City Journal, Urban Shopping In and Out of Downtown

My latest City Journal article has been posted over at the Raleigh Public Record. I took a look at other urban-style shopping and retail centers in Raleigh, mainly North Hills and Lafayette Village, and compared them to downtown Raleigh.

During the past few decades, Raleigh, like the rest of the country, is shopping differently. Yes, online spending continues to grow, but spending “in real life,” or in shopping centers, is changing, too. Urban in style with a mix of uses is the new trend in retail development, and in Raleigh, a few locations offer shoppers goods, services, and a place to socialize.

*Retail Becomes More Urban, Social

It’s interesting that there are some very similar qualities between these places and downtown. However, the dynamic is different in that downtown has hundreds of property owners while retailers work with just a single entity in the others.

My New Column at The Raleigh Public Record

I have been invited to write a column over at the Raleigh Public Record about urban issues in Raleigh. I plan to elaborate more on some of the thoughts that make it here on the blog and others that don’t. I’m hoping this challenge will push me to get out more, gather more data, and talk to more people in order to inform and get people thinking.

In the first article, I talk about historic preservation and what citizens can do to preserve buildings threatened by “progress.”

Whether you know it or not, citizens can nominate structures and work with the commission in order to seek approval for historic designation. This action could possibly save a building from the wrecking ball. Landmarked structures qualify for preservation review and some can be protected.

*To Protect and to Preserve, Saving Historic Structures in Raleigh

HUB Raleigh Contributes To The Evolution of Co-working in Downtown

Office space at HUB Raleigh

Last week, HUB Raleigh had its official grand opening. This co-working space on Hillsborough Street adds to the growing startup scene and Innovate Raleigh initiative that continues to spread around downtown Raleigh. The space is set up for established startups in the area to work from so that they can tap the greater HUB network for future growth. I went to the packed grand opening party and returned the next day for a visit.

We’ve talked about co-working before and while I myself do not work for a startup, the community aspect around a co-working space is a natural fit for downtown. Both sides can benefit from the social aspect at HUB and the close proximity to the services in the downtown districts.

I like to compare co-working to the idea of our “third place.” There’s where you live, (first) where you work, (second) and your regular place to socialize. (third) This is a theme that is very alive and true for downtown regulars. With co-working, the community aspect of a third place is weaved into the work aspect of the second. For most, this creates relationships, personal and business, that really help create new businesses and bring ideas into creation.

Others just want to get out of the house and that’s fine too.

Grand opening party at HUB Raleigh
Grand opening party at HUB Raleigh

HUB Raleigh is slowly trying to create that community between visitors and users. For example, they have a calendar where anyone can post an event from business to social. The Click Cafe is the HUB’s on-site gathering space for breaks over food and drinks. And as community goes, HUB has members that are active in Durham’s startup scene and other places around the triangle. HUB contributes to what is going on in the triangle rather then compete and possibly take away.

I mentioned the HUB network that members are a part of. HUB is part of a 28 location network, mostly with locations in North America and Europe, where members have access to those locations and the community around it. If a startup in Raleigh decides to work in San Francisco, HUB San Francisco is now a place for them to reach to if needed. This network helps startups ease into different areas and HUB Raleigh helps visitors ease into here.

Growing startups like The Vital Plan and Spot Trot are already at HUB Raleigh and they were both active when I visited. It got me thinking about the talk of using incentives for new companies to come to Raleigh. Why not help build your own companies rather then attract new ones?

Filling Empty Spaces The BEST Way Possible

Empty storefront at The Hue
The Hue storefront on January 29th

A fun scavenger-hunt style post series I have are a few that talk about empty storefronts in downtown that should be filled with businesses. The latest was written back in May 2011 and I don’t think it’s been long enough for an update. Click on the link to visit that conversation and previous years:

There’s a new twist on the space filling front in downtown Raleigh and it’ll be unveiled during February’s First Friday, coming up on the 3rd. Beautifying Emerging Spaces Together, or BEST, has been meeting up for the past few months and they are ready to show off their first installment.

But before I get into that, I need explain what BEST is exactly. From a post on the Raleigh DLA blog, Donna Belt writes:

Two months later, I’m ready to introduce BEST, a team of Downtown Raleigh residents, business leaders and artists who have come together with the mission of BEAUTIFYING EMERGING SPACES TOGETHER. Our vision has morphed and grown according to the imagination and individual skills of each person who has joined our table, often over coffee at the Wilmoore Cafe.

With these empty spaces creating gaps around our downtown the question arises about what can be done while we wait for the businesses to invest in them?

In my mind, an empty space adds nothing to the sidewalk experience. It’s not interactive. There’s no reason to stop and stay awhile. People just pass on by and ignore it. Rather than wait for a shop or restaurant to come, why not activate the spaces until that business sets up one day?

