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Published June 16, 2015

Dorthea Dix: Does Raleigh Really Need Another Park?

There’s no question that Dorothea Dix property is important to Raleigh’s history and identity. For those who have been affected by family members with mental illnesses, the city’s recent purchase of the Dix land means that we can turn it into a place of remembrance and honor.

But will our desire to remember the past doom Raleigh’s growth?

Raleigh City Councilman Bonner Gaylord is asking for Raleigh residents to submit their opinions. The popular plan seems to be turning the land into a park. Gaylord sums up the best submission so far:

  • My favorite idea for the park would be to build a pond with an island stage at the bottom of the Dix hill that faces downtown. Then, during concerts or theater performances, the Raleigh skyline would be highlighted in the background and reflected in the lake surrounding the stage.

In a recent article for ABC 11, Gaylord likens the future Dix project to Central Park and the Eiffel Tower. The scale of his ambition is admirable. But Raleigh doesn’t need another park, or amphitheater, or concert hall. What we need is something that stands out, a project that tells the world who we are, what our history means to us, and at the same time prove that we are forward-thinking enough to deserve our status as a cultural and commercial hub.

Another place to walk our dogs and occasionally listen to live performances just won’t do.

This is my fear: Raleigh’s own obsession with evoking a small-town feel will doom the land to be just another pleasant place to walk on a mild afternoon. We will likely get a large, open park with some memorials and plaques dedicating it to the families affected by mental illness. That’s not a terrible premise, but that’s not progress either. That’s stagnation. That’s looking at the past and standing still as the rest of the world builds towers, invents new technologies, and sends people to explore outer space.

We could make way better use of that space. We need to think three dimensions. We need to grow — UP.

If I were in charge, I would hire an architect to design three tall, interconnected skyscrapers, and call them Triangle Towers. Imagine New York City as an example of Progress-in-Action, and make the Dix Skyscapers comparable to the Empire State Building. Now, imagine renting it for office space.

How many businesses and non-profits in the Triangle would flock to have an office overlooking the city they love so much? All of them, I bet.

We create more income for our city and invite large-scale national companies to set down headquarters in Raleigh.

From a symbolic and cultural perspective, each of the three towers could represent Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill respectively. After all, our cities are growing together, with undeniably intertwined fates. Surrounding the base of the towers would be a park filled with Oak Trees leading to the Dorothea Dix memorial and museum. This museum would be the figurative and literal foundation for the rest of the complex, so that the public can learn about those who once stayed on the grounds and still look up and ascend. At the top, we can build observation decks for the public, so they can see the city skyline in all its splendor.

This design is my favorite because it hits all of Bonner Gaylord’s high notes–a park, a memorial, and a beautiful addition to Raleigh–while still embracing growth and a desire to become an even more industrious city.

RELATED: 20 Weird, Quirky, Or Awesome Places To Visit In Raleigh.

This dream of progress seems doomed, however. Too many residents, I fear, like things the way they are. Too many people see the city’s growth as a bad thing, something to complain about even as transplants bring new opportunities that can make the city better. If the fate of the Dix land ends up as just another place to go running, then the city may very well never have another opportunity to build itself up into something more important than just a dot on a child’s map.

We may never become the star of the south like we claim to be. And that is the thing that saddens me most: Raleigh has an opportunity to do great things, but will choose not to do them because we don’t like change.

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  • Greg Trombley

    Greg

  • I'm an RDU-based novelist and passionate champion of scientific progression. Nature and science live side-by-side in my heart. I clean dinosaur bones in my spare time, and love reading about local history. All my articles.

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