Raleigh and the Suburbs

small correction - city planners and politicians sealed North Raleigh’s fate. Individuals did and still continue to make the best decisions for themselves and their families given the environment they inherited.


They also make decisions based on the money in their pockets. The suburbs are almost always less expensive, like for like.

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That is somewhat true but my observation is that more often than not, decisions are made (or more accurately, NOT made) on the basis of inertia and familiarity. Frankly it can be exhausting to go through the mental exercise of weighing the benefits and drawbacks of something new.

Not saying it is a good thing. But it is what it is.

Personally I find change and experimentation with new things to be exciting, and that excitement usually outweighs the pain from the evaluation phase. But I think for most people it doesn’t, and as a result they hate change. It is to the point where I am forced to conclude that this must be human nature. And it is perfectly within the rights of anyone to be this way.


Absolutely - the suburbs are less expensive because downtown residents subsidize the roads and services in the suburbs. I don’t blame folks for making decisions that most benefit themselves and their families. We should work to make the choices we’re presented with more representative of the true costs.


Many people who work downtown Raleigh don’t live in the city of Raleigh. So in fact we are not subsidizing the roads and services in the suburbs. In fact we subsidize downtown Raleigh by eating and parking etc… Many things to consider.

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I have been saying this for years. Suburban Raleigh residents should cheer dt development because it’s a huge cash cow for the city’s coffers. I pay more property taxes on a 1000 ft2 condo than many houses in Raleigh that are double or more the size. Also, the acre that my building sits on has a total tax value that’s tens of millions of dollars.


Ted, those parking fees don’t even pay for the parking. The cost of the structure (or road space), pay for the people that maintain and police those structures, and the lost tax value far outweigh the parking fees. The fact that you drive downtown every day means that you use EVEN MORE road that your property and lunch taxes don’t offset.

I live in the suburbs too, and I don’t blame anyone for making that choice. But we need to be honest that the suburbs do not sustain themselves financially.

Check out the analysis in this article - especially the video - its great at illustrating the problem.


I whole heartely disagree with you. I live in Cary and almost all of Cary is a suburb and the suburbs pay for everything that happens in downtown Cary. Also there is very few people relatively living and working in downtown Raleigh… there are hundreds of thousands suburban tax payers. And there is not lost tax value for most parking decks because there was pretty much nothing there to big with. You are inappropriately trying to say that a bigger better building could be there paying higher taxes when obviously that is not true except in some imaginary world that does not exist here in Raleigh.

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Its math, not opinion. The portion of road road & sewer in front of our suburban houses is more expensive to build & maintain than the taxes on those properties for the life cycle of the infrastructure. We’re propped up by delayed maintenance costs & replacement costs and municipal debt.


Twisted math. Which comes first the chicken or the egg? There are not enough places to live downtown for everybody who works downtown. So how are they supposed to live there and not use these roads to get to the jobs? Also a good percentage of downtown Raleigh is there tax free. All state owned properties, all county owned properties, all city owned properties, churches etc. I don’t believe that downtown Raleigh is paying so much in taxes that it is supporting the rest of Raleigh proper as you seem to suggest. And if you get too big then you got to pay both for the roads and for mass transit. Very expensive.

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here’s an example from Asheville. These are all public numbers and the same math can be done for Raleigh.



So by that logic (and I do understand what you are trying to say), bigger and taller is always better. No single family homes. No Walmarts. No Suburbs. You just want Manhattan to come to Raleigh. Everybody who does not live downtown probably should have their taxes raised significantly so they pay their fair share in relation to lot size and road frontage. So downtown Raleigh has around 37,000 working downtown. What about the other million people living in Wake County who want a different life and lifestyle than what you want… Not everybody wants to live in New York City…


there’s a huge space in between the two options you list. Neighborhoods should be allowed to incrementally (slowly) and organically grow to become more dense. Suburbs and singlefamily houses are fine (like I said, I live here myself), but the taxes should begin to shift to reflect the fact that it is much more expensive per resident to maintain infrastructure and provide services for suburban areas.

