Re-Introducing the Historical Record

Print More

I stood in City Plaza, surrounded by thousands of other people, as Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips walked out over the crowd in giant, man-sized bubble.

Confetti shot out of air cannons and rained down on the screaming crowds below.

I had never seen anything like this before, nor did I expect it in downtown Raleigh. But here it was, the closing act of Hopscotch Music Festival 2011 and it was incredible, beyond words.

Ben McNeely

Right then and there, I felt a vibe, a warmth, I hadn’t felt a long time, like I belonged to a place larger than myself.

I knew I had to get back to this place, for good.

I left Raleigh in May 2005, after graduating from N.C. State, and headed west, first to Stokes County, then to Charlotte, a young, smart-ass, headstrong, idealistic newspaper writer trying to make it in a struggling industry.

I felt what I was doing was important — more important than anything else.

I was doing Journalism, with a capital J, and in its most fundamental form: In the backyard, the community.

While I was wandering with my work, I never forgot Raleigh. It was always in my heart and soul. I would come back and visit, to see old friends, to relax and renew. And every time I would come back, something new had popped up.

Raleigh is not the same city that I left seven years ago. Back then, Fayetteville Street was still a pedestrian mall and downtown languished, a place where lawyers and defendants mingled outside the courthouse.

At closing time, downtown was deserted, as everyone who worked in the high-rises retreated to their tree-lined suburbs outside the Beltline.

Now, Fayetteville Street is the centerpiece of a revitalized downtown, the heartbeat in the City of Oaks.

Cities are living things. They grow, evolve, change, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. And Raleigh, ever on top of Top 10 lists of great places to live, has national prominence.

People want to come here, to live here, to be a part of it.

But with change comes growing pains. Neighborhoods that have been in neglect are being revitalized, but with that comes tension brewing underneath the surface. And with change comes a strong desire to wipe away the old and start anew.

Charlotte tore down its old buildings to make way for a cosmopolitan downtown (which they call Uptown), freeways and sprawling suburbs.

Raleigh, though, is conscious of its heritage and where it came from. It takes passionate people to conserve historic buildings and execute thoughtful urban plans that are sustainable, profitable and contribute to the urban landscape and lifestyle that Raleigh exudes.

But there is a lot to do, still. Wake County and Raleigh struggle with the same issues any city in America does: Transportation, infrastructure, public education, economic development and more.

In a lot of ways, these issues are nothing new. City leaders a hundred years ago grappled with building roads, building and tearing down buildings, and displacing people all in the name of Progress.

In order to move forward successfully, you have to be mindful of the past. And that’s what the Historical Record will do.

History is not just about places and events; it’s about people.

I’ll explore the places and events that shaped Raleigh’s history and will shape its future, but it’s the people who make those places and events come alive.

Without the People, a city is nothing but buildings and streets.