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Sunday, August 17, 2014

A room with a view

People move to Raleigh from all over. Less than half of residents are native North Carolinians, according to recent statistics. Most newcomers like it here, but some don't. A common complaint is that nothing can be seen but trees. There are no features on the horizon; there is no view.

Raleigh is, after all, the "City of Oaks" and sits on the placid eastern edge of the Piedmont's rolling hills. The city is not flat, but between the softness of the hills, the prevalence of the trees, and the lack of landmarks, one can easily lose sense of where one is. Years ago I flew over the Gobi Desert. All I could see was featureless brown in the bottom half of the window and featureless blue in the top. What one is likely to see in Raleigh is, instead, endless patterned hues of green.

Elevators offer little escape. There are only a few office towers in the city center and elsewhere. Raleigh doesn't have the skyline of Atlanta, Miami, or Charlotte; I'd guess that fewer than 1% of the population of the Triangle works even 7 floors up, much less 20 or 25 floors. It's no better in nearby Research Triangle Park. The story goes that in order to preserve the park-like setting, restrictive covenants limit how many square feet of office space can be erected in RTP on a tract of a given size. The large corporations have found that within those constraints, it's less expensive to build horizontally than vertically.

I am not ungrateful for the many pleasures of Raleigh, but the visual monotony of all the cities where I have lived — Montgomery, Birmingham, Atlanta, Athens (Ga.), and Raleigh — is getting to me. (Some areas of Birmingham do have a view now, but when I lived there in the summer of 1971, air pollution from the steel industry usually limited visibility to less than a mile.*)

I find myself planning my next move, or at least fantasizing about it, with a view as one mandatory criterion. I don't know whether it should be a view of the ocean, a bay, a river, a mountain range, a metropolis, the full field of stars at night, or what. It doesn't matter. Any view would be nice, except an industrial complex.

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* As an aside: Gen X and Millenials may think that we Baby Boomers have largely screwed things up, and perhaps that's so. But Baby Boomers did, by and large, fix an incredible mess of air and water pollution that the previous generation left us.