces, she says, "It could be so beautiful."

However, Rainey, co-chair of the North Central Citizens Advisory Council, is not interested in seeing massive development and gentrification come rolling down New Bern to sweep away what's left of the African-American community. When she was growing up and Raleigh was still segregated, Rainey recalls, her Southeast Raleigh neighborhood was tight-knit and very "walkable." If the city does its comprehensive planning well, she thinks, it will take care to preserve the walkable parts that remain, restore the ones that aren't, and be truly inclusive, with equal housing opportunities at every income level. That must include, she adds, the large number of folks she sees with disabilities who now ride the No. 15 to the hospital or the county social services that surround it.

"My concern is when I hear people say we need to be inclusive, but what they mean is 100 units of housing, and only 25 are affordable, while everything else is upscale," she says.

If the upscale owners come to predominate in the neighborhoods, she fears, others will lose their voice and be forced out. "It's important that everyone have a voice and the city reach out to get them to the table, including a lot of people here who are blind and visually impaired—they need the information printed in Braille."Her vision for the corridor: apartments, townhouses and "cute little bungalows for $60,000 to $70,000 that are perfect for the people making $8 an hour—they need a place to live too."

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