Raleigh, I’m concerned

A look into why the suburban mindset of some in Raleigh will lead us down a dangerous path.

The Triangle consistently ranks high on “best places to live” lists, but we won’t stay there for long if a vocal minority gets their way.

It’s not for a lack of effort on the city’s part however. When looking at the other major cities of the Southeast, Raleigh has been on the forefront of change. From eliminating parking minimums, eliminating no turn on red, to the missing middle housing code Raleigh’s Planning and Transportation staff have gotten it right. Downtown Raleigh Alliance also does a great job programming events to try to liven up Downtown from pop ups to full blown festivals.  

Canes fan fest in Downtown Raleigh

The region experienced its first growth spurt at the worst possible time – post WWII, when suburban ideologies had a stranglehold on planning policies. Some people even refer to Raleigh as “spraleigh” or “the city in the suburbs” and it’s for good reason. This led to nothing but windy streets, culdesacs, and large single family estate lots to blanketing the majority of the city outside of Downtown proper. In fact, Raleigh has the smallest formal grid of a city this size in the South. This makes infill harder and gives some residents the false feeling that they live in a suburb rather than a major city center despite being just blocks in some cases from Downtown. This also plays a major part in some people thinking missing middle, transit, density, or anything you’d find in a proper city should be located near them.

Streets of North Raleigh

Recently, residents of Oakwood – one of Raleigh’s only true urban neighborhoods- contested that the upcoming BRT line could be likened to the planned 1970s Downtown Freeway. Thankfully, this holds no merit and the BRT will break ground this year, but it’s just one of the many examples of a select few rich homeowners who are used to getting their way trying to dictate the direction of the City.

Even in North Hills which is full of new shiny towers, residents fought the further development citing traffic and such. Kane has since pulled his rezoning but many fail to realize that stuff can still be built by-right. Now the city doesn’t get the transit infrastructure, greenway or affordable units that were part of the rezoning proposal. But there’s no problem with every house in the area going from modest brick ranch to multi-million dollar mansion.

Even in other Southern cities around this size, you’ll a plethora of mid 1900s missing middle type housing. Raleigh was mainly formed as a bedroom community for the State Government so we’re devoid of much of that.

Rare example of a Missing Middle housing building in Downtown Raleigh

You’ll find some in historic ones Boylan Heights but if you tried to build a new one, you’d promptly be ran out of town and probably be sued. In fact, a few residents of Hayes Barton which is made primarily of multi-million dollar estate homes on acre + lots is suing to reverse Raleigh’s Missing Middle plan. Despite being close to Downtown, they believe the 17 unit million dollar townhome development on one estate lot will “ruin the character of their neighborhood”, “bring traffic, “crime” etc; you know all the typical arguments that have been disproven time and time again.  Across the country however, most true neighborhoods with character feature a mix of housing types. It’s only recently that we stopped building diverse housing choices.

If these few ultra-rich homeowners get their way it could have disastrous effects on the missing middle plan. They’ve even gone as far as attempting to convince Black neighborhoods that missing middle will “destroy” their neighborhoods as well. Meanwhile modest single family home after another is torn down and replaced with another single family home in East Raleigh. Missing Middle allows flexibility to construct smaller homes on smaller lots, multiple homes on one lot, and adding ADUs to existing lots.

With the intense growth and pressure on the few urban neighborhoods that we have, missing middle is the way that existing residents will be able to stay in their homes. By allowing for increased housing types and numbers, we’ll see less single family tear downs and more in the way of dense infill. This will lead to more neighborhood amenities and services and increased affordability options.

With the lack in urban housing choices most families are forced to outlying communities to find housing. Places such as Johnston County, Franklin County, and even Sanford have seen explosive growth recently. Unfortunately most of it is extremely sprawl based, low density single family subdivisions wherever developers can find land. With that comes a slew of drawbacks, such as long commute times, lack of access to shopping and dining, forest and farmland destruction, and increased infrastructure costs by way of water, sewer and road needs.


Also while the housing prices may be lower further out, once you consider the cost of driving, if often times evens out. This is yet another thing that missing middle aims to tamp down by giving more people the option of living in town.

