Musing About Downtown and Our State Capitol Building

North Carolina State Capitol

My wife and I were recently traveling around New England and during one of the stops, I had a thought that I wanted to share. One of the things her and I do when traveling into new states in this country is to make a point to visit the capital city and see the capitol. The idea is to hopefully get to all 50 states one day. On our New England journey, we stopped in Augusta, Maine and something hit me as we walked around the building looking for good photo spots. Of the few capitols we’ve visited, there are some located within the city center and others that are not.

That thought doesn’t sound exciting at first so let’s compare a map view of the Maine Statehouse and our North Carolina Capitol.


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The thought that hit me was that I very much like how the NC Capitol is part of the fabric of downtown Raleigh and I think it’s clear in the map view above. You can see it when on Fayetteville Street. The Capitol grounds are practically a park and events are hosted there. People walk through it all the time. Because of it’s proximity to the core downtown, the capitol is public space and it mixes very well into our downtown.

I almost had a counter thought though. If you are thinking, like I later did, how can one compare a city of 400,000+ like Raleigh with Augusta, Maine’s 20,000? It’s likely that a larger city will naturally grow up around its capitol right? Well, take a look at the Oklahoma State Capitol in the population 500,000+ city of Oklahoma City.


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It could be worse.

14 Comments

  1. Thank God that our capitol is so well woven into the fabric of downtown streets. Oklahoma’s seems to be built right in the middle of some highway interchange. Also our capitol building is twenty times more handsome looking that either of the other two cities you mention.

  2. I agree. The layout of the Capitol and the unobstructed view from the south end of Fayetteville St is one of my favorite parts of downtown.

  3. State Capitols are a waste of money! Do away with them all.
    In all seriousness though, I think most State Capitols are placed according to elevation within the city/town. Therefore the term Capitol Hill? This way the citizens are reminded who really is in charge. Had Raleigh followed this trend the Capitol would have been located on the Bloomsbury Condo property, which is the old location of the Wake County Court House.

  4. Regarding Oklahoma City, keep in mind that its city limits include more than 600 square miles of land. Let’s put that into some perspective. In 2010, OKC had about 579,000 people in the land area that is double the size of Charlotte and more than 4 times the size of Raleigh. In other words, Raleigh has about 70% of OKC’s population in just 23% of its land mass. Keeping in mind that people complain about Raleigh being low density and suburban, OKC is one seriously spread out and low density city.

    OKC’s capitol building isn’t even the core of the city and is actually separated from the core by an Interstate highway. In fact, OKC has quite a few highways and limited access roads….I guess that’s appropriate for a city built on oil. While its core does have an arena and a baseball stadium nearby, one would actually be hard pressed to determine that it was actually a capital city by visiting its core.

    On the other hand, Raleigh is purposely built around the public square that is the capitol. It’s visible by car and/or foot approach from the north, south, west and (to a lesser extent), the east. There’s a formality and human scale to the center of the city that’s a treasure IMO.

  5. The term capitol hill is specific to DC and exists because the capitol building is literally on a hill. Don’t know about the “whose in charge” claim, but it would make sense for a city planner to put the capitol on a high point in the city in order to better display the purpose of the city. Also I really don’t understand the “abolish” all capitols comment. Where else would the legislature meet to discuss bills and run the government?

  6. Ral, I believe the legislature meets in the Legislative building for all of their needs. The Capitol building – at least the last time I went inside – was essentially just a museum / tourist attraction; i.e. not much governing work taking place.

  7. Our capitol building is more museum than actual capitol; the Governor uses it some. but getting rid of it… Im lost. It is a tourist attraction. What would be the alternative? Demolishing it and selling the land to a developer? I just don’t get the comment.

  8. While I agree with several posts prior. I think you would find it hard pressed to say the North Carolina capital is more beautiful than the OKC capital. Just check it out on google images it’s far more stately and grandiose, although I am sure not nearly as old. Having spent good time in Oklahoma for business I can tell you the location is not walking distance to the downtown core and you see the capital off to your side as you cruise down the interstate so in essence the only people who go there have the implicit intention of going there and certainly no one just stumbles across the lawn as the walk to their next destination. If you haven’t been to OKC lately you would be very surprised about their downtown core. It has dramatically transformed in the last 10+ years and has a lot of amenities I can only dream Raleigh downtown has including a baseball park, NBA arena, a boathouse district that is up and coming(I know bizarre in Oklahoma), and river walk that is family friendly. I always enjoy myself when there for business and the Bricktown area is a lot of fun though lacking in the shopping department. The civic leaders of OKC have done a great job transforming the core and revitalizing the city through their MAPS projects(google it). Honestly I think Raleigh might take a clue or two though I absolutely agree the location and centrality of capital is second to none.

  9. By the way, I don’t think anyone is seriously considering getting rid of the NC Capitol building.

    I also greatly appreciate the huge lawn on all sides! There’s a reason why visitors remark about how green the scenery is here and specifically mention the number of large trees.

  10. Capital building nice or not, it’s Oklahoma City!! Been there, hope I NEVER have to go back.

  11. Meh, OK state capitol looks like a baby version of the US Capitol, plus ours is a solid 70 years older (I looked it up) and supposedly haunted. Granted Oklahoma only became a state in the 20th century. I highly recommend a visit for anyone who hasn’t been, the house and senate chambers are still there (they meet there once a year) and the old state archives/library and state geology office, which became the NC Museum of Natural Science across the street, are all preserved. There’s also a story about our copy of the US Constitution and the Union army invading, generally it’s a good (free) afternoon.

  12. One thing that surprises me is how small and plain our capitol is. I’ve seen OK, KY, WI, FL, CA, KS, PA, MA and many others so it’s a good mix of age / population / region.

    The location is great and it’s nice how it blends in with Fayetteville Street and the museums, compare that to the “government block complex” just north that is a dead zone for any activity. Some states have it well integrated with the downtown, some do not… but almost always the building itself is far grander. Especially look at WI and KY, which for the size of the city is a very impressive building.

    Not that I’m advocating big and bold is good. In the end it’s mostly just a waste of money.

  13. You need to remember North Carolina’s motto before you trash the Capital building:

    “ESSE QUAM VIDERI”—TO BE, RATHER THAN TO SEEM

    Much of Raleigh fortunately or unfortunately, at times, is a direct result of this tenet, hence the reason you don’t see ‘over the top’ iconic, self-aggrandizing structures…………..kind of like ‘charlotte, usa’ and its Napoleonic complex

  14. The small capitol is fitting for NC, being “the vale of humility” that it is. The fact that it isn’t a grand, pretentious structure like most other state capitols adds to its appeal.

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