All of the world's great cities have a great park that shows their best face to the world: New York's Central Park, Paris's Luxembourg Garden, Barcelona's Gaudi-designed Parc Güell. Raleigh has no such equivalent at the moment, but if Dix Park comes to fruition in the way its planners envision, downtown Raleigh will soon boast a gem that would become a vital part of the city's life and an unmissable destination.
In a show of support toward making this scenario a reality, the city and Dix Park Conservancy are ponying up a hundred thousand dollars for Destination Dix, a free, one-day community festival on the park grounds this Saturday. For many of the estimated thirty thousand attendees, it will be the first time they actually set foot in the park, and organizers want to make sure that they keep coming back.
Set on the sprawling lawn behind the State Farmers Market, the extravaganza will tap the area's rich musical resources to trumpet the value of Dix Park, so christened in January 2015 after a protracted legal battle over the fate of its three hundred and eight acres. Though the park is still mostly a blank canvas, it's really happening, and now is the time for citizens to have a say in what the space ultimately becomes.
Dave Wilson leads Chatham County Line, one of the event's two headliners, and has been a Raleigh resident for twenty years. He closely followed the push and pull over the site of the Dorothea Dix Hospital, one of the country's first facilities for treatment of the mentally ill, which shuttered in 2012. Wilson says he is all in for the future of Dix Park as a true destination park.
"I've definitely been very excited about that property, that the city would do something with it instead of turning it into condos," he says
Those condos could have happened. Instead, when the city purchased the site from the state for fifty two million dollars, it cast its lot with the enlightened urban planners who have seen fit to reserve a place for the natural world in the midst of civilization's bustle. Parks provide refuge for animals and humans alike, while serving as an attractive, lush hub for local and out-of-town visitors.
The centerpiece of Destination Dix is music. Three stages—Oak, Acorn, and Pine—will feature a breadth of styles and sensibilities ranging from funk and reggae to traditional country fare, with Chatham County Line and Bombadil in headlining slots. Chatham County Line, going strong after more than a decade, represents the traditional wing of the region's music with its modern take on Americana. Bombadil's hazy folk-pop emanates from a vastly different part of the musical landscape, colored with deep regret, fragility, and occasional glory. While the two acts might come across as strange bedfellows, they've shared stages before.
"We've enjoyed having them open up some shows in the past. We don't particularly try to seek out a band that's gonna be exactly like us, or the same type of music as us," says Chatham County Line's John Teer. "We like to mix it up and get weird with everybody."
For the festival's hundred-grand outlay, its organizers will offer the full array of family-friendly amusements, Ferris Wheel included, along with food trucks and purveyors of wine and craft beer. Artists from in and around the Triangle will display wares, and visitors can learn about the fascinating, rich history of the site in informal educational discussions about its features and current condition.
The city's vision of the park has always included input from Raleigh citizens considering the space. So far, though, that's all in the preliminary stages.
"We're anticipating starting a planning process in early 2017, and through that planning process develop the future vision for the park," says Kate Pearce, the senior planner for Dix Park. "Nothing's on the table, but nothing's off the table."
In May, the city and its consulting team invited residents to apply for seats on the park's forty-five-seat Master Plan Advisory Committee, an outreach effort that will continue Saturday. The event itself will feature a lot of interactive activities designed to collect ideas, both kid-specific and for adults.
"It's not just going to be the traditional 'write your idea on a Post-it note,'" says Pearce.
Beyond that, it's not clear how the park's future will play out. On the Dix Conservancy website, the section titled "Get Involved" just says "Coming soon."
There's hope that the city and its citizens will reach a consensus on how to make Dix Park a place of lasting value, an asset for Raleigh for decades to come. For the immediate future, though, Dave Wilson has his eye on practical but mundane reality.
"Hopefully, it will be a place with parking," he says.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Green Acres"