Bigger and taller is not always better. The test should be - Do the taxes these properties pay cover the costs of maintaining infra and services for those properties? Similarly, motorists have their roads paid for in part by people that don’t use the roads. There should be a realistic user fee to allow market feedback on our behavior.

In the context of this thread - I’m arguing that even though suburbs as the currently exist are a financial sinkhole for the city, suburban residents are not to be blamed for this - they are responding to the incentives as they exist. Thus we should craft a scooter policy that allows for suburban use instead of a policy that only considers the downtown core.


I don’t think anyone is advocating for Raleigh to become the next Manhattan. We’re a completely different city from New York, and will never grow to their size or in their way. Manhattan is an extreme of density and urbanity, and is almost unmatched by any other city on earth. We’ll never have that here in Raleigh. Bigger and taller isn’t necessarily better — creating active neighborhoods with high densities and mixed uses to support them should be the focus. It just so happens that a lot of people want to live in those places, which drives up demand, and consequentially prices and property values as well. The property tax rate in Raleigh is 1.0926 times 1/100th of the property’s assessed value (Source). So higher property values, regardless of size, lot frontage, or any other factor, lead to higher property tax rates. If there is any doubt that people living downtown pay more in property taxes than their suburban peers, then look at this map from the City Planning Department that shows property values across the city:

Here is another example, from Asheville, that compares the property taxes per acre that each building owner pays:

(This is a great article.)

Additionally, it costs far more per household for a city to extend services and utilities to a lower-density suburban area:

(Image based upon data from Halifax, Canada)

The city residents in Raleigh may not be actually subsidizing the suburban residents completely, but they are certainly giving the city plenty of money through their taxes that goes to building new suburban infrastructures. It is not a very fair situation.

But this is all very off-topic. Let’s get back to discussing dockless scooters.


I understand what you are trying to say but that is not my point. Raleigh became a great place to live and desirable mostly due to the suburbs. That is what people wanted. Downtown Raleigh was not even a desirable place to live 10 or 15 years. I started working downtown Raleigh 17 years ago and it was basically a wasteland. Nowadays Raleigh is hardly expanding outwards any longer and is basically building upwards. I think that is great and I am all for it. But to continually denigrate the suburbs I just find it distasteful. I love working downtown Raleigh but I would never want to live there. I have lived in several great cities and everyone of them had a great downtown and great suburbs.


Great points and agreed that it’s nice to have some choices as to where to live and work. Urban is not for everybody and suburban is not for everybody either. Some people are forced to live in a certain area because that’s what they can afford. Just to clarify a little though, Raleigh was a nice city downtown before the suburbs existed. People lived in Oakwood, Boylan Heights, among others. When I was a kid my mother would take us downtown for a day of shopping at Hudson Belk and Boylan Pierce and other stores and we’d have lunch and sometimes catch a movie at one of several movie theaters. And we’d feed the pigeons on the Capitol grounds. We actually may have had a better downtown before the suburbs pulled people away from the center.


stating financial facts about the suburbs is not denigrating them. no one here is denigrating suburban residents.

every dollar that a gov’t spends has to be collected or bought through debt. would you not agree that a city has a duty to make sure that our infrastructure investments are financially productive? from a market perspective, hidden subsidies have negative unintended consequences.

lots of market conservatives become hard core socialists when you start talking about subsidized roads and developments.


Partially, yes, but also greatly because of government housing policy and highway construction. America didn’t have to sprawl; poor decisions made that happen. This is what led to downtown Raleigh and every other downtown in America into being wastelands outside of weekday working hours.

I can see how that would be obnoxious after awhile! My family can attest to that. :smirk: But please bear in mind that when I think of suburbs, and when I argue their downsides, I’m referring primarily to the auto-dependent, low-density, cookie-cutter neighborhoods that are so ubiquitous on the outskirts of American cities. Those are the the real targets of my argument.

