Guest post by Mike Ingram

Rhat is the Murturm Nature Observation Tower in Austria. Each tower has the opportunity to be a piece of public art and focal point for each neighborhood.

That is the Murturm Nature Observation Tower in Austria.
Each tower has the opportunity to be a piece of public art and focal point for each neighborhood.

Nothing makes a city or region more unique than its geography and topography—and its not unusual for these elements to become the focus–or identity–of an area.

Western North Carolina: the Blue Ridge Mountains.
North Carolina coast: the beach.
San Antonio: the Riverwalk.
Denver: the Rocky Mountains.
Boston: the Harbor.
Raleigh: ???

Well, to us Raleigh residents, our identity is part of our everyday life and something we take great pride in. Traveling around the city without walking, biking, or driving by oak tree-lined streets and parks would be next to impossible. But how can we fully embrace this as our identity? A while back, an article from the N&O from April 8, 2012 caught my eye, and even just reading the title (“Raleigh’s thriving tree canopy marks city’s identity“) planted the seed of this idea. [pun slightly intended?]

It was also around this time that the city was in the final stages of developing the Capital Boulevard Corridor Study—part of which proposed establishing a park at the former Devereaux Meadows site. Anyone who’s been to the site as it is today can’t help but imagine open grassy fields, flowing creeks, bike paths, and picnic shelters to replace the acres of parking lots for city recycling trucks. But every park has those elements. What would make this new park truly Raleigh-esque?

And that’s when it came to me:

How about an observation tower to view our tree canopy and our beloved cityscape from above?! It seemed like a perfect match for this new park to provide a unique idea for residents to rally behind as a symbol for our city.

To take this idea to the level that it currently exists, a lot of the inspiration can be attributed to Mayor Nancy McFarlane’s desire for a ‘destination park’ at Dix Park. Dix Hill has some of the greatest views that Raleigh can offer—but what if you could get above the trees? Similar to the Devereaux Meadows site, an architecturally significant observation tower in the midst of Raleigh’s largest park could become a civic icon for residents–and even take the concept to the tourist destination level.

From here the idea started to gain momentum faster than a sled plummeting down the snowy banks of Dix Park. Pullen Park and Chavis Park are already well-established city parks, but what could really take them to the next level? [hey, another pun!]  How about an observation tower in each of these as well? By mapping each location, a gap was identified northeast of downtown. Having just spent some time in Oakwood cemetery, the old St. Agnes site seemed like a perfect candidate and a tower there seemed like it could be a catalyst for restoration of this historic structure and maybe a stimulus for revitalization for the gateway to St. Aug’s as well.


Now with five observation towers scattered about central Raleigh–the next logical progression is the connectivity of it all. An expansion of the Greenway system to connect each would reinforce Raleigh’s identity as an active community and would further promote a healthy and sustainable lifestyle that seems to be one of the City’s focal missions.

If implemented, each tower and park has the potential to become a focal point for each neighborhood. In addition, I believe that the system as a whole has the potential to bridge gaps and perceived boundaries between neighborhoods. On some level, being able to get above the tree line and associate various parts of the city to your personal experiences would develop a more civic-mindedness and a greater sense of community and connection to the city as a whole. Something that is quite a bit harder to experience when driving by at 35 mph.

“Hey, my mom works over there! Oh, and I go to school over here! Ooo, and under the trees over there is where our favorite restaurant is!”

This is just a little background that went into the brainstorming and development of “Above the Oaks.” While this is all very hypothetical at this point, the goal would be to spread the word so that as the future downtown plan and comprehensive park system plans are developed that all options are being considered.

Finally, I can’t help but think about the additional possibilities that Above the Oaks could generate for Raleigh beyond the initial and immediate objectives:

  • A bike share system could be implemented for visitors to enjoy the city.
  • Emphasized and dedicated major bike corridors through the center city could push bike travel and bike commuting to new heights.
  • Each tower could become showcases for the region’s great architectural and engineering minds.
  • A friend thought of the idea as a jump off for farm-to-table restaurants popping up along the route and near the parks.

Follow along.

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