Raleigh: Smart, Southern & Sophisticated

daily planet floor

Nicknamed the “City of Oaks,” Raleigh is an easily walkable city full of mighty oaks and leafy spaces. Inspired by that, the newly certified LEED Silver Raleigh Convention Center is adorned with a “Shimmer Wall”—an enormous image of an oak tree constructed out of aluminum squares that flap in wind to give the allusion the tree is swaying. At night the wall glows in varying colors from backlit LEDs.

The fact that the city has evolved while maintaining such an appreciation of its natural surrounding is indicative of the intelligence and long term vision prevalent here. For example, the convention center is the city’s 11th solar farm with over 2,000 photovoltaic panels. The local FLS Energy and Powerworks lease “land” atop the convention center to farm solar power. The excess electricity is then distributed back into the local power grid.

“Raleigh is known for its creative class, smart population, and as a 21st century of innovation,” says Loren Gold, exec vp of Greater Raleigh CVB. “Sustainability to us is not a fad but a necessity to improve quality of life and promote emerging technologies. Our city has long embraced this as the right thing to do, not just the trendy thing to do.”

The Shimmer Wall was donated by CREE, one of many high-tech companies in the area including Siemens, IBM and ABB. Brookings Institution named Raleigh #10 nationwide with the highest share of green economy jobs. And the US Chamber of Commerce named Raleigh the Nation’s Most Sustainable Midsize City.

The density of smart technology is supported by three major universities—NC State, University of NC at Chapel Hill and Duke—working in collaboration at Research Triangle Park, the oldest and largest research park in the country. Visiting organizations and firms often source speakers and sponsors from the area businesses and universities.

Meanwhile, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences just opened the new $56 million, 80,000-sf Nature Research Center (above). The centerpiece experience is the giant SECU Daily Planet painted like a globe. Inside, the 3-level venue features an enormous 40-foot plasma screen.

“It’s great for presentations or to add wow factor to any type of event,” says Gold. Sustainable restaurants with a strong sense of community are booming throughout Greater Raleigh according to Gold. He says, “Many of the proprietors are home grown offering that great Southern hospitality at no extra charge.”

Native chef Jason Smith owns 18 Seaboard, sourcing vegetables and produce from local farmers, natural chicken from a local growers co-op and freshly caught seafood from the NC coast. Homegirl Ashley Christensen opened Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, Fox Liquor Bar and Chuck’s—three separate venues with one massive kitchen. Her first restaurant Poole’s is a legendary former luncheonette with a retro-chic attitude and susty menu. Try “The Royale,” a house-ground burger rolled in toasted peppercorn and seared in duck fat, served on homemade brioche.

And located minutes from Raleigh Convention Center, the State Farmers Market is a haven for RCC’s head chef, Don Burchell. He has over 30,000 sf of garden fresh veggies, fruits and herbs available all year long. Good to know when you’re cutting into the buttermilk fried chicken or blue crab salad with smoked Applewood bacon ranch dressing.