Reality Check on DT Raleigh's physical size


You’re right that a grid doesn’t necessarily = urban, but it is still one of the best indications of the potential for urban development. If you look at most cities, single family homes are often bought out and redeveloped into larger buildings as downtowns expands, and this is in large part driven by a continuous rectilinear grid. I was just in Toronto, so to use it as an example: if you look at the city’s graining, commercial areas line the E-W thoroughfares, and single-family neighborhoods fill the blocks in between them. The density trickles into the residential neighborhoods via urban infill, which makes for a walkable city that extends far beyond downtown. From my (limited) understanding, this is urban planning 101 – a robust urban grid is the framework for a pedestrian-oriented city (including walkability and efficient public transit), while meandering, sparser streets are built for the car and usually lead to suburban sprawl.

Which cities are you thinking of? The only thing that comes to mind for me are the historical inner cities that can be found all over the world, but that kind of density isn’t realistic for Raleigh. I’m wondering if there are any good examples of turning around this kind of suburban sprawl in cities that are built similarly to Raleigh?


I know that DTR has the zones that help define the CBD, however how does Raleigh see the Eastern side of DTR? I know that we have a lot of opportunities in that area but at the same time you have a lot of older established neighborhoods? Does DTR keep marching East as the western edge has those horrible railroad tracks?


The Public Land Survey System (PLSS) was created by the Land Ordinance of 1785 to survey land ceded to the United States by the Treaty of Paris in 1783 after the end of the American Revolution. Land surveyed by the PLSS was divided into a rectangular grid system composed of townships and sections.

The original colonies were NOT part of the PLSS. For this reason states like Florida have a vast grid system on the ground whereas land boundaries in states like North Carolina tend to meander because they follow natural topography. Over time roads were built and they tended to follow land ownership boundaries.

In my view the legacy of the old British metes and bounds system is a big reason our state is so much more interesting. It is why today our roads twist and turn and why it can be so difficult for new-comers to learn their way around Raleigh. The grid system in PLSS states such as Florida is horribly mundane by comparison! Think about this the next time you fly between states. Once aware you can see the effect of PLSS on the ground.


As a resident of eastern downtown, I think it’s time to officially stop thinking of the areas as older established neighborhoods…the older part is almost completely gone, for better or for worse (note I am NOT supporting massive gentrification, simply noting it is mostly a done deal here). It is being re-established as a huge number of houses over $300,000 and infill condos and townhouses. This will be the reason the business district and stuff over 3 stories never goes beyond about Person St in our lifetimes. Anyway, zoning has it that way now, and no variance will ever be granted with the new, big money in control now. You might see some other urban characteristics though, like neighborhood businesses cropping back up…many of those corner stores were demolished as most became just heavy drinking street corners…but if the zoning still allows it, some North Person st like stuff might take root eventually. Lots like the old Big Johns on Edenton, this place on Lenoir or this brick laundromat building on Hargett all will end up with businesses that serve $500,000 houses filling in around them.


This is an interesting point, thanks for bringing it up. But I don’t know that it’s the whole story.

Miami’s grid has more to do with the way it was masterplanned in a similar fashion to Manhattan. This is an interesting quick read.

Moreover, Florida is notorious for suburban sprawl in meandering forms, while almost any urban area even within the thirteen colonies has a rectilinear street grid. I think the bigger issue at play here is the time period of major growth in these cities. Like most postwar suburbs, Raleigh’s major expansions happened after the advent of the car, and we never really established a walkable grid beyond a very small area. Compare Raleigh’s urban fabric to Richmond, which experienced most of its growth before the early 20th century, is a smaller city by population, and has a much more expansive, dense, and pedestrian-oriented grid. I still think the structure of our city beyond downtown proper is our biggest challenge.


@elevatoroperator. You are correct in that the PLSS isn’t the only factor encouraging a grid system. Master planning efforts in the original colony states certainly led to grids being established and the Christmas plan for Raleigh’s downtown is a good example. Richmond also has a grid system but it is not aligned N-S-E-W as grid systems in other PLSS states would be inclined to be.

My point was to mention the profound effect the PLSS had on growth patterns on a grand scale.


FWIW Stew, Florida has very little topographical variety onto which a meandering network of roads could be created. Topography is almost never a consideration for most of the state.

I’m good with Raleigh’s core size. I’d rather see more energy go into filling up the core we have instead of focusing on how to expand it. There is still tons of opportunity in our existing core. When the core fills up and expansion is compelled, it will happen.

My #1 focus for DT proper is to prevent suburban type development, regardless of density or grid. I don’t want to see parking lot encircled fast food joints, strip centers, etc.