While Downtown Raleigh is great and full of things to do, it has to compete with several other cores: North Hills, RTP, Durham, and Chapel Hill.  While I believe they all offer different things and compliment each other, they also leech off each other development and placemaking wise. For all the greatness that Downtown Raleigh holds in terms of small business, shopping and dining, it can feel a bit scattered and not cohesive. There’s not what I call “that one spot” that most cities have. If you asked 10 people where they bring out of town guests, you may get 10 different answers. Meanwhile, cities like Greeneville with Reedy Falls, Charlotte with the Rail Trail, Atlanta with the Beltline, and St Pete with the Pier offer those focal points.

Dix Park has the opportunity to become that spot but even there, accessibility from Downtown is a challenge due to Western Blvd and lack of density surrounding the park.

I have several ideas to help get us there, such as converting the prison site and converting Western Blvd into a true urban boulevard. The city should also explore reconverting Fayetteville Street to a pedestrian oriented space and converting Martin Street between the two transit centers into a Transit oriented space. The city’s party scene along Glenwood Ave should also be pedestrianized during the weekends.

A few overarching themes I’d focus on are:

  • Blanket Downtown zoning heights
  • Prioritize public-private partnerships to increase mixed income Downtown housing
  • Dense infill housing throughout the city
  • Network of trails, paths, and bike lanes
  • Underused space infill
  • TOD (Transit Oriented Development) incentives along BRT lines
  • Prioritize convention center expansion
  • Prioritize Dix buildout and attract more festivals in the park
  • Negotiate redevelopment of prison site

As with every big idea, they’re met with instant pushback. But cities that do not evolve get left behind or low to middle income residents get pushed out.

Will we continue to be one of the best places to live for everyone, or will we become a low density playground for the rich where everyone else has to drive into town or decides to move elsewhere. At the very least we have to get downtown, and the land use around the BRT lines right. While I’m confident the City will put the proper plans in place, I fear for what a select few will do to stop it.

Opinions and insights are my own and are not representative of my employer or any organization. Any ideas displayed on this site are purely that – just ideas to help improve the future of the built environment and begin discussions.

32 thoughts on “Raleigh, I’m concerned

  1. Hi Phil
    Thanks for your article.
    I am puzzled as to why no one mentions Airbnb as an issue when affordable housing is discussed. I realize it is a small piece of the puzzle, but I believe it to be a piece, and perhaps part of a solution. There has been an increase over the years as folks realize more money can be made renting on a short-term basis rather than monthly. I can cite a number of examples, but one that sticks with me is my neighbor who renovated a lovely historic duplex in Durham with the intent of charging rent commensurate with the neighborhood. He is now renting one unit to a couple who are offering it on Airbnb. Even while paying $1800 a month for a two bedroom two bath duplex these folks are able to profit.
    Any idea why no one ever talked about this? Thanks again.
    Carol Anderson.


    1. Hello. Thank you. You raise a good point. That is not something I’ve really thought of. I know in Atlanta they have really strict short term rental rules, but I don’t think that is the case here in the Triangle.


      1. There is always somebody who wants to take beautiful neighborhoods and create ugly ghettos out of them. I disagree completely with the
        Mr. Veasley’s “glowing characterization” of black neighborhoods! Illegal drug use and sales, deliquency, crime, “rooming houses,” junk cars, poor property maintenance and noise are only a few of the ugly realities of so-called “low income” neighborhoods. Furtherore, the taxpayers ought to be fed up with subsidizing a race of people who, decade after decade, will never be able to feed themselves, clothe themselves, house themselves, educate themselves, transport themselves or get medical care for themselves without relying on the “White Man,” who they hate! We should end Affirmative Action and the rest of LBJ’s “Great Society” that he so wrongly invisioned in the 1960s!! Just say “NO” to this nonsense and let deserving tax burdened citizens who can make it, on their own, without public assistance decide!


    2. Carol,
      The Planning Commission thought a lot about Airbnb when they made their recommendation about ADUs to the City Council. The commission added a regulation to their recommendation disallowing the use of ADUs for short-term rentals. They did this because the City Council “sold” the idea of ADUs as part of the solution for affordable housing stock. Of course, if you rent the units out as Airbnb, they are decidedly NOT part of housing stock. When the proposal got to the City Council, the first thing that Councilors Melton and Stewart did was to remove the ban on using ADUs for Airbnb. So, instead of adding to housing stock we now have ADUs for vacation rentals


  2. As an architect I have watched Raleigh become a very ugly city. We need more restrictive zone codes, a stronger landscape buffer between residential and business zones and a definitive landscape/tree code for new resudential. This fictitious “missing middle” is at best a poor joke. The current planning approach is making it too expensive for most lower middle income folks to live here.


