By Anthony McLeod
– Entering Raleigh from the Southern Gateway gives one of the most picturesque views of our iconic downtown skyline and sets the stage for many travelers that are coming to the city on a daily basis or for the first time. The most heavily trafficked entrance to our city, the Southern Gateway provides an easy and convenient path to restaurants, churches, entertainment and business. While the view ahead has been growing and evolving quickly the path leading in has been stuck looking for an identity beyond the shadow of downtown.
Recognizing the need for a vision and plan for the area the Raleigh City Council, at the behest of Councilor Thomas Crowder, commissioned the Southern Gateway Corridor Study in late 2014. This multi-year project brought talented staff and contractors together with citizens in the gateway to answer the question of what the area of South Saunders and South Wilmington Streets could be and should be in the future. The planning process connected a diverse group of neighbors from different social and economic backgrounds and helped bridge new master-planned neighborhoods like Renaissance Park with established neighborhoods like Caraleigh and Hertford Village. Planning meetings included 30-70 people at meetings in parks, at Wake Tech’s Public Safety Campus in the gateway, and downtown. All of the gateway’s neighborhoods and surrounding areas had representatives or at least interested neighbors at all the meetings.
Creating an emphasis on character, transit and connectivity we learned that we all had very common and often similar answers to the problems we saw. Some of these included resolving connectivity issues with more east/west connections and better and more varied transportation options, such as buses, sidewalks, and bikes. Another agreed-on point was that development was needed, but that it should fit the character of the area.
The design vision created views of the area that, while conceptual in nature, are the shared ideal of where we would like to see the city build and grow. The implementation plan gives us a roadmap to look at and a gauge with which to measure our progress in the coming years.
As part of the group who worked on this project as a citizen, I would like to share what a great job was done not just creating a plan but bringing a large and disparate community together. The process was, and remains as important as the extremely ambitious outcome. We were never told that anything was out of reach and every idea was given merit and consideration.
The journey brought the community together and the destination will make the Southern Gateway an even more amazing place to live, work and play.