Business & Economy
6:00 am
Mon August 27, 2012

Silver Makes Plans For Raleigh

Whenever a magazine comes out with another list of the best cities, Raleigh is invariably on it. The State Capitol has been deemed one of the best cities for recent college graduates, for having a happy marriage, and for offering women a healthy lifestyle.

As the second-fastest growing city in the country, the decisions city leaders have to make to plan for the future come fast and furious. In the middle of it all is Raleigh’s charismatic planning director, Mitchell Silver.

Dave DeWitt: Eight years ago, Fayetteville Street, Raleigh’s main downtown boulevard, was a mess. Construction workers were busy tearing it up to transform it from a pedestrian mall back into a city street.

From his corner office, Mitchell Silver watched the chaos. He had been a city planner in New York and Washington, and had just been hired to lead the department in Raleigh.

Standing on Fayetteville Street today, he remembers what he was thinking back then.

 Mitchell Silver: I said I can’t move here. I was from New York City and this is not a city.

But Silver saw Raleigh’s potential. Everywhere he looked were opportunities. Glenwood South was becoming a hopping entertainment district. A new convention center was in the works, along with a downtown amphitheater. Not to mention huge projects outside the beltline, like North Hills, Triangle Town Center, and Brier Creek…

 It was that growth – and the chance to help guide it - that Silver found irresistible…

Silver: This is one place where I have never seen projects move so quickly from sight plan to construction. In New York City I worked on projects it took ten years to see it come to fruition. In Raleigh, it could be a year.

Taking a walk in downtown Raleigh with Mitchell Silver, it’s easy to see the stage performer he used to be. But you can also see a man who knows his details, and is putting a big vision to work in places like Moore Square… One of Raleigh’s very few downtown open spaces.

 Silver: We have a plan to redo this entire park, we’ll have tilted lawn, an amphitheater at that corner, and that the expectation over time, is that that edge, on the east side, will all be residential.

 If there’s such a thing as rock stars in the planning world, Mitchell Silver is one. He was elected by his peers to be President of the American Planning Association. Silver has a reputation as a forward thinker, someone who closely watches trends and figures out which ones are going to stick.

Communicating with elected leaders, developers, activists, and residents is a key job of a city planner. And not all of them are good at it.

Paul Farmer is the CEO of the American Planning Association and was a city planner in Pittsburgh and Minneapolis. He says bringing people together is one of Silver’s strengths.

 Paul Farmer: It’s been a good match. Part of that is the intellect he brings but an awful lot of that is the personality that I think is a good match for a growing southern city like Raleigh.

 Silver is often courted by other, larger cities. But he says he loves Raleigh, seven years after he wondered why in the world he would come here.

 Silver: Smart cities know their sense of urgency 10 years before they’re urgent. My job is to make sure Raleigh stays smart.

 What’s urgent now, Silver says, is public transportation, So he’s spending a lot of time trying to convince anyone with a stake in the city that building Union Station in the Warehouse district and a light rail has to be a priority… if Raleigh is going to stay on all those “best of” lists in the future.