By Carnell Brame, Jr.
Media outlets provide plenty of images of the recovery here in Raleigh and around the Triangle. A flight out of RDU, a trip on Amtrak, a ride on the R-Line or traveling on any area highway during rush hour shows several angles of this recovery and regional resilience. The holes in the recovery are less apparent, but will be much more noticeable once two Kroger stores close in Raleigh come January.
According to the company, both stores, located in the city’s southeast quadrant, are under-performing. The first, located at Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd and Raleigh Blvd, has been open since 2002. The other, on New Bern Avenue, has been open since the 1990s. Those that have lived in this neighborhood for some time probably remember when the Winn-Dixie and later the K-Mart closed, both on New Bern Avenue. These empty buildings and shopping centers have been all but forgotten as a new Wal-Mart Super Center and two Food Lion grocery stores were built nearby as neighborhoods continue to fill in along the city’s edge. Over time, many services and residents have followed the newer development or avoided the area altogether.
This "donut-ring" phenomenon is not unique to Southeast Raleigh. It is also not by chance. Race, mobility, and housing policy have all been contributing factors. Access to larger houses on spacious lots made it desirable to leave inner-city areas. This movement is led by those that can first afford it with subsequent groups following behind. Jobs, services, and entertainment follow. For Raleigh, the growth has been primarily north and westward thanks to early rail connections, highways, and subsequent job centers. Today, growing suburbs south and east of town add to the emptying effect of this area.
If you don’t frequent Southeast Raleigh, it's hard to realize the potential of this forgotten area. Last year, Bob Geary, a writer for the Independent Weekly, documented the neglect and promise of Southeast Raleigh. He pointed out the amount of vacant or underused land despite an existing framework that comprises well-connected streets, schools, libraries, parks and other public infrastructure.
Continuing to clear land for development that competes with existing development is both inefficient and unjust. Concentrations of the poor, elderly, or otherwise disenfranchised who can’t leave add strain to the rest of the city’s services. Streets that once carried more traffic still must be maintained even while new streets elsewhere increase the demand on the system in an unsustainable manner. Without action, conditions won’t get better in the neglected corners of the city. It is in the best interest of all citizens to be active in any efforts to break this cycle, and improve the quality of life across the city.
Carnell grew up in Raleigh and now lives in Atlanta, GA. He attended East Carolina University and recently graduated from the City and Regional Planning Program at Georgia Tech. He is currently pursuing opportunities in Community Development.