    1. I agree with this comment. The City of Oaks is disappearing and the “missing middle” townhomes planned for our area are stated to go for $625K. That’s twice what the single family homes in our area go for. The wool is being pulled over the eyes of Raleigh residents IMHO. 😢


    2. Are you kidding me the missing middle is working in a lot of cities. Furthermore what’s you deal with zoning like Raleigh already invest in green space and buffer zones.


    3. So densifing downtown is hurting poor people when a small minority lives downtown. NIMBY. stop watching FOX NEWS.


  3. So insightful. I love all your ideas. I agree that the segregation brought on by a not true urban city but a mixture of picturesque enclaves and streetcar suburbs surrounding a lack of focal point and a small grid system needs to change to catch up with the growth. Always enjoy reading your thoughts and ideas. Hope to see some of your ideas come true in the future.


  4. I agree with your comments about what Raleigh needs. After visiting several cities in Europe, most places in the US leave a lot to be desired in terms of walkability and quality of public transportation. At least I think Raleigh is moving in the right direction.


  5. Long time Raleigh residents (37 years, left in ’17) know how well malling off Fayetteville St went. Let’s face it, state government sprawls all over DTR, many of those buildings are horrible architecture and two of Raleigh’s five squares are covered with a government building and a third has gotten the city planner treatment. Raleigh has lost a lot of its character since the bro-tastic building boom got going into full swing in the 2010s and really accelerating in the past 6 years.
    But, what good is a downtown if the mayor allows a riot to destroy blocks of it? That’s not the kind of urban renewal most had in mind. I saw the writing on the wall, Raleigh was proggiing out in a big way and I didn’t want to be subject to the harebrained schemes of our “expert” class. Yeah, the McMansions are as architurally pleasing as the Archdale building but the kind of housing architecture Veasley would like to see, Raleigh (no city) has built since the 30s and 40s. That stuff isn’t coming back, it’s too expensive to build.

    National fiscal/banking policy is insane now, so really all this is probably a moot point anyway.


  6. You forgot about the low income people who’s trying to survive in Raleigh but not getting the same push as the ultra wealthy does. Oh and keep Airbnb out of Raleigh if you can’t have affordable housing for low income people then why have Airbnb


    1. Like the city doesn’t have an affordable housing bond already. Some of these comments y’all have been living under a rock.


  7. I read your post and see it contained many of the typical urban planning ideas. I will speculate you are young. You are upper middle class with “extra” income but have not yet saved / invested a significant amount (yet). You do not have children. You are not physically handicapped. You do not entertain large family gatherings with lots of children. Your parents did not own “land” they considered their legacy- perhaps a house on a small lot that they would sell and move from. (Did they plant trees on their property for their grandchildren?) You rent.
    Did I get 6 out of 8, correct?
    I mention this just because if I were a single young person that rented, I would agree with much of what you say. However there is a large population that do not have your lifestyle.
    It would be helpful if urban planners did not just envision a world of people just like what they aspire to be. I was thinking about this as I drove on a street with wide bike lanes in both directions and not a bike in sight in the multiple times I have driven on it.


  8. Great ideas, Phil. I completely agree on making Dorothea Dix that “go here” spot in Raleigh, and redevelopment of the prison being a critical path to success. Many of your other points on the missing middle are bang on as well.

    I’m curious about your ideas for urbanizing Western Blvd as well. Did you have a blog post on that?


  9. “No turn on red” is returning in ALL of downtown. Signs are being installed. Way too many pedestrians killed by those who can’t wait a few moments.


      1. It is VERY MUCH true. I work downtown and have WITNESSED vehicles not paying attention to pedestrians crossing because they want to turn right on red. Killed, injured … it’s all unnecessary. Now, within downtown, you’ll see NO TURN ON RED signs at ALL intersections! They completed hanging them this month. I LOVE IT!


