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To combat all this, Silver, who moved to Raleigh 2005 to take the job of city planner, began developing the city's first comprehensive plan since 1989. In October 2009, the 2030 Comprehensive plan was approved. It took a polycentric approach and created a growth framework map in which 60%-to-70% of all new growth would be channeled towards eight centers and 12 multi-modal corridors. The plan also targets 18 areas for economic growth and revitalization. "Right now,' he says, "most of our thoroughfares are designed to get cars in, get cars out, and we want them to accommodate more modes of transportation, biking, walking, bus, and in some cases, light rail as well as cars."
It is defined by six themes: Economic prosperity and equity, Expanding housing choices, Managing growth, Coordinating land use and transportation, Greenprint Raleigh – sustainable development, and Growing successful neighborhoods and communities. "It's not just a vision of where we want to head. The code will ensure that we now have rules to make that happen," he says.
Rezoning has already demonstrated success. The main downtown drag of Fayetteville Street which had been closed off into a walking mall in 1976 an idea that lots of cities have tried unsuccessfully was reopened for traffic in 2006 which generated downtown development dividends. The project cost $10 million but has translated into more than $3 billion in construction downtown, according to Silver.
As for the new plan, perhaps the smartest thing the Raleigh team did was to instill ownership of the process among all constituencies from the beginning. "When I travel the country and hear the pushback in many circles to smart growth and sustainability and planning in general I don't think they see the competitive advantage you can have by embracing planning as a true partnership with all of the sectors."
The city brought in some of the biggest names in the planning business for a lecture series with topics that included: design of a 21st century city, the hidden costs of free parking, transit-oriented development, creation of a pedestrian friendly city, and traditional codes versus form-based codes. The planners did attractive presentations with grandiose but sometimes logically problematic themes such as "We are making new history", Great Streets, Great Spaces, Great Places", and discussions of iconic architecture and a vibrant downtown center.
Not everyone sees the beauty of greater density. When speaker Christopher Leinberger, a developer and a fellow at the Brookings Institute equated an increase in drivable suburban neighborhoods with a lower quality of life for everyone living in them, offended suburbanites shot back at what they perceived as elitist narrow-mindedness. People like their leafy suburban existence. In an editorial written for the Raleigh News & Observer last June, Grady Jefferys, a former editor for the paper and author of "Fighting Annexation: How To Protect Your Property Rights Against Municipal Tyranny," railed that, "Silver should do us all the favor of keeping his big city ideas to himself." Jefferys laments the passing of a smaller, more user-friendly Raleigh of 50 years ago, claiming that the city's ills, "are the handiwork of professional planners whose arrogance made them believe they knew what was best for the rest of us."
Unable to lock the door as Jefferys and other dissidents might wish to do, Raleigh has to figure out how to grow smartly. Otherwise, Sprawleigh will find itself on the wrong end of the livability list. Mayberry's gone metro and there's no going back.
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