Dense Downtown Neighborhoods

It does not take a scientist, or some fanboy blogger, to tell you that more people are spending time downtown. Overall, more restaurants are opening up and being patronized by people outside of the nine to five work week hours. It still takes a major event to bring more people downtown on a weekend day then a weekday but the once sleepy ghost town has recently found new life. Visitors are on the rise because of the options on nights and weekends and the amount of downtown residents have slowly risen as well. I’ve always thought that downtown is at an interesting point with new businesses and new residents. New places may not open because of the lack of residents living close by. At the same time, people may not want to move downtown because of the lack of available shops and convenience stores. Slowly, downtown Raleigh will break this cycle when it reaches a certain amount of residential density and I see potential in Dawson St. leading the way.

I want to mention The Hue condo building and how it may be a key boost in residential density in downtown. The Hue and its neighbors, Park Devereux and The Dawson, form a cluster of people living close to each other unlike any other area. According to the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, these three buildings have 319 units between them. Spanned across only two blocks, this will be the densest residential area when The Hue opens. (dense by Raleigh standards) Putting their look and architecture aside, I think I like what has been built here. The five to seven story buildings do not feel overwhelming and create a more livable environment compared to a corridor of twenty plus story towers. If another condo building in the seven to ten story range was built across the street from The Dawson, we may have a condo neighborhood district forming.

With a couple hundred or even a thousand homes so close to each other, new types of restaurants and shops may pop up. This location, away from the more ‘touristy’ centers of Fayetteville St. or Glenwood South, should see neighborhood style cheap eats, convenience stores, and could support a small grocery store too. I’m not knocking on some of the great places to eat and drink around Fayetteville St., I spend most of my time there right now. The only problem with the core downtown area is the higher cost, resulting in much higher rents. The places that are now open need to draw in people from outside of downtown and become a destination to be very successful. They also rely heavily on pedestrian traffic. Downtown Raleigh will really reach a new level when we have businesses that can solely survive by the condo-dwellers that live within a few hundred feet around them.

I’d be curious to know if the Urban Design Center has any plans or strategies to encourage this kind of density.

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5 Comments

  1. Leo, you provide some good food for thought, as usual. No matter how we view urbanity and density, we should all agree that every year our downtown offers more and more options. Provided the banks will start lending money again – at a normal level – many more people will call DT Raleigh their home in the years to come.

    With that having been said, let me share my own views, as I am one of those people who would love to live downtown in the future. To summarize, these are the things I must see in place:

    1) Decent prices. The downtown real estate is over-priced, IMO. A condo unit is out of the question for me; I am married and I have an 18-month old baby and two cats. We are not minimalists, so we need over 2000sf to fit our stuff. A house over 2000sf costs way too much these days, assuming it is in a good shape and in a good neighborhood.

    2) Schools. Unless there is a good – and safe – school nearby, moving to downtown is out of the question.

    3) Amenities. Don’t mind driving to Cameron Village, but it would be nice to have a store like Whole Foods, or A Southern Season in DT Raleigh ;)

    4) Safety. Yes, DT Raleigh is overall safe, and I would consider moving if it continues to be safe.

    Sure, there are more little things that matter, but the aforementioned ones are on the top of my list.

    Regarding density and heights, I will politely disagree, assuming I didn’t misunderstand the contents. The hue was built at a location that deserved something of FAR greater scale. A side street in Glenwood South, closer to Cameron Park can get 5-6 story buildings. The current Hue location deserved something well above 20 floors, because if we don’t build high-rises in large parcels, where will we build them. DT Raleigh has to have something for everyone and so far it hasn’t pleased many of us. We have an abundance of low-rises in locations suitable for bigger buildings. As larger parcels become more scarce, the prices will rise, and so will the cost of owning a residence in DT Raleigh.

    In the case of Hue, I like that they put over 200 units there. However, I would have loved to see 3 buildings on that parcel, built in different stages. A couple of 5-7 story apartment buildings adjacent to Legends and The Dawson, and a 30-40 mixed-use high-rise portion, pushed back a little, on the top of a parking structure shared by all the components. A hotel portion would have been nice.

    Just my opinion, so don’t get upset :LOL:

  2. I totally agree with five story height being much better than twenty stories. Really tall buildings are really expensive and do not lead to lower cost apartments. They lead to much more expensive real estate.

    I hope that it can grow into a neighborhood, with many buildings in the warehouse district that could accommodate a grocery store and other needed amenities.

    I think that the Seaboard / Blount Street area also has great potential. I am not sure what the progress (or lack of) is for the apartments / condos that were going into Seaboard, but with those, Blount Street Commons, the mixed public housing and the dormitories at Peace College there is pretty good density in the area. They also have a lot of neighborhood type things in the area: cheap food (Peace China and Logan’s), a park, pharmacy, and even now a little produce on weekends.

    I totally agree with five story height being much better than twenty stories. Really tall buildings are really expensive and do not lead to lower cost apartments. They lead to much more expensive real estate. I have ranted about it before, but height kills a city more than it helps. I do not know a city (I am sure there are probably exceptions to my experience) where the area that really tall buildings are prevalent is even close to a better area to live than surrounding mid-rise area. New York City, Seattle, Atlanta, Portland, and hell even Paris have good mid-rise areas while the tall buildings are for bankers and tourists and are usually dead at night. In my opinion the best city in the U.S. is definitely Portland and its height is quite comparable to our current one (as well as the age of its buildings). We need to build density, but not with giant buildings that really only look good from the top floor or from the interstate.

  3. The wharehouse district is on its last leg. Part of it will be replaced by the new transit station- if that every goes through? I think that would be a good idea to combine all the bus companies with the Amtrack station so that people can just quickly walk to the their next mode of transportation. Although, no other place has the feel of walking around that area or the promise of the open space once those building are destroyed.

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