Sunday, October 7, 2007

Raleigh, We Need to Talk

Would you throw away this house?

This from Bob Geary, Independent Weekly | Election 2007

OCTOBER 3, 2007:
Cary and Raleigh citizens raise voices and votes

Leaving office after eight years on the Cary Town Council, businesswoman Marla Dorrel tells the story of Cary's "old guard" and its discomfort with newcomers who want a say in local decisions. The "guard," Dorrel says, are the movers and shakers who've handpicked Cary's leaders and set its growth strategies for decades. They have established high standards, fostered close ties with developers and gotten exactly what they wanted: an affluent, well-educated and intelligent community. Their closed system worked great when Cary was small and sprawling, she says. But with Cary filling up, it doesn't work anymore.

"They didn't think about how things might change when this affluent, well-educated and highly intelligent populace became engaged in their own government," Dorrel says. "Perhaps they didn't think they'd become engaged at all. One thing is for sure. It is much easier to maintain control when the population is 20,000 than when it exceeds 120,000."

In Local Democracy Under Siege: Activism, Public Interests and Private Politics (New York University Press, 2007), a team of anthropologists looking at five North Carolina communities, including the City of Durham and Chatham County, reports that "market rule" by local elites and business interests is ascendant while citizens typically struggle to be heard. "The large taxpayers and developers are virtually super-citizens," co-author and UNC-Chapel Hill Professor Don Nonini said after a reading last week. "Others, especially low-income residents, are almost sub-citizens."

"Market rule thrives on citizen disengagement from the public sphere," Nonini added.

Now there is a concept that requires attention and action. The "market will work it out" theory is only equitable for others if the market is not already greased for a smooth glidepath. The current climate in Raleigh is born of benign neglect. Our trust of our processes, market forces, and fellow citizens is allowing much to slip away unawares. We have a lot to lose unless we pay attention AND get involved.

In Raleigh, the Oct. 9 municipal elections—and potential run-offs next month—are also engendering headlines about growth and its side effects of traffic congestion, lagging infrastructure and the need for more parks and open space. But behind that debate is the shadow question of whether average citizens can still be heard at City Hall as Raleigh's population hits 360,000.

Groups such as Community SCALE, which is trying to put the brakes on house teardowns and out-of-scale replacements ("McMansions") in older Raleigh neighborhoods, have been raising that question. The neighborhoods have tried for several years to convince the council of the need for infill standards to limit builders' appetites. Frustrated, they petitioned recently for a blanket downzoning of more than 100 properties—a move born out of desperation when the council and the city's planning staff each put them off again this year.

"What has made our neighborhoods so coveted is being destroyed by those seeking to profit from it," says Philip Letsinger, a SCALE member.

The best way to get your voice heard is to VOTE this Tuesday. Neighborhood involvement will let the City Council know who cares about what in our fair city.

Neighborhoods battling developers is an old story in Raleigh, of course. But as in Cary, the nature of those fights is changing as sprawl plays itself out at the city's edges and developers look to the downtown neighborhoods for infill and high-density projects. ...

Good endorsements are found here. Vote like your life depends on it.

1 comment:

Chad said...

Betsy Kane has also made endorsements on