Commentary

Few answers to community concerns

March 22, 2014 

  • Defining community

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A few weeks back, I asked a question: Is North Raleigh a community? The response I got was a resounding “yes.” But one feature of all communities is dissatisfaction. Only in a utopia do citizens not demand progress. So I went back to members of the North Raleigh community, and I asked another question: What are the outstanding issues facing North Raleigh as a community?

There was no unified answer, but three residents who responded to that column offered their perspectives.

Mark Potratz is concerned about how the area can be more inclusive of all its people.

“We tend to marginalize those people in our community that may not be as productive as someone else,” he said in an e-mail. “We push these people to the edges of our community; we want to devalue their worth.”

He goes on to talk about the community’s valuation of the poor, the homeless and the elderly. Sure, we all like the hard worker, the productive citizen and the well-off resident. But do we value them at the expense of those who offer less than they require?

“I think one of our challenges is to re-evaluate this attitude and make a conscious effort to bring the weakest and marginalized into the center of our community rather than the edges,” he said.

Potratz praised the Raleigh mayor for joining other mayors in signing a resolution of compassion last year. He he said he hopes that resolution will become more than a document — that it will become a call to action and that the mayor won’t forget it.

Planning for growth

For Jennifer Hart, the issues facing North Raleigh are more practical. She says the area needs an economic infusion and more thoughtful city planning.

“There exists a patchwork of developments, with the sprawl of the '90s now falling out of favor for some developers,” she said in an e-mail.

She said new developers have attempted mixed-use projects and sites that offer more pedestrian-friendly design. But this has come at a price.

“While each of these has its merits, the older retail centers from the '80s and '90s have lost tenants, and the unfortunate result is an appearance of decline,” she said.

She also singles out the condition of area roads, saying they aren’t fit to carry our growing traffic capacity.

Alison Rhodes, who lives off Leesville Road, also says traffic is an issue in North Raleigh. Although I-540 was supposed to help with traffic, it has made things worse, she said.

“Trying to get out of the neighborhood or Food Lion shopping center at certain times of the day can be quite daunting,” she said in an e-mail.

And she worries that the construction of new neighborhoods will only deteriorate the conditions further.

Rhodes is also worried about overcrowding in schools, a concern shared by many North Raleigh residents, no doubt. In her section of the city, she says a new middle school coming in on Leesville Church Road will help the issue, but added that Leesville Elementary is almost at capacity.

“I took over as PTA president during the transition to year round at Leesville and it tore the school community apart,” she said. “I would hate to see something like that happen again. Is the building of a new elementary school the answer? I really don't know.”

It’sa common refrain. People know what the issues are, but they don’t necessarily know how to fix them. And why should they? It’s not their job alone to know. That is up to the city leaders.

For my part, I grew up in North Raleigh in a time when it was all forest and farmland. The North Raleigh of today bears little resemblance to my childhood home. I wish there was less repetition. You can travel down a road and pass grocery store after grocery store, gas station after gas station. Only the names change, and sometimes not even that. Any space that can be filled has been filled, and I wonder, is it necessary?

I think of places like Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard. The permanent residents there support, advocate for and receive limits on growth. They fund land banks through taxes that allow them to buy up undeveloped land which they can keep unspoiled. Of course, the populations there are more affluent than in North Raleigh, but it's an interesting concept and one that could, perhaps, keep North Raleigh green.

And in supporting the preservation of North Raleigh, perhaps we can avoid Ralph Waldo Emerson's pessimistic vision of community:

"Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity."

Alex Granados writes about interesting people, places and traditions in North Raleigh and beyond. Contact him via email at agranadoster@gmail.com.

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