I wonder if Meeker wakes up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, heart bursting out of his chest, screaming, “Moore Square! Moore Square!”
After all, downtown revitalization is Chuck’s legacy. That and his revealing running shorts (Like Harry Caray said, “If you got good wheels, show ‘em off”.) But mostly downtown revitalization. And if you look back at everything that’s gone up and gone down in Raleigh over the past decade, it’s pretty impressive. But if you’ve been in Raleigh more than a minute, you know that Moore Square hasn’t changed. It’s still the State Capital’s capital of homeless folks.
Yeah, the restaurants may change, bigger acts may come in to play Downtown Live, Exploris/Marbles may change names and focus every so often, but Raleighites know Moore Square because of the people who inhabit it, for good or bad. When the momentum really gathered and the convention center was on the rise and Fayetteville Street was getting another make over, I wondered if our city fathers would find someway to clean out Moore Square, just for the sake of a revitalized and presentable downtown.
They haven’t and I don’t know if it’s because they couldn’t or didn’t want to. Couldn’t has to be a big part of it. Moore Square is surrounded by agencies that exist to help the homeless. Raleigh Rescue Mission, the Women’s Center, and the Salvation Army are literally across the street. Throw in the Good Shepherd Soup kitchen a few blocks over, the Wake County Men’s Shelter just down Wilmington Street, plus the bus station and yeah, you’re going to have a lot of homeless folks hanging around.
I hope some of it was that they didn’t want to clean it out. Moore Square and its people are as much a part of Raleigh as Char-Grill at this point. I’m glad we haven’t found a way to sweep them aside into a dark corner of the city. Moore Square is an intersecting space, where every walk of life, every background income level , whatever subset you want to name, can coexist, even for a small amount of time. Just the fact that the professional class can walk the park without fear of getting jacked and the homeless can sit on a bench all day without getting rousted is pretty cool and something that should be celebrated.
I know some folks who spend their lives working with the homeless, and they get pretty passionate about how it’s a crime that in an affluent society like ours, you still have homeless people. I see that point. But I also see those agencies busting their asses to do what they can to help. And I also see church groups and college kids and just ordinary people out at Moore Square on the weekend, passing out sandwiches and hotdogs, just taking time to have a conversation with these men and women. So yeah it sucks that people are in that boat. But there’s something powerful about the response our city has to it.
When I go to visit friends in Chicago they always tell me put on my “city face” so we won’t get approached by the bums. You know, set your face, avoid eye contact, don’t acknowledge the presence of another human. I never think about that when I’m around Moore Square. It feels like Raleigh’s front porch to me. You can put aside class and income and all the artificial dividers we invent to try and maintain identity, and just be who you are.
So I don’t know if Meeker feels like Moore Square is a missed opportunity or not. But let me go on the record—thanks for not messing it up. Revitalization and gentrification can feel so fake, so contrived. Thanks for letting Moore Square continue to operate as the natural outgrowth of a real city and real people.
P.S. -The only thing we have to worry about now is some jackass coming up with an idea for Moore Square that utilizes the adjective “World Class.” Like “Hey, everybody , we can build a world class aquarium and become a major tourist destination.” For some reason that “world class” moniker gets everybody worked up around here. Don’t lose your heads, people!