The duties assigned community Appearance Commissions under the North Carolina General Statutes include:
To make studies of the visual characteristics and problems of the municipality or county, including surveys and inventories of an appropriate nature, and to recommend standards and policies of design for the entire area, any portion or neighborhood thereof, or any project to be undertaken. [NCGS 160A-452 (4)]
The Raleigh Appearance Commission has mounted several city-wide surveys over the years, to gain better understanding of citizens' views and needs regarding matters of community appearance.
The most recent survey took place in 2005-06. The Raleigh Appearance Commission, with the backing of the Raleigh City Council, conducted a two-phase survey effort. Both phases were administered by the North Carolina State University Center for Urban Affairs and Community Services (CUACS).
The first phase was telephone-based. Raleigh residents within all zip code areas of the city were contacted at random, with a total of 730 citizens interviewed. Each was read a series of appearance-related statements, and asked to respond on a five-point scale of "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree." A copy of the 2006 report to City Council highlighting phase one results can be viewed in the related section to the right of this article.
The second phase consisted of seven focus group discussions. Participants included business leaders, Citizen Advisory Council representatives, parks and environmental advocates, architects, urban designers, Raleigh Neighborhood College alumni, commercial and residential developers, realtors, and other interested citizens. Six open-ended questions explored potential appearance priorities. A copy of the 2007 report summarizing second phase results can be viewed in the related section to the right of this article.
Past Surveys & Results
This latest appearance survey builds on two previous efforts-one in 1982, and a more detailed survey in 1995. Participants in both were largely self-selected, responding to printed questionnaires.
In the 1982 survey, billboards, tree conservation, and buffers to residential areas emerged as major appearance concerns, along with broader matters of growth, planning, and certain types of commercial development.
The 1995 survey revealed that citizens felt Raleigh to be an attractive city overall, though there was worry it was becoming less so. Major thoroughfares, such as Capital Boulevard, were cited as problem areas, as were issues such as roadside trash and litter. Participants placed a high value on preserving park spaces like Shelley Lake, as well as on tree protection.
Over the years, the City has addressed many of the issues identified in these earlier surveys. Among the outcomes have been Raleigh's landscape and sign ordinances. More recently, the Appearance Commission has looked at gateway corridor issues and open space standards, and refinements to the City's tree conservation ordinance.
The Outlook Now
Results from the 2005-06 survey affirm that that Raleigh's residents continue to place a high importance on the community's visual character. In the phone surveys, 95% of the participants felt that the City's appearance is significant to our economic future, and 65% stated they would support new initiatives to promote Raleigh's appearance and livability.
Most survey participants rated Raleigh's appearance favorably, when comparing it to other cities. The most frequently cited visual assets were parks, greenways, and other "green infrastructure" elements. Noted as among the City's most attractive places were historic districts, Pullen Park, and such commercial areas as North Hills, Cameron Village and Glenwood South. The appearance of downtown, largely unnoted in the earlier surveys, was viewed by 83% of the respondents as being important to a vibrant and thriving city.
Citizens also expressed some concerns. Among the most pressing:
- Gateway corridor appearance (particularly Capital Boulevard). This issue was seen as significant by telephone survey and focus group participants alike. The fact that it was also a concern among respondents to the 1982 and 1995 surveys suggests that new approaches may be appropriate in addressing these highly-visible parts of the City.
- Landscaping standards. Citizens believe there should be improved standards for landscaping along main thoroughfares, and 73% of survey participants cited tree preservation and protection as important. Since the survey, the City has refined its tree conservation standards. The survey also suggests citizens desire a more aggressive approach to streetscape design and installation.
- Open space. Citizens would like to see more open space required in newly-developing areas, both as parks and greenways, and as natural areas.
Raleigh's latest community appearance survey suggests that City residents feel that progress is being made. It also affirms there is work still to be done. Identifying issues is the starting point. The next step will be developing strategies to address them.
As City Council's advisory body in matters of community appearance and design, the Appearance Commission strives to meet these challenges, to help ensure that the Raleigh of the future will be an even more attractive place in which to live.