The North Carolina Planning Conference kicked off yesterday in Raleigh. We are excited to be the host city, and have staff from our Department of City Planning helping out with sessions, tours and activities.

If you follow us on social media, you may have noticed several tweets regarding one of the downtown walking tours. I was fortunate to have joined the tour as it was a picture-perfect day in Raleigh. The tour, which focused on policy and development, started at the Raleigh Convention Center and circled around several city blocks. As we walked, the Urban Design Center staff inspired and empowered planners from around the state by providing some fresh ideas for their own communities.

Many of the tour highlights are worth noting. For example, after leaving the convention center, planners made their way through City Plaza. Noting the lack of curb and gutter there, staff explained that this design element was intended to slow traffic in the plaza. Continuing down Fayetteville Street, formerly a pedestrian mall, planners pointed out many different architectural styles and very healthy street trees. I learned that the sub-surface planting technique was a worthy investment.

On our way to Moore Square, we observed a number of new apartment buildings, including Skyhouse. It is located near City Market and has a really cool public art display (see blog photo). The Lincoln is another new apartment complex that occupies a two-acre city block. With a construction valuation of $40 million, the Lincoln offers 224 dwelling units.

On to Moore Square! Chock full of trees, the square will soon undergo a transformation of its own. In 2009, Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker issued a 'call for ideas' to re-conceive the four-acre square to best serve a new era. As a result of our first design competition, a winning design concept was chosen which creates a new Moore Square respectful of tradition while looking forward. It builds upon the square's unique and significant characteristics while expanding the square's sense of space. It also organizes the site into visually and functionally distinct areas that accommodate a wide range of uses. This design competition was a great way to engage the public during the design process. Construction is expected to begin next summer. And, yes, the beautiful trees will be preserved!

Continuing the tour, we walked up Hargett Street, passing Hamlin Drug Store. It is one of the oldest continually operating drug stores in our state. And just beyond that, a bike corral with no space to spare. Introduced in 2013, it was the first of its kind in Raleigh.

Next up? The parklet, located outside Deco. It takes up one on-street parking space and provides an extended outdoor seating area for pedestrians and shoppers. The concept is fairly new to our area and I think that many of the tourists were seeing it for the first time. This parklet is the first to be erected in Raleigh and was designed by students at N.C. State University (view a picture of the parklet on Twitter).

And our last stop was the Warehouse district. Looking around, we saw lots of two-story brick building facades, the Contemporary Art Museum, and the site of the future Raleigh Union Station. We know that this area will undergo a major transformation in the coming years as the new train station will become a gateway for people traveling in and around downtown Raleigh. Developer John Kane has also announced plans to construct a new mixed-use high-rise at the site of the Dillon Supply building, with a construction valuation estimated to be $150 million.

I must say that it was nice to get out and see the fruits of our labor. Great things are happening here!