Dorothea Dix has been topping the agenda in Raleigh for some time now. I recall the first mentioning of the transformation of the famous property back in 2005, when the state faced a considerable fiscal crisis due to the budget crunch that year, leading to grave challenges faced by mental health professionals throughout the state.
The controversy remains on the table with one group of activists, Dix306
, trying to preserve the entire estate for use by residents, and indeed all Tar Heels, as relaxing, public, recreational property. Meanwhile, developers, and even some lawmakers, want to turn the spoils into a built environment. The debate over the fate of Dix represents more than simply a movement by residents to secure a piece of their hometown; it also represents a challenge to the Green movement in North Carolina and the struggle to improve the urban landscape of Raleigh.
Developing the urban landscape has gained considerable ground in recent years, with innovative designs incorporating natural elements and fresh approaches to simple everyday problems. The aim is to lessen the impact humans have on their environments, including the wildlife and plants therein.
Wildlife and greenery have immeasurable values for societies. Not only do they help mitigate many of the environmental problems associated with urban living, but they also have a very substantial economic impact. Green space has more than aesthetic and property value advantage, it also has considerable medical benefits – i.e. reducing stress, anxiety and promoting exercise.
Additionally, as surrounding areas are encroached upon by higher density development, natural habitats are fragmented by physical structures and human activity. Wildlife which may have roamed freely across fields may soon find their routes severed by access roads or highways. Traversing these obstacles may prove to be fatal to species as conflicts with humans and accidents with vehicle traffic take their toll on populations. Reducing these migration corridors has severe and possibly permanent effects on wildlife. As wildlife adapts, natural systems will change in unpredictable and undesirable ways, leading to possibly disastrous changes in the local ecology and even flows of energy and nutrient cycles.
Implementing strategies of ‘creative control’ has become a mainstay of policy thinking in regards to controlling drivers of urban sprawl. That is, strategies which encourage both sustainable use of areas surrounding cities and within cities to not only conserve resources, but to increase the attractiveness of urban living. This implies rejuvenating social preferences to live and work in close spatial proximity by redesigning, or rather enriching, urban environments.
Over the years there have been considerable advances in this line of logic, most notably in countries such as the Netherlands, which have extremely dense populations and therefore have found more urgency to innovate their policies to fit their social environment. Many cities across Europe and the world have actively began to pursue measures to increase urban appeal (urbanism) and decrease inefficient, non-sustainable urban expansion/sprawl (urbanization). This has been accomplished, in conjunction with transportation innovations and other strategies, by incorporating city and ecological systems into a holistic structure. Urban environments are increasingly being seen not as separations of the natural environment, but as positive and sustainable pieces of it. Destroying green spaces, for whatever reason, seems hardly a suggestible course of action.
Such is the case with Dix, and we should be wary of those who might downplay the real importance of preserving all of the estate because regardless of their intentions. The debate over Dix is much more than just a debate over land-use in Raleigh, or even Wake county. This debate is about setting a precedent for North Carolina in a ‘new’ era of environmental awareness. Raleigh, and the state, should press their lawmakers and those charged with the design of our cities to set their goals higher – to move past a philosophy of urbanization with urbanism. Maintaining the entirety of Dorothea Dix should not be considered a reward for concerted community action, but a clear message to property developers and planners that NC has no intentions of depriving its citizens of a healthy, green environment for future generations.
I commend Mayor Meeker for showing his support for Dix and the hundreds of other Tar Heels who donate their energy and effort to securing a green future for the capital city.
Labels: Green Raleigh