Q&A with Leo Suarez of The Raleigh Connoisseur

Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh. (Photo by Leo Suarez)
Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh during Capital City Bikefest in September 2014. (Photo by Leo Suarez)

Leo Suarez is a blogger and a server engineer in Raleigh, North Carolina. He runs The Raleigh Connoisseur, a blog that focuses on the city’s downtown. In this interview, conducted by email, Suarez discusses the blog’s origins and purpose as well as his thoughts about downtown Raleigh.

Q. What is The Raleigh Connoisseur, and what inspired you to start it?

A. The Raleigh Connoisseur is a blog that focuses on new developments and the planning of downtown Raleigh. There are two perspectives that I take with it. The first consists of things that I see from walking the sidewalks while the second has a more civic angle that follows City Council and committee meetings. The two perspectives usually complement each other through the writing and photos that I post.

After being pulled into the online conversations and news articles about downtown’s Fayetteville Street makeover in 2006, I couldn’t get enough of it. There wasn’t enough content online to feed my hunger for urban development chatter in Raleigh.

I found myself talking about it so much in front of friends and family that they saw me as a downtown know-it-all. At the time, I was looking for a platform to post photos about downtown, and a blog seemed natural. The writing slowly grew around the photos and almost nine years later, I’m still posting.

Q. There’s a lot going on in downtown Raleigh. How do you decide what to write about?

A. lot of it revolves around any changes I see taking place while just being in downtown. If a sign for something new goes up, I’ll check it out. If something is removed, I’m curious to know why. When something is out of place or can be done better, I’d like to know how it can be improved. Walking the sidewalks does inspire topics that you can’t get while being at home or in an office.

If anything does stick with me for a few days, that usually means it’s something I want to put into writing. In some cases, a single photo can tell the whole story without that many words, so the camera is an important asset too.

Q. Where do blogs like yours fit into the media landscape in Raleigh? How do you complement and contrast with larger news organizations like WRAL and The News & Observer?

A. I want the blog to be more about conversations rather than news. Conversations involve more than just what is happening but why it’s happening. This can also be mixed in with a little history and data. Trends and the analysis of them are what I think is missing in the Raleigh media landscape.

I think that larger news organizations are experts on answering, “What is going on?” but haven’t mastered answering, “Why is it happening?” Data, history and personal experiences are what I’m trying to bring into the blog in order to allow readers to step back from an issue and really understand it.

Q. You’re a fan of downtown Raleigh. What are some of its key accomplishments and issues, and where do you see the city going from here?

A. Downtown revitalization projects are happening all across the country, and the city has done a good job of ensuring that our downtown is ready to meet today’s demand of businesses and residents who want to be there. I’m happy that the city recognizes downtown as a key ingredient to the overall city’s success and takes time to plan appropriately.

I do think the city is heading in the right direction, but I’m worried that we’re following the standard “downtown revitalization playbook” that all other cities are reading. I haven’t seen strong leadership come from the city council on how to make urban Raleigh unique.

When we face a new issue, like parking or noise, we always look to other cities for the answer rather than create a solution that fits Raleigh. I’m not saying we discount what other cities do but soon, as Raleigh keeps growing, new leaders need to take us to the next level where we think more independently.

Follow Leo Saurez on Twitter and learn more about him on his personal website.