Development Beat: Dorothea Dix Data Dump

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Monday, October 10, 2016: Dorothea Dix Data Dump

No, we’re not going to be releasing any embarrassing emails, secretly-recorded, salacious statements or troubling transcripts, but we did gain access this weekend to a database much more relevant to the Development Beat: the Dorothea Dix Park Online Resource Center.

Dix Park

James Borden

Dix Park

The resource center, put together for the benefit of consultants seeking to qualify for hire by the City as master planners, contains only one item: the 294MB “” Sounds pretty ominous! After several hours, during which our l33T h4x0rin9 skills were pushed to their very limits, we were able to crack into and unpack this giant zip file.

Inside, we found a total of 15 PDFs, many of which were only tangentially related to Dix: The City of Raleigh Strategic Plan, the 2030 Comprehensive Plan,  the 2014 NC State Master Plan, etc. One thing we found odd was that the total combined file size of all these documents was 293MB. Aren’t zip files supposed to compress data & take up less storage than the combined mass of its contents?

Of the nine files directly related to Dix Park, we determined that six were interesting enough to cover here. Links to the original PDF files are included. So let’s not waste any more time!

  1. Dix Park FAQ: With answers to pressing questions such as, Where Can I Park? and, Are There Bathrooms? (In designated lots only, and nope, just porta johns, sorry!) this seems like a document that was put together for the public’s benefit more so than the consultants. But always better to have information and not need it than need information and not have it, right? Some of the information is quite relevant, and we felt we should put it out there for the general public:
    1. Although the Park is open to the public from dawn-dusk, the City requests that visitors “be respectful of employees and avoid all buildings and parking lots during business hours.”
    2. The Park is also available to those wishing to host events there. While there are “certain fees, permitting requirements, reservation limitations, etc.” that govern these events, anyone wishing to host merely needs to contact the City’s Special Events Office.
    3. All City of Raleigh ordinances and park rules apply at Dorothea Dix Park. For a full breakdown of what these rules and ordinances are, we recommend checking the relevant chapter as found in Municode or reading this article we did over at the Raleigh Agenda about things you’re not allowed to do in City Parks, such as starting large fires.
  2. Memorandum of Understanding with Dix Park Conservancy: This document spells out the agreement the City made in June with the Dix Park Conservancy relating to their public-private partnership on the master planning of Dix Park. What we found most interesting was a brief section that gave more specific details on what will be required of the consulting team the City is currently seeking qualifications for. According to this document, the consultant will manage the public input process, conduct the appropriate studies and analysis, draft the master plan and produce renderings. Good to know. Here’s some other highlights from the MOU:
    1. The document makes the claim that “the most successful destination parks across the US include some form of public-private partnerships.” For Dix Park, that partnership will be between the City of Raleigh and the Dix Parks Conservancy
    2. The Conservancy will contribute $2 million for the development of the Master Plan, and may contribute up to $1 million more for other Master Planning costs
    3. Funding will go toward a wide range of activities, including land surveying, environmental assessments, engineering studies, infrastructure analysis, transportation studies, public relations/marketing, a part-time staff and more.
    4. The Conservancy has no obligations beyond the master planning process
  3. Summary of Previous Plans, Studies and Reports: This document contains a brief history and analysis of ten previous analyses and proposals involving the future of Dix Park that have been produced since 1995. We don’t have time to get into all of them here, so we’ll describe our favorite & our least favorite & include below them a chart put together by O’Brien Atkins (actually, they put together this entire study) that compares the ten different proposals.
    1. Favorite: Botanical Garden Plan from the Wake County Botanical Garden, circa 2006: While Raleigh is in nearly ever regard a far superior city to Durham, we have to admit that the City of Oaks has nothing that comes close to the splendor of the Sarah P. Duke Gardens. This plan would have changed that. Creating everything from an Aquatic Garden to English Woods, Formal Gardens, a Four Seasons Garden and much, much more, the only downside we can see is that it would have eliminated much of the open space that makes Dix what it is today. But otherwise, this is pretty choice. A map of this is included in the gallery below.
