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Placemaking: West Raleigh 

Larger image • Urban or suburban? Bruce Mamel ponders the question at a new development near his home in West Raleigh.

Photo by Derek Anderson

Larger image • Urban or suburban? Bruce Mamel ponders the question at a new development near his home in West Raleigh.

Bruce Mamel lives in "the vortex" of Raleigh, as he terms it. In fact, he sometimes calls it the vortex of the Triangle. Mamel's house is off Nowell Road, just west of the State Fairgrounds. It's a quarter-mile from the proposed Triangle Transit Authority station on the "linchpin" rail corridor near the Cary line. It's also five minutes from the Wade Avenue extension, I-40, I-440, Hillsborough Street, Western Boulevard and another proposed TTA stop across from Dorton Arena. Five minutes by car, that is. Because of the way his part of town has been thrown together, Mamel says, he's pretty much forced to go everywhere by car. Walking or riding a bike is virtually impossible in an area marked by high-speed traffic, spotty suburban development and sidewalks that come and go—but mostly go—at random.

But what really characterizes this part of Raleigh, says Mamel, a longtime neighborhood leader, is the vast amount of undeveloped land, much of it owned by the state, N.C. State University and SAS, the Cary software giant. It's prime territory for transit-oriented urban development if city officials get the planning and design issues right. "It's a mish-mash out here now," he says. "But there's still a ton of land. The question is: How are you going to connect the dots?"

As he says this, Mamel is speeding past the RBC Center, also in his 'hood and touted, when it was built, as the start of a "Meadowlands of the South" entertainment district in West Raleigh.

"So where's the district?" he asks sarcastically. "What kind of 'plan' puts a Catholic high school and a gas station next to a professional sports arena?" And not even next to it. They're strung out, along with some new suburban-style office buildings, across a series of pedestrian-impossible thoroughfares. Walk to a game? Good luck.

Still, Mamel remembers when he was a teenager in Minneapolis 30 years ago. Many there considered transit a kooky idea, but city leaders envisioned it and planned for it, and today it's up and running. Raleigh's comprehensive planning should be equally far-sighted, Mamel argues. If it is, a new downtown can be created in West Raleigh and connected to the old one—by streetcars running on Hillsborough Street, perhaps—as well as to RTP and Durham by commuter rail.

"You've got this huge rail corridor here, and the amount of development that could occur out here is amazing," Mamel says. "But we need to maximize the opportunities and give people options besides their cars. This isn't about being anti-business or pro-smart growth. It's about economic development."

  • "How are you going to connect the dots?"

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