      2. So in spite of the facts in the article I sent, because you “witnessed” people getting injured/killed and you type in all caps, putting up these no turn on red signs all over downtown was the right thing to do? Follow the science and keep everyone “safe”! It’s ridiculous that Raleigh can’t grow into a real city. It will stay a big town with thinking like yours. Other cities actually allow right on red turns and, are you ready for this, left on red when both streets are one way. I know, so “dangerous” 🙄


      3. Absolutely I’m good with that! Prepare better. Plan your time better. You can wait a minute or two for a damn green light rather than causing accidents, injuries & deaths. I couldn’t possibly care less what “other cities” do. And left on red is one of the most asinine things I’ve heard. You can barely get people to come to a full stop as it is because they want to just keep going. Slow down. Stop. And plan your time better. As a native with ancestral roots here since before we were a colony…I can say with complete confidence that your way of thinking isn’t needed here.


      4. “As a native with ancestral roots here” Now it all makes sense; you want to go back in time and keep Raleigh a nice little town. Too late, it’s now a big town but views like yours will keep it from being a real city for the foreseeable future. And for you to say that my thinking isn’t needed here, wow. Oh, I forgot; it was with complete confidence. That certainly makes a difference……


      5. Oh, so now you assume to know me to say who I am or what I want! LMAO Hilarious!

        Guess you need to spend more time getting around & stop the pathetic “writing”.


      6. No, you want to whine about no turn on red signs because you can’t plan your days better. You want to talk shit about those with common sense who see the good in this and pretend they’re all bumpkins who wish we were still in the 50s. Grow up. Take responsibility for your inability to plan. And enjoy your time at those red lights! 😀


      7. My lord, can you be any more juvenile? I don’t even drive thru “downtown” for work. It’s literally ridiculous that the drivers here can’t be responsible enough to be trusted to turn right on red or left on right. Go back and read, if you can, the original link about how many people were actually hit and killed in a crosswalk w/signal in 2022. Here, I will help you out, two people. Two too many but it a restriction that is unneeded.


      8. I don’t care about how many in 2022! How about how many over literal YEARS?! I guess since it didn’t affect you, you don’t care.

        No one can be trusted to go anywhere on a red light. Plan your day better. Period.


  10. I agree with Bob! Most of you all are just some rich assholes that come in from some other huge ass city (probably to visit). And bc is not what you’re used to, you want to come in and make it like New York city. A lot of the people living in Raleigh are school kids and middle class citizens, that can’t afford your billion dollar mansions!! So personally (being a 25yr resident myslef) if you don’t fuckung like it here in downtown Raleigh the way that it is…then go on somewhere else and turn their city into yuppyville because nobody wants you here anyways!


    1. I work a minimum wage job and want to see density for all. Have you even been to. New York ima start calling y’all NIMBYs. You guys bring nothing to the table except worn out talking points.


  11. As it relates to airbnbs. You can turn every single one of the homes in Raleigh into a long term lease and it won’t effect the housing market at all. To think it would means you havent looked at the numbers. You just hate them in your neighborhood. Now the apartment complexes that allow airbnb subleasing MIGHT make a difference, but even that is a big might.


  12. The suburban people you refer to in this essay vote, and they’re not a “vocal minority.” You seem to have a cynical view of these individuals, and yet you need to sell your ideas to this demographic. Insulting them isn’t going to help you accomplish your goals. Furthermore, it’s an insult to imply that the Black neighborhoods in Raleigh are unable to decide for themselves how the city should grow.

    One of the reasons Raleigh has consistently ranked high as a desirable place to live is because life here is easy and different from big cities. This is not to say that Raleigh shouldn’t change, but you ought to be mindful of this detail. Also, consider that Raleigh never conceived of itself as being anything other than car-dependent. This will take time to change and a lot of investment from every level of government. The state legislature isn’t likely to kick in any funding.

    As for Central Prison, that is state-owned property. I can’t fathom how anyone is going to convince the state legislature, much less taxpayers, to move a billion-dollar facility that has recently added a brand-new hospital.

    Everything you suggest in this essay is political and requires political savvy. Remember, it’s easier to attract bees with honey than it is with vinegar. You have to sell your ideas and insulting the people you need on your side is not going to help your cause.


  13. The closing off of Fayetteville St happened before and not too long ago, so your either new to the area or too young to remember. It was a disaster and had to be opened back up.


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