What Montgomery County can learn from Raleigh

August 20, 2013

Urbanizing suburbs often suffer from an identity crisis, looking to the big city next door and wondering how to recreate the same vitality and sense of place. But they might find a better comparison with more distant Sun Belt cities, which like many suburbs are only now coming into their own.  

Take Raleigh, where I spent five days last month with my boyfriend and his friend’s family, who moved there from Bethesda last year. While it’s best known as North Carolina’s state capital, we found a lot of fun things to do there. We saw a drag show at a downtown bar. We ate at crunchy, farm-to-table restaurants and Vietnamese holes-in-the-wall.

We also spent a lot of time in our friend’s car. She and her newly retired parents live in a new townhouse development off a strip lined with shopping centers, megachurches and similar-looking townhouse developments. My boyfriend said it reminded him of Fairfax or Montgomery counties, except it’s all within Raleigh city limits. And our friend’s parents don’t hesitate to say they live in a city, either.

Is there really much of a difference between a “city” like Raleigh and a “suburb” like Montgomery? Both grew up mostly after World War II. In 1940, the city had just 46,000 residents, but today, it has 423,000, while surrounding Wake County has nearly 1 million residents. During the same period, Montgomery County grew from from 83,000 to more than 1 million.

As a result, both places have a distinctly suburban, auto-oriented character, save for a few urban centers. Look at an aerial photo of downtown Raleigh and it could pass for Bethesda or Silver Spring: a clump of tall buildings, surrounded by miles of single-family homes. New town centers are sprouting along the Beltline, Raleigh’s answer to the Beltway, while new planned communities sprawl beyond it.

[Continue reading Dan Reed’s post here at Just Up the Pike.]

Dan Reed blogs at Just Up the Pike. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

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Norman Leahy · August 19, 2013