I went through something of a SimCity phase. SimCity is a world-building video game in which the player is tasked with founding and developing a simulated cityscape. There’s something very comforting about the omnipotence of governing raw resources and forcing a thriving metropolis to emerge where virtual squirrels once frolicked in Arcadian meadows. Of course, it’s all based on algorithms put down in 1s and 0s by some guy with poor social skills in the Silicon Valley.
The growth of Raleigh, too, is based on some deeper logic involving global commerce, transfer of goods and services, capital markets, and angry people with lots of paper yelling in rooms filled with scrolling digits. The result is all around us. Everywhere one looks, steel skeletons swarming with hardhats ascend. Highways squeeze and widen. Discarded houses resurrect, enduring nail gun surgery. Startups and new shops vie for a slice of the pie. Romantic reconstruction-era mansions mingle with sleek, modern condominiums.
Raleigh, North Carolina is the recipient of the nation’s white-collar refugees. The dying industrial north and the thirsty cities of the southwest have somehow come to view the Oak City acorn as some sort of beacon. Some here embrace the opportunity change brings. Others bitterly resist, detecting something lost along the way. The question is whether Raleigh can grow and still maintain her soul. The answer depends on whether you believe the spirit of a place resides in her buildings and traffic cones, or whether the soul dwells in the people who call that place home. Each of us defines what it means to be a Raleigh-ite? A Raleigher? Good golly, I’m from Raleigh? What the hell do we call ourselves, anyway? No matter, we’ll figure it out. Barring the internet breaking (thanks, China) or asteroid strike (an option on SimCity), the region will continue developing for the foreseeable future. So, we must decide whether to contend with this shift or to adapt, allowing the growth of Raleigh to mirror the growth in ourselves. Granted, it’s an old and fairly simple idea. But at least we get a daily reminder in drywall and girders.