North Hills/North Raleigh
What is a suburban story? What is the role of biking and walking in the heart of autocentricity? How can a mall get people off the road and into the woods?
In 1972, Crabtree Valley Mall opened on the frontier of the suburbs just north of downtown Raleigh and along the banks of Crabtree Creek. Today, the infrastructure around this standard suburban mall maintains its mid-century autocentricity, but many of the neighborhoods along the creek are slowly transitioning, from families in tract ranch houses to professionals in mixed use condos. Those more affluent neighborhoods that are still low-density and single-family are peppered with large stands of Southeastern mixed forests that span out from nearby Umstead State Park.
Traveling a few short miles on the Crabtree Creek Trail (CCT) is like following a transect along these cultural trends and ecological backdrops. Starting at its intersection with the House Creek Trail, pedestrians immediately come to a well-marked street crossing before arriving at the CCT’s proper trailhead. It is a monumental and impressive feature, a testament to the redemptive and invigorating experiences that await further on down the trail, and by that we mean that it’s a brand new McDonalds.
Almost immediately, though, this strange juxtaposition transitions to almost bucolic scenes. The CCT picks up Crabtree Creek and snakes through mile after wooded mile of riparian forest, and in many places, it feels like you could very well already be in Umstead State Park…or the Shire.
While still distinctly suburban in land use pattern and infrastructure allocation, recent events indicate that things around the Crabtree Creek Trail—and more broadly, in North Raleigh—are changing. Like the neighborhoods surrounding North Hills Mall, its neighbor in commerce to the east, the Crabtree Valley area is increasingly transitioning to higher density development patterns. Situated between Raleigh-Durham International Airport, the Research Triangle Park, and Raleigh’s rapidly blossoming downtown, parts of this area are being settled by a younger, affluent, and extremely autocentric demographic.
In some ways, this is a promising development. Perhaps more people living within a stone’s throw of the greenway will increase ridership. But there are concerns with these new trends as well. Setting aside the safety concerns of situating thousands of potentially new cyclists and pedestrians near some of the busiest streets in the area, there are additional environmental health concerns. Already prone to flooding, Crabtree Creek is made more flood prone by the spike in impervious surfaces catalyzed by new development in the area.