    2. Least Favorite: Points of Light from The City of Raleigh, circa 2005: While there are two positive elements to this plan, the inclusion of an “adventure park” and a designated space for mental health care, these are both overridden by the unwelcome density and even more unwelcome retail/residential “mixed use” areas that Points of Light wished to unleash. In addition to a retail core surrounded by medium and density residential, this plan also included an amphitheater, a “Civic Performance Node” (what?) “festival grounds” and “active park fields.” Had this been the City’s plans when it initially purchased Dix from the State, we could have understood why the newly-elected Republicans wanted so badly to cancel the deal. A map of this plan is included in the gallery below.
  4. Dix Property Lease & Neighborhood Maps: We harbor no delusions about the popularity of the written word: most people prefer pictures. We get it. Fortunately, this PDF contained only two pages, whose content are pretty well summed up in the file name. It’s kind of a weird and pointless task to summarize a map when you can just as easily display the map itself. Both are included in the gallery below.
  5. Dorothea Dix Facilities Study Final Report: Keeping in mind what we just said about the popularity of the written word (combined with the fact we’ve already spewed out more than 1,000 of them in today’s column) we’ll try and keep this one short, even though  it’s by far the largest and longest document we recovered from Prepared in October of last year by Dewberry Engineers Inc. for the City of Raleigh, this analysis digs deep into many of the physical and structural aspects of the park. Some highlights:
    1. The buildings at Dorothea Dix were constructed between the late 1850s and 2000, with the
      majority of them being built between 1920 and 1960. Several of them are Depression Era, Public
      Works Administration funded projects.
    2. Many of the buildings were named for prominent staff or members of the hospital board of directors, and the buildings were primarily constructed as residential buildings for patients, staff, and administrators. Most of the nonresidential buildings are one or two-story structures with brick veneer.
    3. The residential houses, which once served hospital staff, are generally vacant or sparsely used. Several entire buildings and partial buildings of the McBryde hospital complex are also vacant.
    4. This analysis included eight tasks, which were: Building Study, In-Depth Structural Defiency Study, District Energy Study, Hardscapes Study, Site Utilities Study, Site Lighting Study, Hydrant Flow Test Study, and Bridge and Culvert Study. If you want to read more about any of these, we recommend downloading the linked PDF. Warning: it’s a big ‘un!
  6. National Historic Register Application: Last but certainly not least, we’ve got the official application for “Dix Hill” to be included on the National Register of Historic Places, filed by the State of North Carolina in September 1990. These applications are one of the most resource-rich sources of information available for weirdos like yours truly who want to dig deep into the long and storied history of a building or location. Despite owning a cherished copy of “Haven on a Hill: A History of North Carolina’s Dorothea Dix Hospital” we still found this application quite interesting. Here’s some highlights:
    1. Known at the time as “Dix Hill,” the-then 400 acre property was made up of 18 “contributing” buildings, one contributing site and three contributing structures. We may end up doing a post next week where we take a look at these 22 features and include photographs and information beyond what’s in this application.
    2. The three main architectural classifications of the historic Dix properties are Colonial Revival, Bungalow/Craftsman and Eastlake. We’d never heard of that third one, but apparently it’s part of the Queen Anne style of Victorian architecture.
    3. Back in 1990, the site served three main functions: health care/hospital, government/government office, and domestic/institutional housing. Of these, only health care and domestic were listed as historical functions.
    4. Of the many historic resources described in the document, our favorite was the lengthy description of the “Grove.”  Here’s an excerpt: “The notable grove of large oak trees forming a solid tree cover on the terrain ascending to Center Building inspired the name commonly used to identify the expansive landscaping fronting Dix Hill. The oaks and understory foliage of dogwoods distinguish central and western portions of the landscape, which cascades gently down to the flat, grassy swale of the large eastern ‘finger’ ending at the Umstead Drive entrance… From its center along Umstead Drive, the Grove offers the most dramatic view of downtown Raleigh.”


As today’s post was about twice as long as usual, we just want to say thanks & congratulations for making it all the way through. If you’d like to see a more in-depth write up on any of these or other Dix-related subjects (we are currently working on an environmental one and planning to do a listicle on the 22 contributing historical resources) just drop an email or leave a comment.

Raleigh at night as seen from Dix Park

James Borden / Raleigh Public Record

Raleigh at night as seen from Dix Park

2 thoughts on “Development Beat: Dorothea Dix Data Dump

  1. What makes the individual .pdf files so large is the embedded photos, which were already compressed as much as possible when they were inserted into the respective documents. There is nothing to be gained by compressing them again with WinZip, although doing so makes it handy to have one .zip file for download instead of lots of .pdfs.

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