Jonathan Melton: at-large candidate questionnaire answers

Read below for at-large Raleigh City Council candidate Jonathan Melton’s answers to the Raleighites Agenda. See the at-large candidates’ answers here.

The Raleighites Agenda, a community-powered questionnaire, includes questions from Raleigh residents. For more details on the process, visit this post.

QUESTION 1: For at-large and mayoral candidates: What is your vision for the future of the city? (What will Raleigh look like in 10-20 years?) Once in office, what actions will be your priority to achieve that vision?

All signs point to Raleigh’s continued growth, but we need to make sure that growth happens in a way that is responsible, sustainable, and inclusive. To protect and provide affordable housing, city council needs to build relationships with developers, realtors, builders, and affordable housing agencies. An immediate priority of the next city council should be establishing processes for fair, transparent decision making. The current council has a block of members who, when they vote the same way on an item, can push it through without the need for discussion or coalition building. This is not how good governing should work. A strong city council will have enough difference in member ideas, perspectives, and backgrounds to create lively debate and discussion, but will be required to thoroughly examine every issue that comes before it to find compromise solutions. As a family law attorney, I have seen firsthand the creative solutions that come from a little bit of conflict and a lot of compromise. Introducing that civility, and setting a precedent for thoughtful discussion will pave the way to tackling the issues our city currently and will inevitably face, no matter how complex. 

QUESTION 2: What’s the impact on traffic of the rapid high-rise development in downtown, and what are you doing to avoid the gridlock we’re seeing too often? How would you improve walkability, especially in the urban core?

This is an example of where we can be smart in our growth. If we improve public transit options and build high-density development along transit corridors, traffic will not worsen and will likely reduce. Raleigh traffic is largely based on the fact that the city has been built to prioritize sprawl, which has created a dependence on cars. There are a few universal aspects to walkability: the area must be useful (are a variety of activities placed within walking distance of each other?), it must be safe (making sure city blocks aren’t too big, that traffic lanes are wide enough and traffic calming devices are put in place to reduce car speed, ensuring that cycling is a safe option by designating bike lanes for and protecting them from vehicle traffic), and it should be interesting (we should create active, engaging streets, instead of prioritizing bulk and parking). 

QUESTION 3: According to the Arts & Economic Impact Study 5, the nonprofit arts and cultural organizations in Raleigh generated $532 million in economic activity, representing 95% of the total activity for Wake County in fiscal year 2015.  The creative economy also supports over 8,000 full-time equivalent jobs in Raleigh and generates $26 million in tax revenue for local government.  

What is your vision for the arts and the role they would play in Raleigh’s overall economic development strategy?

We need to stop taking the arts for granted and realize it’s both a cultural and economic activity. Arts organizations could generate significant tourism revenue and help make Raleigh more of a destination city. We need to make sure we are adequately funding and promoting these organizations and activities.  

QUESTION 4: What is your vision for Raleigh 20 years from now? Development will happen whether you support it or not — so what is next? What is the big idea? What is YOUR big idea?

We need to be sure that as Raleigh grows, city council doesn’t make enemies of developers, which is exactly what will happen if we remain on the current path. Instead of holding developers hostage to include affordable housing units in projects, placing limits on building height, and burying projects in red tape and the permitting process, we need to form working relationships with everyone in the housing and development industry so that projects are started and completed with every factor and affected party in mind. In 2039, Raleigh should be a dense, green, walkable city.  We should see a surplus of affordable housing options, a city infrastructure operating entirely (or nearly entirely) on renewable energy, and a city government that represents the diversity in age, race, sexual orientation, religion, economic status, and career background that we are lucky enough to attract to this city.

 QUESTION 5: With rising costs for parking and rent, what will you do to help keep independent, locally-owned shops in downtown Raleigh from being swallowed up by larger chains?

One overlooked way to help small downtown businesses in Raleigh, that has been proven to work in other cities, is improving urban walkability. If we can make commuting by foot downtown more active and engaging, people are more likely to walk than to travel a few blocks by car. A more obvious way to protect existing small, local businesses and to invite new ones is to ease and expedite the permitting and zoning process so that independent business owners are not stifled by prolonged delays. City council should incentivize small business development, especially by minority business owners, by partnering with community agencies to offer loans in instances where a small business could provide demonstrable value to the community.

Jonathan Melton is a candidate for Raleigh City Council at-large candidate. Visit his campaign website at jonathanmelton.com.

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