Best weekend kickoff in recent memory: I wend to a bright-and-early meeting of the Triangle Breakfast Club on Friday. At The Mecca. And Mitch Silver was there, talking about the future of Raleigh. More on all three of these things:
Triangle Breakfast Club has been around since 2008, and their motto is “Knowledge Without Action = Nothing.” This fine group’s website references a “discussion group,” but I know better. There is plenty of quality discussion, sure, but every time I see any of the people involved, they are swinging hammers, organizing events, volunteering, and generally becoming an unstoppable force for positive change in the community. You probably know a bunch of these people, too- they’re all over the place, and I mean this in the best possible way.
Plus, they meet at The Mecca. Which I already loved, because it has my favorite sign in Raleigh out front- you know, the neon one, which is supposed to be green and red, but it’s actually green and red and pink. If you’re walking home at dusk and it flicks on, it has a homey glow that just makes you glad to live here. You can order unsweetened tea if you want, but at The Mecca I think that just means “less sweet than the regular sweet tea.” I mean, it’s the south, after all. And the biscuits are great, and I got out of there for $2.97, plus tip. These people have been around since 1930, and there’s a reason for that.
The reason I really went, though, was to hear what Mitch Silver had to say. I already knew that he’s our Planning Director for the city; I hadn’t realized that he’s also the president of the American Planning Association. As in, national. As in, this guy is a big deal, and he knows things, and we are lucky to have him here. He’s also a great speaker, really engaging even at 7:30 in the morning. I was all in, before I’d even finished my first cup of Mecca coffee. I took notes. I am just That Way.
By the time I left, I felt really, really good about where we’re headed. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but it is happening; there are plans for more comprehensive transit, for smart growth focused on places people already love, for targeted economic development, for triple-bottom line sustainability. For anyone who’s been following the Raleigh Comprehensive Plan over the past few years, this isn’t news. Raleigh has been great about public input and transparency, and has held scores of community meetings to keep everyone informed. What’s exciting is that we’re moving from the “vision and values” stage into the “coding” stage, when these ideas start to become reality. I’ve been in Raleigh for seventeen years; the positive growth and the tangible vibrancy which has sprung up over the last five or six years is remarkable. Now I’m starting to understand how all of this energy came about. And we have a lot of people to thank.
Not everyone is happy with the idea of growth. As Mr. Silver pointed out, people want change, but they don’t want things TO change. He gets angry e-mails. He gets push-back over words like “density,” and people become polarized when you start talking about the changing face of America. Change is coming, though, whether or not we embrace it and work with it. Raleigh is expected to grow by 250,000 people in the next 20 years. The population is getting older. People are staying single longer. Our community is becoming more diverse, and our definition of “family” is expanding. Across the nation, people are moving en masse back to urban centers and away from single-lot subdivisions. Better transportation options, more diversity of housing options, targeted density, and more walkable communities will end up improving the quality of life for everyone. Downtown dwellers, aging seniors who find themselves unable to continue driving, families from all over the area coming downtown for a Saturday afternoon at the museum. And, not insignificantly, business owners interested in putting down roots and investing in the area. Mr. Silver says, “Smart cities understand urgency ten years before it’s urgent.” Our city does. I believe we’re in really good hands. I’m going to send Mitch Silver an e-mail and tell him so.