Raleigh: The City as an Oak Tree

Shimmer Wall

I spent my New Years weekend in my adopted hometown of Raleigh. I watched as they dropped an acorn to ring in the New Year, a nod to the city’s designation of the “City of Oaks”. I hung around for a couple of extra days as well to chill out. As part of my vacation, I was banned from using my computer or tablet and ordered to go window-shop and relax.While on that 24 hour sabbatical from my most trusted device, I begin to think about how Raleigh itself has the planning structure of a tree.

Downtown literally is at the bottom of the city, forming the roots. Then, the universities and the older suburbs inside of the beltline(I-440) make up the trunk of the tree. All of the suburban roads that start at the beltline (Glenwood Ave. Extension(US 70), Wake Forest, Six Forks, Capital, Falls of Neuse, New Bern, etc.) make up the branches.  Occasionally, you have a Milbrook or a Lynn Rd as cross branches and the branches are sort of framed between the beltlines(I-540 is the outer beltline).

With this pattern in mind, other parts of Raleigh’s sprawl come into play. Each branch has a lot of flowers(flowers being grocery, service retail, schools, churches and occasionally a mall). Branches also have many, many leaves (residential space). Yet, just like a real tree, some branches connect, but others never will meet. Branches will fall, but they return to life. I think of both downtown and North Hills as examples. 12-13 years ago, both were almost dead, now they are the center of a new energy. The universities and their innovations, as well as the laws made at the General Assembly water the roots and seeds that fall from the branches fuel nearby areas (RTP, Cary, Durham).

What do you think? What implications does this idea have on planning for the future in Raleigh? Does this bring some sense into the chaos that Raleigh seems to be sometimes?

Photo Above of the Shimmer Wall of the Raleigh Convention Center. Credit: Flickr user JeffreylCohen via a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.