Raleigh’s growth has become a booming headache

Raleigh’s skyline is changing as more construction projects come to downtown

There are several large-scale projects currently under construction or near completion in downtown Raleigh, with many more expected to follow suit in the coming months.
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There are several large-scale projects currently under construction or near completion in downtown Raleigh, with many more expected to follow suit in the coming months.

It’s become all too obvious: Raleigh is now a hot mess of backed up traffic, endless construction projects, high-rise office and apartment buildings that block out the sun, huge, new homes costing in the high six figures, and rental properties for which the word ‘affordable’ has no meaning.

We are living in development hell, and there is no end in sight. How did this come about? Let me count the ways:

• The city has grown enormously in the past few years, as people from all over began to recognize it’s a great place to live. But this growth was accompanied by absolutely no planning – or bad planning – which means we are now living in a helter-skelter atmosphere akin to a Third World city in which anything goes.

• Along with this has come a lapdog attitude when it comes to the city council’s relationship with developers. Abominations like the 40-story office tower that Kane Realty (which has already built more than its fair share of ugly, overpriced monstrosities in the city) wants to build on Peace Street are approved without what seems like any thought to what they will mean to the neighborhood, the traffic, or the overall quality of life. Developers do not care at all about a city’s soul. All they care about is tearing things down and building bigger, more expensive replacements. The city council should care about this, but they seem to be in thrall to the taxes these beastly edifices can put into the city’s coffers.

• Public transportation? What’s that?

• Oops, maybe that change we made should not have been made after all. Have you been down Hillsborough street around the N.C. State campus lately? Those traffic circles that were supposed to improve traffic flow? They don’t. A couple of weeks ago I had a friend down from New Jersey, where they got rid of their traffic circles years ago, because they were proving to be a real problem. She was amazed we actually built new ones. What brain trust came up with this brilliant idea?

The bottom line is that the people who are most responsible for managing growth are like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights, not knowing which way to turn in order to take on the challenges facing the city. Instead, they seem to be relying on poor research (bad idea), developers (really bad idea) and seat of the pants thinking (super bad idea) to handle the issues that come with a booming population.

I’ve lived in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Detroit, D.C. and New York, and I’ve seen what happens when city leaders go for the gold, instead of trying to create an atmosphere of livability (if you want to see how development and high prices have ruined a place, check out Manhattan these days). Raleigh isn’t a very large city, but it’s already experiencing big city problems. Unless we put a stop to rampant development, build a real public transportation system and think seriously about how we can comfortably mix the old Raleigh with the new, we will eventually become like Atlanta, a cramped, stressful metroplex . And who needs that?

Lewis Beale has been a staff writer for newspapers in New York, Los Angeles and Detroit. He now lives in Raleigh..