Raleigh Has No Chance…

…of ever being a historically-significant, culturally-unique American city.  No one will ever look to Raleigh as a model for intelligent, sustainable planning & design.

This is what I was thinking while sitting in Global Village Coffee House as I watched the construction workers in the street first uncover the well-preserved trolley tracks that once linked the Hillsborough Street corridor to downtown, then proceed to bludgeon them to death with their track-hoe and eventually pile the remains into a gnarled junk heap.

How cool would it have been to simply “daylight” the tracks that were only inches beneath the current asphalt and, at a very minimum, preserve them for possible future use if not put them back into service immediately?  Can you imagine the appeal of a streetcar connecting the state’s largest university with Raleigh’s downtown core? What could have served as a model for hundreds of other towns who undoubtedly have similar resources buried beneath their streets has turned into just another lame project to create a caricature of what once was.

This is surely a failure and I will assert that it is a design failure.  How hard would it have been to “locate” the tracks during the initial data collection and inventory phase of the project and incorporate them into the final design?  The tracks that I saw destroyed seemed to be in the way of a new sewer manhole, which was simply placed in the center of the right-of-way with no regard to this existing resource, which will be far too costly to ever replace in this modern era.  Something as simple as moving the sewer system slightly off-center could have possibly avoided this problem and preserved a valuable public amenity, even if only for the historical significance.  Many people are unaware that Raleigh ever even had streetcars and a mere glimpse of the tracks could have provided a valuable historical and educational reminder.

This situation makes me as a design student feel like it is somewhat futile to hope that a place like Raleigh can ever be a fine, historically–sensitive, transit-oriented urban place.  Creative people, such as myself, who Raleigh hopes to attract in increasing numbers, are likely to look elsewhere to towns that have kept intact their historical infrastructure and unique character.

Other similar and more informative articles on Raleigh’s extinct streetcar system can be found at Goodnight Raleigh and Raleigh Philosophical Society.

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