Raleigh’s progress on zoning reform is an inspiration for cities across the South. It must not regress into the anti-housing politics of old.
Raleigh is the South’s beacon on housing. By passing long overdue reforms, such as permitting missing middle housing and ending parking mandates, the City of Oaks is setting precedents other places cite as an antidote to anti-urban politics. Simply put, Raleigh is a leader. And that matters.
North Carolina’s capital city has historically been the most pro-growth of what have long been the Triangle’s largest municipalities (While Durham is still the second largest city in the Triangle, Chapel Hill has now fallen behind Cary and Apex to become the fifth largest town). However, that status unceremoniously came under threat with the previous council (2017-2019), which was dominated by anti-urban politicians spewing the kind of nonsense we’ve seen dominate Chapel Hill for decades. These leaders seem innocuous, because they say the right things (we care about the environment!), and they sound like they’ll do the right things (we’re for affordable housing!), only to govern, invariably, in demonstrably opposite ways.
We’ve seen this in Chapel Hill, where an anti-housing plutocracy has been in power most of the time since the mid-1980s, at least. There are only a few exceptions, including the current council, though they have yet to make any significant changes to the town’s LUMO. By making it difficult to build housing, they effectively underwrite sprawl. In defending traditional zoning, they shun missing middle housing in favor of large-lot, McMansion Hell development. They fuel their lesser-informed followers on mushy gobbledygook, but the results are clear. Politics that have operated in Chapel Hill for nearly a half century briefly took root in Raleigh, before its citizens expeditiously showed it the door. Even the INDY, not usually a pro-housing – or at least pro-development – voice, ran a ruthlessly effective endorsement “Down with the NIMBYs”. And they were done.
The current council that replaced them might be the most pro-housing board of electeds in the country. And that matters. It’s something to be proud of. Raleigh is booming and it is repairing its suburban form. It’s difficult work, and this council, this mayor, and this planning staff is not shying from the challenge.
Raleigh is progressing. And through its sheer size and influence, the region is progressing. Its leaders represent what should be identified as “the progressive wing of the progressive party”, a model for the national party to study and emulate.
Still, progress is always at risk. With the land-use successes of this council, the beneficiaries of NIMBY politics of old are, for perhaps the first time ever, on the ropes. Entitled wealthy people do not respond kindly when their entitlements (er, what they think are their entitlements) are stripped. You have not seen a hissyfit until you’ve seen a millionaire homeowner be told they cannot, in fact, prevent slightly wealthier people from moving into the neighborhood.
And it is precisely this reactionary politics that now threatens Raleigh. An upstart group of anti-housing organizations, all straight out of NIMBY Central Casting, are waving their hands wildly trying to be heard in this election. And, like many NIMBY groups, they are disproportionately older, wealthier, more credentialed, and whiter than Raleigh as a whole.
While their numbers are small, local mass media has given them outsized attention – indicating, sadly, that some local journalism is regressing into its anti-market, effectively anti-housing, politics of old. And this 1-2 punch will make it tough for Raleigh’s progress to survive. If those voices have their way, Raleigh will lose its status as one of the South’s leaders in housing reform.
In this spirit, and in hopes of continuing Raleigh’s advancements, Triangle Blog Blog offers two endorsements.
FIRST: Be suspicious of the endorsements from Livable Raleigh. This is effectively the fledgeling copycat of Chapel Hill’s CHALT, a manipulative group of insiders who effectively run the city through insider connections, false-front advocacy groups and manipulation of public process. It would be a tremendous backsliding if Raleigh’s replicant version retook power. Stay away from their endorsements. Like CHALT, their candidates are coached to say the right things—vague, amorphous statements designed to hook the lesser-informed. When they take power they will vote against virtually everything, and call for additional process, which they intend to be endless. Their playbook is known. Don’t vote for them.
SECOND: We wholeheartedly endorse the following slate:
MAYOR Mary Ann Baldwin
DISTRICT A Cat Lawson
DISTRICT B Minu Lee
DISTRICT C Corey Branch
DISTRICT D Jenn Truman
DISTRICT E David Knight
AT LARGE Jonathan Melton and Stormie Forte
Finally, we’d underscore two endorsements that might differ from other media. Mass media tends to have a throw-the-bums-out bias, making it difficult for new candidates who align with current majorities to obtain recommendations. Because of this, two remarkable leaders have received fewer nods than we think they deserve:
In District B Minu Lee is young, but deserving. He has been running for the seat more than a year, is a first-generation immigrant, and the product of an entrepreneurial family that sacrificed themselves for the betterment of his generation. That’s the perfect soil for a dedicated, determined, selfless politician. He would likely become Raleigh’s best champion of small business and start-ups, filling one of this council’s few weaknesses.
In District D, Jenn Truman is a designer with years of experience in land use, codes, and urbanism. She would immediately be the Triangle’s most knowledgeable city councilperson on zoning, architecture and placemaking. We believe her service will make for a better region, and is certain to improve the quality of discourse on housing.
The Triangle Blog Blog mostly covers Durham and Chapel Hill. But Raleigh matters. The Oak City is the elephant in our room. Only when Raleigh is building a better city can its satellites do the same. We hope Raleigh continues these successes of this current council, and this spirit of building better cities, forever.