Part II – Walling Ourselves In
In Part One of this series we toured a section of downtown Atlanta that contains some of the nation’s most stunning towers. Unfortunately most of these buildings left pedestrians with nothing to do, and the streets for many consecutive blocks look like a ghost town. The lesson is important as Raleigh is not immune to this problem.
There are a couple of canyonesque areas in downtown Raleigh that are already evolving this aforementioned way. One is Wilmington Street. The new Progress Two plaza creatively incorporates a large parking garage for people seeking SE downtown. The garage is topped with an office tower, and is skirted by many personalities. The project’s north face is lined with retail, mostly food outlets, while the East face is wrapped in new low-rise condominiums. The South side faces the Lincoln Theatre and features exposed parking garage that can be converted to retail space at some point. In fact, Charlie Goodnight’s Comedy Club almost relocated to this space when the deck was new. The facade germane to this analysis is the west facade, a blank wall. Unfortunately the wall exists on Wilmington Street, one of Raleigh’s historic retail corridors. Compounding problems, directly across the street is a blank wall formed by the bases of both Progress One and One Hannover Square (Bank of America). (map it) How unfortunate that the gateway to one of Raleigh’s most walkable streets is a one block canyon of emptiness. Thankfully designs for the east facade of the Site One project incorporate retail/entertainment space in more than 50% of the east side space.
A second problematic area exists near Nash Square. One way streets McDowell and Dawson form the square’s eastern and western boundaries, and are meant for moving traffic quickly from S. Saunders to Capital Blvd. As a driver these streets work, but as a pedestrian they are similar to that windy, unpleasant block of Spring St. in Atlanta.
As one travels north on McDowell from Poole’s Diner (map it), the left side of the street’s first block is lined by garage-oriented businesses that will eventually be replaced with new development. The right side is lined by the sterile rear wall of the Public Safety Center (pictured), a parking garage entrance, and a city parking garage. The block of McDowell bordering the park is lined on the right by a surface parking lot, the News & Observer offices, and the professional building. The third block is lined on the left by the police headquarters (future Enforcement Center site) and a city parking deck. The right side of the street is a block-long, blank grey wall formed by AT&T’s windowless switching center (pictured).
As one can imagine from the photos, pedestrians in two of the blocks nearest Nash Square have a boring, miserable experience. There is nothing to do, traffic is roaring, and wind howels down through the concrete canyon.
The City of Raleigh released concepts for a new high-rise Enforcement Center to be located across from this long blank wall. While the planned facility is intended for functional municipal uses, the City finds itself in a position to start correcting one of downtown’s biggest missed opportunities. Design of the east facade of the center should contain space for items pedestrians can use. This block between Hargett and Morgan will be heavily traveled by Campbell Law students en route to courthouse activities, so there will soon be demand for cafes, book stores, coffee shops, office supply stores, and the like.
A second step toward correcting this block is for AT&T to move their operations to another site. Certainly today’s microtechnology doesn’t require such a massive complex, and could either be rearranged on site or relocated off-site. The classic building at McDowell and Morgan could either be renovated or replaced with something more conducive to downtown life.
Mr. Mayor, tear down these walls.
As other projects are constructed throughout downtown, designers need to be mindful of the puzzle piece they are designing. The next part of this series will identify potential problem areas for pedestrian design throughout downtown.
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