To me, there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to live outside of the city. People have been doing so for thousands of years. I live on the suburban fringe myself. But the definition of “suburb” is pretty broad, and I’d argue that some are better than others. For example, Raleigh has several historic suburban neighborhoods right near the city center: Boylan Heights, Oakwood, Brooklyn, South Park, etc. No one on this forum is arguing for their destruction — they’re beautiful and cherished places in our fair city. These places were built before the advent of widespread automobile use, so they were built at higher densities, with viable transit access and eminent walkability. There is little to improve upon in these places; they do consist of single-family homes, but they provide a convenient, accessible, and useful environment for people to live in.

Contrast those fine places with today’s mutations of that form — the far-flung subdivisions located off of collector roads that are completely segregated by use, don’t provide useful walking destinations or transit connections, and force traffic through an inefficient street network. (See most of west Cary and Morrisville for what I mean) These are the places that I and others detest, not because of who lives there, but because of the inefficient land-use, poor transportation planning, and monotony that they exemplify. They’re constructed at great expense to the environment and taxpayers (the ones must who pay for the installation and upkeep of miles upon miles of utilities and roads the city must provide.) Those are not true “neighborhoods,” they’re housing developments that seek to isolate every one of their residents from the outside world.

That said, there is something to be said for suburban living. The suburbs are meant to provide their residents with a sense of safety, privacy, and tranquility that often cannot be replicated in the city. There is nothing wrong with those goals; few people would not want to live in such a place. But the way these qualities are provided in most subdivisions leaves me wanting. As stated before, I am myself a suburban dweller. I’ve lived all my life in single family homes on the edge of the county, and honestly I do enjoy parts of it. My neighbors are great people. I have a large yard where my cat can safely experience nature. It’s a safe place to live. But as much as I enjoy those qualities, I’m tired of living here because it’s so inconvenient. I can’t walk or bike anywhere outside of my neighborhood, because there isn’t anything to walk or bike to, and even if there were, there aren’t any sidewalks or bike lanes in or around my neighborhood. The nearest bus stop is 5 miles away. So I’m forced to drive everywhere I go. And even then, it’s at least a 10-minute drive to anything useful or interesting. Partially because of this, I long for the urban life (I do suspect that my suburban upbringing has much to do with this tendency, as well as my interest in cities.) No, that’s not a perfect solution either, but to me the benefits outweigh the costs.

I know living in an urban area isn’t for everyone, but I think a great many more people would do so if they knew they could afford it and enjoy it.


(Edit: sorry for writing a novel!)


Ahhhh, the struggles of progress downtown, used to be no one cared about that ghost town, now the urbanites would starve to death if the downtowners do not pay their taxes, the times, they are a changin.

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It is true that suburban growth kept the city afloat during the 60s through 90s. Raleigh was able to keep services going while keeping the tax rate low because so much of the infrastructure was built and paid for by developers and was therefore new, and didn’t need maintenance yet while the people in those developments still paid property tax just like everyone else.

But it is a pyramid scheme that collapses if the outward expansion ever stops. The infrastructure in place starts to age, the average age of infrastructure goes up (since no new stuff built by developers is coming online anymore), but all the while the stuff built at the beginning of the suburban boom is starting to need maintenance.

When the bills come due to resurface neighborhood streets in neighborhoods that have 50 linear feet of street per residence, you can easily see how this is more difficult to maintain than a mid rise district that has maybe 2 linear feet per residence. Same for water and sewer pipes. The cost of doing maintenance downtown may be more expensive per linear foot, but the property tax per acre is so much higher that it more than balances out in the long run.

Likewise, police and fire service is less expensive. To a degree the need for police and fire protection scales with population, but if things are closer together then you don’t need as many firehouses to maintain low response times, and police officers waste less time on the road between calls. Garbage trucks don’t have to deadhead as far to get to their routes. It goes in and on.

This is the reason that cities like Atlanta that don’t have the option of growing outward, are now so heavily focused on infill: spreading the cost of maintenance among more residents helps balance the budget.

People wonder why the property taxes in Long Island suburbs with no room to grow and that refuse to add density are so high. This is the reason. High property tax rates are required to keep things running at 100% suburban density.