Raleigh Philosophical Society Interviews Ashton Smith

Read the full interview here...

Raleigh Philosophical Society (RPS): Through your involvement with different organizations, you’ve been able to visit some other cities to see what has worked well and perhaps what hasn’t worked well. What are some things you’ve seen that you would love to see implemented here?

Ashton Smith (AS): Oh, so many things! One easy thing we need to get sorted is accessory dwelling units/granny flats. There are cities doing great work in equity and I think Raleigh has an opportunity to excel in this space if we can galvanize resources and attention. Transit, transit, transit. I’m so glad the Wake Transit Plan passed, but if I could wave a magic wand we’d have all that funded and built already. Dedicated BRT lines, commuter rail, and frequent bus routes. We need plans and dedicated funding to meet the needs for affordable housing, and especially for providing it around transit hubs. A downtown stadium/entertainment space. The amphitheater is great, but we need a larger and more permanent space. More public water (drinking) fountains and bathrooms. We could use some signature downtown attractions - you know, that thing you *must* do/see when you visit Raleigh. I’m looking forward to implementing the Dix Park master plan once it’s finished. I’m excited for the roll-out of bikeshare in Raleigh but we need more comprehensive bike infrastructure - dedicated and protected bike lanes and more planning around bikes and pedestrians. Is that enough for now?

RPS: Haha. Yeah, that’s plenty. On the flip side, what are some things that perhaps haven’t worked well that we should avoid? And you don’t have to name names.

AS: We learned a lot in Seattle about where they were too slow to try and address affordable housing and even transit. They waiting so long on housing to address some of the systemic flaws (zoning, etc.) that they’ve not been able to remotely keep up with demand and currently have one of the highest costs of living and largest population of homeless people in the country. We also need to intentionally work to ensure we have a diversity of industries, business owners and residents engaged in our city and our economy.

Generally speaking, I think Raleigh is coming of age at a great time - we have a chance to learn from other cities about what works and what doesn’t. We’re not the first ones to face a problem. We just have to be open to trying new ideas and testing new solutions, knowing that sometimes they might fail.

RPS: What are some challenges you see Raleigh facing over the next 5-10 years? And how should we work on these challenges?

AS: Housing is a big one, but I touched on that before. Increasingly, we’re seeing that despite a robust economy here in Raleigh, not everyone is seeing success. More and more people are being left behind and this is a challenge we need to address quickly. It’s complicated, no doubt, but it’s critical to the health of our long-term economy. We need to ensure that all of Raleigh’s residents have access to the resources and opportunities necessary to improve their quality of life, and work intentionally to make sure that life outcomes can’t be predicted based on race or the zip code in which someone was born. What’s incredible about this kind of focus in equity is that it actually makes the economic pie bigger - we all benefit from it.
Brent Woodcox