I grew up in North Raleigh, so I feel like I can say whatever I want about it. When my family moved to the area, I was younger than 10, though exact numbers escape me, and the place was mostly woods.
My neighborhood, Byrum Woods, was a cement oasis in a desert of green, and bordering our neighborhood was a farm and more trees. Trees upon trees. As a child, I thought I could disappear in that wilderness. Back then, I probably could.
To me, Byrum Woods was a community. I had a group of friends about my age living in close proximity. But North Raleigh felt like nothing more than geography.
As I got older, my ideas changed a bit; however, I still didn’t think of North Raleigh as a community. It was just another part of Raleigh that was increasingly just strip malls and grocery stores. Grocery stores and strip malls. Repeat.
Now, Raleigh is going through a Renaissance, of sorts. The North Hills area has a Midtown, and downtown, which used to be a ghost town, has a revitalized arts, restaurant, night and culture scene.
What about North Raleigh? Is it more of a community now than it was then? When I mention North Raleigh to outsiders, they often scoff. So I emailed a bunch of my sources, who are local residents, and asked them whether they consider the area to be a community.
For the most part, they said yes.
Jeff Jones noted that he and his friends go to many establishments – the unique ones that are locally run and a little offbeat. Places such as Casa San Carlo, Piper’s Tavern and Chow.
“The fact that these places exist and that they are patronized shows a commonality of interest and ideas, which I would definitely call a community,” he said.
Alan Clement started explained that North Raleigh isn’t a community in a formal sense, but that didn’t lessen his appreciation for the area.
“Most of us consider ourselves fortunate to be part of North Raleigh,” he said. “Maybe it’s simply that we are a typical American, upper income, suburbanite gathering of like individuals living in a range of developments. … Maybe it’s more a gathering of like minds and similar conditions, kind of a Starbucks-laptop bunch of individuals trying to make the most out of broken families.”
But whatever holds us together, he said there is a common bond among North Raleighites. And in my mind a common bond is the glue of community.
He also mentioned that perhaps the answer lay in our faith.
“Maybe the community life in North Raleigh is best represented by the array of small and medium-size churches,” Clement said. “Here the lives of the disarrayed come together to help one another, demonstrating our good intentions, testimony that basically we want to do what is right.”
Christy Burkey also considers North Raleigh a community, though she said forces are working against it.
“The biggest drawback for North Raleigh becoming an even more tightly-knit community is the inability for all kids to attend the same neighborhood school due to a myriad of Wake County school issues,” she said.
John Luther, owner of Sola Coffee, says he sees the community all around him.
“Particularly in the area (where) Sola resides, most of our customers shop, dine, go to church, socialize, swim, etc, in a small radius, thus often crossing paths,” Luther said.
Those are just a smattering of answers. Undoubtedly, people live in North Raleigh for a reason. Perhaps “community” isn’t the first word that first comes to mind, but it’s there.
I thought when I sent out my questions that I would get a near-universal dismissal of the idea. But I was wrong. It seems that passion for North Raleigh runs deep, at least for some.
I would love to hear from more of you. What do you think? Is North Raleigh a community? What examples support the assertion? Or what’s stopping it from becoming a community?
Until then, I have some ready-made answers for North Raleigh haters. You think it’s just suburban sprawl? Some residents would say differently.
Alex Granados writes about interesting people, places and traditions in North Raleigh and beyond. Contact him at email@example.com.