Once upon a time in the 80s, Raleigh was a little city surrounded by a highway that residents called the “Beltline,” 440. Inside the “Beltline” were leafy neighborhoods, little shops, nice restaurants, the capitol buildings and everything else you would expect to find in a pretty, small southern capital city.
Then Raleigh started growing, and “north” Raleigh became an area of new houses and nice malls and other conveniences. Then people started pouring into the north of the city, and builders struggled to keep pace and turned farm after farm and “unused” land into subdivision after subdivision. Private schools and country clubs and more shops and restaurants and a stadium followed.
North Raleigh got so big and represented so much of the wealth of the area that the tail started wagging the dog, and meanwhile Cary, next door to the west of Raleigh, was exploding as well. I-540 wraps the whole Triangle area (including Holly Springs/Fuquay Varina on up to Knightdale) and stretches all the way across the northern arc of the city, linking dozens of Raleigh residential neighborhoods to the airport, RTP, and the business centers of Cary and Morrisville. The traffic does come to a standstill for a few minutes during rush hour, but it’s not anything like what someone in NY, LA, Atlanta, NJ/NY or DC is used to. It’s not even in the same league.
The southern loop was developed into a toll road to connect Apex/Holly Springs and Fuquay Varina – that road is still pretty empty despite a very cheap toll. Eventually, 540 will complete the circle to service the towns to the south like Clayton and Garner, and cities to the east such as Rolesville, Wendell and Zebulon.
The growth didn’t end at 540. Raleigh is still creeping north of that second circle, with a ton of new, expensive ($450K and up is expensive here) home building occurring north of 540. North of 540 is now considered “North Raleigh,” and city planners have successfully added lanes to roads to relieve the congestion that piled up as people just tried to get out of their neighborhoods and get to 540. Meanwhile, chain store after chain store goes up to serve the burgeoning population, and the newer Triangle Town Center Mall caters to high end shoppers and, in the surrounding strip malls, discount shoppers alike.
Sound too crowded? It is but it’s not – if you were to get in your car in a neighborhood north of 540 and drive for 4 minutes, you would be back “out in the country,” with nothing but farms, lakes and gas stations that do not have electronic pumps. In the new “north Raleigh,” you can drive and drive and see nothing but cows … and then pass the entrance to a community of $1 million homes.
The old “North Raleigh,” the area that is now sandwiched between 440 and 540, is now pretty much considered “Midtown,” and it is thriving. Midtown encompasses communities as varied as older neighborhoods, subdivisions built in the 80s and 90s, and new high rise condos as well as shopping (Crabtree Valley Mall, Falls Village Shopping Center), office space, cultural attractions, and sports facilities (most notably the RBC Center, home to the Carolina Hurricanes hockey team and NC State basketball).
“Inside the Beltline”
And of course, there’s still “inside the beltline,” (ITB) which has gotten sort of snobbish about itself. Homes there go quickly and are more expensive than the new homes of comparable size anywhere else in the Triangle. Most of the residents inside the beltline are “old Raleigh” and they tend to be true southerners, whereas the rest of the Triangle is quite a hodgepodge – you are just as likely to hear a New York accent as a southern accent in the rest of the Triangle. There are great shops and restaurants inside the beltline – “South Glenwood” is a great place to walk the streets and visit both casual and fancy restaurants and shops. Likewise, the “Five Points” neighborhood is home to many antique stores and boutiques as well as some gorgeous historic homes and quiet, leafy neighborhoods, and “Cameron Village” is very popular with the younger crowd, though it has shops and restaurants for everyone.
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