This article is part of a weeklong America 360 series on Raleigh.
RALEIGH, N.C. — For decades, a monument to the 1950s has shimmered in the woods due northwest of Raleigh, an enduring tribute to the time when cars were king, suburban living was the idyll, and the fruits of American invention seemed limitless. At the time, the Research Triangle Park felt as futuristic as Tomorrowland, the largest corporate research park in the world, stretched across a campus half the size of Manhattan. Giants such as IBM sent thousands of employees here, transforming this region of North Carolina so dramatically that the area is named for it. "It changed our culture and our destiny," says Bob Geolas, the chief executive officer of the park's foundation. "It changed the way we thought of ourselves."
The park remains the world's largest, but so much of that world has changed, has passed it by. And now it is looking to adapt to a present with wildly different values, one that cherishes urban spaces, entrepreneurship, collaboration, and, well, high-grade coffee. "We have 7,000 acres," Geolas says. "And you can't buy a Starbucks anywhere in this park."
The campus remains home to more than 170 companies — along with IBM, they include GlaxoSmithKline, Syngenta, RTI International, Credit Suisse, and Cisco. But the place retains the feel of a suburban mall that lacks not just a Starbucks but aso an Applebees, much less a Panera Bread or a Sweetgreen. There is no retail. There are no residential units. Compared with the booming start-up tech cultures in the downtowns of Raleigh and Durham, where residents are surrounded by brewpubs and cafes, it's in danger of coming off as a relic of bygone days.