Dr. Jane Harrison, NC State’s North Carolina Sea Grant coastal economics specialist and graduate faculty member in the College of Natural Resources, is running for the District D seat of Raleigh’s City Council this November. Harrison hopes to use her expertise in economics and environmentalism as well as a faculty member of NC State to mold the rapidly developing area into a city for everyone.
Harrison announced her campaign in March 2022 amidst frustrations and rising pressures in Raleigh, ranging from community involvement in city government decisions to rising rent prices. Harrison said her three main priorities are community-led development, affordable housing and environmental stewardship.
City council members guide policy for the city of Raleigh. Their main responsibilities involve voting on the city budget, which determines how much money goes to different city services and also voting on the planning of future developments in the city, along with local environmental protections. In early 2020, the current Raleigh City Council voted to dismantle Citizen Advisory Councils after being in place for nearly 50 years.
In recent years, Harrison reestablished the West Raleigh Community Advocacy Council, a neighborhood group that meets with Raleigh officials to voice their concerns. Harrison said these councils are vital to the functioning of Raleigh and her experience of revitalizing a thriving council serves as an example of what she hopes to accomplish if elected.
“What I felt happened is that we have this vacuum in terms of communication loss,” Harrison said. “I do believe we are better off when we empower residents to raise their voices around issues of common concern because ultimately, neither the City Council nor the city staff can take care of everything.”
As the coastal economics specialist of NC State’s North Carolina Coastal Sea Grant, Harrison’s responsibilities include finding solutions to ensure sustainable development and environmental protection during economic development. Harrison said environmental protections should be prioritized alongside the economic development of the city.
“You think about climate change impacts in Raleigh, heat waves, unfortunately, are going to get worse,” Harrison said. “And so the more that our natural landscape has healthy native species, a well functioning ecosystem, our environment helps to take care of us in that way.”
Harrison said the current council has yet to address an $800 million backlog in stormwater infrastructure. This stormwater, if unclean, can pollute the streams and creeks where it is released.
“We have to make investments in that kind of physical infrastructure, our roads as well,” Harrison said. “So as we develop our road network, making sure there's bike lanes, making sure that we have sidewalks across the city, there's a lot of areas that don't [have them]. ... I have friends who are parents, they don't want their kids to walk to school, even though it's a five minute walk. They don't feel they don't feel like it's safe. So as we grow, we've got to make commensurate investments in infrastructure.”
Over recent years, housing prices have skyrocketed in Raleigh, reaching an average Zillow Home Value Index of $451,332 per home. According to Redfin, a residential real estate brokerage, home values in Raleigh have increased nearly 86% in the last five years, increasing 35.7% in this past year alone. Harrison said she witnessed this issue in the lives of her students and neighbors.
“I have students who are struggling to pay their rent,” Harrison said. “I know students who pay $1,000 a month for a room and a shared apartment. You know, not too long ago, 15 years ago, I was paying $200 dollars for that kind of situation. … What I am hearing from my neighbors is that they cannot afford to live in their neighborhood anymore, that they cannot afford to live in Raleigh. If we don't take some really bold measures to keep our housing crisis from continuing to skyrocket, I'm afraid that a lot of people that have called Raleigh home or want to call Raleigh home won’t be able to.”
Harrison said if nothing is done, Raleigh will continue a trend of gentrification and displacement. Harrison promotes the policy of rent stabilization, which she said the city of Minneapolis implemented last year. Rent stabilization involves the regulation of how much rent can grow in a year, creating a cap on the percent increase that rent can be raised. Harrison said that this policy is especially viable during a period of mass inflation.
Much like NC State and Meredith students within her district, Harrison uses her bike and public transport as a primary mode of transportation. Harrison said her experience as an NC State faculty member and a resident of District D makes her an ideal candidate to represent local residents and students of NC State.
“In my class, economic development, I actually asked them to write a journal entry each week to tell me what they're learning and what they're perceiving in the class because I truly want to know where are they coming from,” Harrison said. “And that's the way that I'm approaching being a city councilor, I want to know where my neighbors are coming from.”
Christy Perrin, NC State’s North Carolina Sea Grant sustainable waters and communities coordinator said Harrison is offering a future for Raleigh that few other candidates have offered so far, one that prioritizes economic and community development at the same time as economic growth.
“She's an economist,” Perrin said. “That's her background, to understand how economic growth goes hand in hand with natural resource protection and community resilience. …Iit’s not an either or.”
Perrin said the qualities required of city council members can also be found in educators, in which both roles need to understand their audience and listen to their concerns and input.
“It's also about understanding your audience, and you can't educate without understanding your audience,” Perrin said. “And I think that's something that Jane does really well, she's one of the best listeners that I know.”
In terms of past work Harrison has done, Perrin said she and Harrison were a driving force behind introducing diversity, equity and inclusion measures to the North Carolina Sea Grant. The measures include internal professional development for staff and establishing a diverse, equitable, inclusive, just and accessible (DEIJA) vision for the future of the team.
“She’s authentic,” Perrin said. “What you see is what you get. … When she says she’s going to do something, she does it.”
Harrison’s said her campaign slogan, “Let’s reimagine Raleigh together,” encapsulates the purpose of her bid.
“I'm saying let's really assess what it is that we love about this city and also what we envision as a community,” Harrison said. “So in reimagining, there may be lessons from the past that we ought to learn from. And at the same time, there's also new ideas for the future that we want to bring into the fold. So it's, it's that kind of mix, bringing together all of the different ideas to try to move forward on a path together.”
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