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What if a DISCONNECTED 81.2 acres in the heart of Raleigh were transformed into multi-pronged opportunities for urban CONNECTION?

The premiere CONNECTIONS event centers around a design workshop that focuses on 81.2 downtown acres currently home to Central Prison and The Governor Morehead School for the Blind. Named for the site’s acreage, CONNECTIONS 81.2 invited community members, designers, local leaders, and stakeholders to provide insight, ideas, and action plans towards ethical development that address the social, ecological, and economic influences of the place. 

Participants explored the hypothetical redevelopment for 81.2 acres west of downtown, currently occupied by the North Carolina’s School for the Blind and Central Prison. Though the two institutions were important to the city’s function, their populations were considered undesirable and in 1884 they were located on the outskirts of the new city. As Raleigh’s population continues to expand, the School and Central Prison are now at the heart of a growing city. 

Raleigh’s population today is just under 500,000, and is projected to grow another 50 percent by 2030. The Governor Morehead School and Central Prison are now at the heart of a growing city. This project authentically looks at their legacy, what they have offered the city since their establishment, rethinks the role of civic institutions, and challenges how development can benefit the current and expanding urban population. Assuming closure of the 135 yr-old prison, participants programmatically addressed the site’s legacy by reintegrating the school, preventing disruptive cycles of recidivism, and revitalizing an important area of our community. 

We will ask participants to explore socially responsible developments that:

  • Serve returning citizens, providing assistance and opportunity as they incorporate back into society

  • Reach youth before their first offense 

  • Serve families with incarcerated family members

  • Become a beacon of equitable development through social responsibility and economic benefit

The Opportunity

This 81.2-acre site is perfectly located for eventual high-density, mixed-use development. It is truly a site surrounded by opportunity: Opportunity to connect to existing economic, academic, cultural, and residential areas; Opportunity to connect to a thriving downtown and the future Dix Park Development, already in design; and, Opportunity to show how North Carolina’s capital city can fully conceptualize and subsequently develop a community of excellence in residential, commercial, and landscape design.

As a theoretical project, it is not currently bound by project schedule, politics, or budget. Instead, we are using this time to think uninhibitedly outside-the-box in order to allow participants to rethink the potential of this site at the heart of our city to focus on during our next event. 

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The Process

Named for the size of the site, CONNECTIONS 81.2 is a 3-part initiative currently in its second year. The CONNECTIONS initiative seeks to demonstrate how ethical design can create an inclusive city with equitable opportunity in each project it addresses, and specifically seeks to provide an example to communities confronting similar issues with the 81.2 acre site.

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In Spring 2018, CONNECTIONS launched with a 3-day public event. CONNECTIONS 81.2 opened with an evening of inspirational TED-style talks from New York’s Hudson Yards design team and was followed by a design charrette in which 60 architects worked on the prompt. The event concluded with an Ideas Presentation open to the public.  Covered in multiple articles in the News & Observer and Walter Magazine, the event garnered an overwhelming response. 

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In Spring 2019, NCSU’s College of Design invited CONNECTIONS to extend the initiative into a joint architecture and landscape design studio, resulting in the CONNECTIONS Actionable Urbanism Studio. Graduate students interviewed organizations working with returning citizens and at-risk youth and incorporated them as the anchor program within their design to further emphasize the goal of integrated and equitable urban development.