Raleigh in particular and North Carolina in general are seeing rapid growth the likes of which have been missing from these parts for a long time (North Carolina's historic growth has been more steady but slow). This increased growth is pushing the state and its capital city to crucial tipping points quicker than our leaders want to admit; however, the citizens of North Carolina are seeing the light. For instance, in a recent poll by WRAL of Triangle residents, Controlling Growth/congestion was the biggest problem that needs to be addressed.
The problem is that no one seems to do anything about it; and the biggest reason I see is the chicken/egg problem of the area. In the area of transportation, this can be described as the attitude that mass transit will not work because we do not have a dense enough population, but the population is sprawled in part because the area has lacked mass transit. Two conversations this week have brought this point to the forefront for me this week. Both prove that unless we solve the mental block that this problem presents, the area will never become a great metropolitan area.
The first conversation is an online discussion of transportation options for the Triangle on Raleighing. The poster suggested Personal Rapid Transit (the idea of having small cars on tracks that are directed by riders and not on a set route like a train) as a way to bring mass transit to the area, taking into account the fact that we are spread out. The comments are equally against the proposal because it does less to drive density than a regular train with limited stops would and that the area is not even dense enough for this.
And the second conversation was with a man who has been working as an advocate for downtown Raleigh for decades about the future of the Dix property. The debate is whether the State should use about 330 acres in downtown Raleigh that is currently home to a mental hospital that is in the process of closing down. The debate is whether the area should be developed into a high density extension of downtown or preserved as a park for the benefit of future generations (our own small Central Park). The sentiment typically is that we need parks, but we need people living in the area to use the park. The fact that the area has not been developed before makes it easier to build higher, more dense building in the area. I could not argue with the sentiment that we need more people in that area to justify the park, but I know that if we do not save this for a park, there will never be a large downtown park in Raleigh. But this is still the chicken and egg problem, since if we do build a park, there will be higher density around it as the area around the park becomes more desirable to live in.
I do not which in either situation needs to come first the density or the amenity, but I know that if we do not do anything, we will get neither the amenities or the density that we need or desire. Thus, we need to either demand more stringent zoning that requires more density and controls sprawl or demand that we have mass transit solutions and large urban parks to incentivize people to create more dense development. As for me, I will continue to push for both, because I know that we need density and amenities to be a great city and state; and I do not care which comes first.