How Does a Popular City Avoid the Curse of Success?

Raleigh regularly tops “Best City” lists. Mayor Nancy McFarlane explains why that can be a challenge.

National Journal
James Oliphant
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
James Oliphant
Sept. 18, 2013, 8:40 a.m.

Nancy Mc­Far­lane, a polit­ic­al in­de­pend­ent, has been may­or of Raleigh since 2011. A former City Coun­cil mem­ber and a phar­macist, Mc­Far­lane launched a com­pany that provides med­ic­a­tion in­fu­sions to at-home pa­tients with chron­ic ill­nesses. She cam­paigned for the may­or’s of­fice on a plat­form of smart plan­ning, cit­ing North­ern Vir­gin­ia—where she grew up—as an ex­ample of un­wise urb­an policy. She re­cently spoke with Na­tion­al Journ­al about lead­ing one of the na­tion’s most de­sir­able cit­ies. An ed­ited tran­script of that con­ver­sa­tion fol­lows.

Q: Every time you see one of these lists of the best places to live or best places to raise a fam­ily, Raleigh is al­ways near the top. What’s go­ing on?

A: I think the com­munity has done an ex­cel­lent job of plan­ning what they want to be. It’s really been a col­lab­or­at­ive ef­fort. There are just so many pieces that go in­to it. Geo­graph­ic­ally, we’re halfway between the moun­tains and the beach. We have three ma­jor uni­versit­ies in the re­gion. We have the Re­search Tri­angle Park. We’re the [state] cap­it­al, but we do not have any one ma­jor in­dustry. So if something starts to go down, there’s enough di­versity in our eco­nom­ic base to cov­er it. We’ve been very mind­ful of how we look. We’ve put a lot of in­vest­ment in­to our parks and gre­en­ways.

I think fun­da­ment­ally what it boils down to—es­pe­cially now with a more glob­al­ized eco­nomy—is if a busi­ness is look­ing to re­lo­cate some­where, they have to be where people want to live.

Q: Tech­no­logy gives people more mo­bil­ity and more choices. Are you say­ing that qual­ity of life is­sues aren’t just about life­style, but also about at­tract­ing and keep­ing busi­ness?

A: I own a busi­ness. You’ve got to have the work­force, wheth­er you are hir­ing new gradu­ates or ex­per­i­enced work­ers. This area really ap­peals to a very wide range of in­di­vidu­als. The arts and cul­ture scene is amaz­ing. We’ve got a lot of en­tre­pren­eurs. There’s a lot of sup­port here for en­tre­pren­eurs. A lot of it is the tech in­dustry. There’s a lot of op­por­tun­ity in town.

Q: This stuff feeds on it­self.

A: It does, but you can’t ever take it for gran­ted.

Q: Do you ap­proach eco­nom­ic de­vel­op­ment as a re­gion, or do you com­pete with cit­ies like Durham and Greens­boro?

A: We’re like sib­lings. We’re happy when each oth­er does well, but secretly we want to do the best. We want mom to like us best. We want to grow. But I would nev­er try to take a busi­ness from Durham to come here. Some of it is chas­ing com­pan­ies, some of it is field­ing in­quir­ies. We have highest per cap­ita of Ph.D.s in the coun­try, we have a very well-edu­cated work­force. Al­though once in a while, I get com­ments like: “I just moved here and I love it, but can you keep any­body else from mov­ing here?”

Q: You just an­ti­cip­ated my next ques­tion. How do you make sure you don’t have clogged high­ways and sprawl and over­taxed schools and everything else that comes from growth?

A: To me, it’s all about the plan. And I think a big piece of that is go­ing to be re­gion­al plan­ning. I grew up in Ar­ling­ton, Vir­gin­ia. I get it. We already have a line from Raleigh to Cary, [N.C.,] to Apex, [N.C.]—even­tu­ally, it’s go­ing to be one big blob. Trans­port­a­tion to me is key. We’re look­ing at a planned re­gion­al light rail even­tu­ally, which really opens up the po­ten­tial of the re­gion. Noth­ing pro­duces eco­nom­ic de­vel­op­ment like rails in the ground.

Q: How to you bal­ance the in­terests of your urb­an res­id­ents versus your sub­urb­an res­id­ents?

A: I don’t think it will ever be one or the oth­er. It de­pends on where you are in your life. If you are 25 and you just got a job and you’re hanging out down­town, then you want one thing. If you’re 35, and you have two kids, you might want an­oth­er. I do know that the largest seg­ment that is grow­ing is single-oc­cu­pancy house­holds. Where are they go­ing to want to live? It’s all about op­tions. It’s not about one or the oth­er. That’s the great thing about cit­ies. The real chal­lenge is get­ting this to not be­come just like the places every­one moved here to get away from.

Q: Is there an­oth­er city that you emu­late?

There is no city, hon­estly, that I would like us to be a lot more like. But we do have a great mu­sic scene. I would really like us to own that, like Aus­tin, [Texas,] has.

What We're Following See More »
Clinton Camp Responds to FBI Director Comey’s Letter
4 hours ago
SCOTUS to Rule on Bathroom Rules for Trans Students
4 hours ago

The Supreme Court has announced that it will hear a case to determine whether the Obama administration has the right to mandate that all public schools allow students to use the bathroom which aligns with their gender identity. Schools districts have struggled with this topic "in the face of conflicting guidance from the courts, the federal government and, in some cases, state legislatures that have passed laws requiring people to use public restrooms that coincide with the sex on their birth certificates."

New Emails Discovered in Anthony Weiner Investigation
4 hours ago

The new emails related to Hillary Clinton, which FBI Director James Comey referenced in a Friday letter to Congress, came to light in the midst of an investigation of Anthony Weiner, former New York Congressman and estranged husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin. Weiner is being investigated for allegedly sexting with an underage woman.

FBI To Investigate New Clinton Emails
5 hours ago
Trump Kicks in $10 Million of His Own Money
5 hours ago

Donald Trump "wired $10 million of his own money into his presidential campaign Friday morning," which "will be used to buy $25 million in new TV advertising in key battleground states." He's now put in a total of $66 million to his campaign.


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.