The BEST team is putting that together and property owners are at the table with artists, residents, and business leaders. The idea is for the team to work within the current bounds, be it financial, legal, etc., and try to do something, anything that is allowed in the space. Art installations may be first but down the road, who knows.

The main point, and one of the big reasons why I’m into this project, is that it is a community driven project. Some readers may be aware of last year’s Mordecai Barbershop Art Gallery installation, a collaboration project between citizens of the Mordecai neighborhood and the property owner. A face lift was given to an empty space on Person Street made possible entirely on volunteers from the community. This is a grassroots example of taking pride in where we live and doing something to enhance the places we go by all the time.

I wish the BEST of luck to the team and look forward to the growth of the project.
Beautifying Emerging Space Together logo
Read about BEST on the project website, RaleighEmergingSpaces.com
Follow BEST Raleigh on Facebook.

Solar Projects In and Around Downtown

Examples of sustainability in Raleigh are becoming easier and easier to spot these days. In a city filled with different government bodies, solar projects, hybrid cars, and rain collection systems are just a few examples of the things that all the government players in Raleigh have or will have in the coming years. The city, and all the way up to the federal government, are taking on green projects in downtown Raleigh.

In my opinion, the City of Raleigh has done a fantastic job of not just preaching sustainability but practicing it themselves. The LED city initiative, the developing Climate/Energy Action Plan and a handful of new LEED certified buildings are ways that they are walking the walk. Did you even know that the city recently hosted classes on installing solar heating and cooling systems? We’re also on a nice map along with other major cities for having plug-in stations for electric cars.

The list of green projects in downtown Raleigh keeps getting longer and longer. Solar projects are the ones I wanted to highlight in this post. There are a few interesting solar projects happening in downtown Raleigh worth noting. They are tough to notice without flying over the rooftops and seeing them for yourselves so keep an eye out for these if you’re ever up high on a balcony in downtown.

Terry Sanford Federal Building


Solar array under construction in October 2010 via Downtown Raleigh Digs

The federal building over on New Bern Avenue is now covered with solar cells, as you can see from the picture above taken in October 2010. Here’s a little PR for you:

Working with the Region IV GSA project team, we implemented a 560kW design utilizing 59,000 square feet of previously unused roof space for the solar array. The generated solar power is fed to a utility scale inverter which supplies the power to the building, reducing the building’s annual grid load by over 17%. In addition to developing a system that optimized performance and minimized costs we utilized ARRA approved “Made-in-the-USA” component.

standardsolar.com

The $3 million project was part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Details about that spending are over at the GSA. This project will reduce the carbon dioxide count by 675 fewer tons each year.

Raleigh Convention Center

Raleigh Convention Center
Raleigh Convention Center by dtraleigh, on Flickr

In November 2010, the city shook hands with FLS Energry/Powerworks to allow them to set up some solar cells on the roof of the convention center. The deal is that FLS would lease the space from the city for them to set up their solar gear. The energy generated would be sold to Progress Duke Energy. This is a nice partnership as the installation comes at no cost to the City of Raleigh and we can buy the array at a later time if needed.

The convention center occupies a city block in downtown. 60% of the roof will be covered in solar cells producing about 725,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by about 1300 tons, annually speaking of course.

If any readers have access to height, a window and a camera somewhere in downtown, photo submissions would be much appreciated to share with the community of the array on top of the convention center, which should be up there today.

Solid Waste Services Operations Center

It’s not exactly in downtown but this solar project is part of a new facility that will make clear some room. The City’s new Wilders Grove Solid Waste Services (SWS) Operations Center off New Bern Avenue just outside the beltline will replace the current headquarters that sits on Peace Street, at the site of the old Devereux Meadows Baseball Park. From the press release:

The City is planning a 50-kilowatt solar photovoltaic array at the administration building and a 25-kilowatt facility at a vehicle wash building at the Wilders Grove SWS Operations Center. These arrays are expected to provide a minimum of 12.5 percent of the two buildings’ energy use. The 50-kilowatt array will produce an estimated 69,055 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, roughly equivalent to the annual energy use of five homes in North Carolina. The 25-kilowatt array is expected to produce an estimated 34,527 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, which is equal to the yearly energy use of 2.5 homes in North Carolina.

Not as much solar collecting power as the previous two examples but the new building will seek a LEED platinum rating, the highest out there, and not the city’s first time achieving platinum.

I’m sure the list will grow over the years as this catches on. I hope to see this momentum continue.

Electric Vehicle Chargers A Plenty

Downtown’s green and sustainability cred is certainly rising these days. Electric vehicle (EV) charging stations are being installed into the newest parking deck on Edenton Street. As of this weekend, six, five shown in the picture above, stations are installed on the ground floor of the deck and wiring is run for more. There is also a station now on West Cabarrus Street near the Raleigh Convention Center. Currently the electricity is free but regular parking fees and enforcement hours still apply.