christer berg

It’s no secret that the drive-in theater is nearly dead. You can count on six fingers the number that are left in North Carolina, down from more than 200 in the state during their heyday in the late 1950s and early ’60s when America was so very much in love with their cars.

How times have changed. Last Friday night, apparently in 2014, hundreds of people were jockeying to sit outside in a public space to watch a movie (albeit free) while drive-ins are languishing across the country. Downtown Raleigh Alliance’s (DRA) summer movie and music series in City Plaza kicked off with Dirty Dancing, a film made in the ’80s and ironically set in the time when the drive-in theater reigned supreme in America’s popular culture.

But while the drive-in may be well beyond life support, the WALK-IN theater is alive and well, right here in downtown Raleigh.

As Mark Endsley (@julendsl) tweeted most excellently, “Nobody puts Raleigh in the corner!” We like our entertainment front and center, right in the middle of Fayetteville Street.1

The popularity of Raleigh’s walk-in phenomenon fits like a glove with the findings from a recent American Planning Association (APA) Millennial poll. More than a thousand adults ages 21-34, most from NC but a few outside our borders, prioritized three elements of daily life in their quest for the perfect place to call home: access, amenities, and affordability. In other words, if a community has a sense of place, with mobility options other than just cars, and with housing prices in line with local salaries, it will thrive. If you look up the term describing this in the dictionary — the “new economics of place” — I’m pretty sure it serves up Raleigh as a prime example.

The new economics of place concept shows the value of investing in community assets and public spaces and then enlivening those spaces with programmed events. Highlighting films #MadeInNC, ever emphasizing the local angle even though no shopping is involved, the DRA’s movie series is the perfect way to pull all ages together for an enjoyable evening of camaraderie. And just like when you went to the drive-in all those years ago, the movie is just part of the package — it’s more about community, and being where the action is.

Dr. Michael Walden, William Neal Reynolds Distinguished professor at NC State, eloquently put it into words at the May APA forum where the poll was presented: “Innovation and creativity is key to moving forward economically, no matter the community size.”

Raleigh is definitely moving forward. Long live the walk-in!

 image by Christer Berg

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