Raleigh’s Nash Square, A Lovely, Historic and Under–Used Downtown Park

Nearly all residents who live Downtown today report that they see Raleigh as lacking open space. This need is recognized by city officials within the 2030 Comprehensive Plan, yet it wasn’t always this way.

You might be surprised to know that Raleigh, like Philadelphia and Savannah, was one of the early American cities incorporating squares of green space in their original city designs.  Though Raleigh started with five squares, today only Moore Square and Nash Square remain.  

Here is the 1792 plan of Raleigh with its 5 squares.

So what happened?  In addition to one square that was lost to development, one is now home to the governor’s mansion and the other is Union Square, setting to the Capitol Building.  Moore Square has gotten some love by the city lately, starting with the redesign project now underway, but sadly, Nash Square has not received as much attention.  

And, Nash Square is slowly shrinking.  

Though Nash Square is about four acres today, it was originally closer to five.  Strips of the square were lopped off over time to create parking and additional lanes.   Green space was lost to accommodate increased vehicle movement.

See how the sidewalk in the foreground, and the sidewalk in the background don’t line up along the block edge.

Nash Square is an historical treasure, but there’s just not much reason to go there, even on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.  

You probably remember that first warm day in three months that came on February 21st this year.  It was a sunny 72 degrees, and many were outside enjoying what turned out to be a brief but welcome respite from the unusually cold winter months for Raleigh.  People were everywhere, but what about Nash Square?

Here are some photos taken of Nash Square in the afternoon on that first warm day of this year.  There was almost no one there. 










That’s because there are only two things to do in Nash Square.  You can sit on a bench and look at the plantings, or view memorials to the dead.   Neither are enough to draw people in for long.  

Let’s explore new ways to attract people to Nash Square.  

Remember, Raleigh’s plan was based on the Philadelphia plan, and Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia is one of the best used Downtown parks in America.  

Rittenhouse Square, PhiladelphiaUrban parks that are widely used have features that attract people to them, and have choices of things to do.

  • Movable chairs and tables help.
  • Food stands or a sandwich kiosk can attract nearby workers and families.
  • Fountains, games, festivals, and arts are also a draw, since they bring in children.  

We don’t know what the right combination is for Nash Square, but we have the opportunity to transform this underperforming space into a great park, and that promises to rejuvenate the area around it, as well.

This could be the future of Nash Square!

We invite your thoughts!  What would entice you to spend time in this historic section of our Downtown?  Would you be willing to allot tax dollars to make improvements designed to attract more residents to use this setting?


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Information and pictures in this article were included in a Citizen’s Petition presentation to Raleigh’s City Council on March 2nd, 2010 by Betsy Kane.  The Petition made the following recommendations:

  1. Involve the public in creating a vision for Nash Square.
  2. Make improvements to the park according to public input, involving all key stakeholders, especially area residents.
  3. Get expert help – for example, PPS Project of Public Spaces, a New York-based firm which did City Plaza.
  4. Some examples of possible improvements:  

  • Reintroduce lively ground floor uses in all the buildings that face the Square. 
  • Calm the 4-lane traffic on adjacent streets.
  • Add activities and features so there are reasons to go there. 
  • Create better connections between the Square and key places along its edges.



  1. Kimberly Siran

    March 29, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    Nash Square is one of my favorite spots in downtown Raleigh! The old oak trees are some of the most beautiful in Raleigh. Thanks for highlighting this park and the potential improvements that can make it even better!

  2. Christine Lewis

    March 29, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    We need either a playgroud or a water feature that kids can play in (like the fountain in Charleston.) It would be great to have something free that families could use anytime. People with kids are often looking for something to do earlier in the day before lunch. A playground would also be a great way to keep the kids busy while waiting for a parade, festival or IMAX show.

  3. allaboutdowntown

    March 30, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    The City recently added new benches and additional trees at Nash Square. The park really is beautiful during the Spring. If you haven’t been by that area in a while you may want to take a little stroll down and see it in full bloom.

  4. As the weather gets warmer, I think the trees and welcoming shade in Nash Square are going to prove their value. But I do think that there needs to be more to do in the park, maybe some picnic tables to welcome families and areas to throw frisbee, play catch, etc to encourage more activity. On another note, I’d love to see more activity in the green space between the legislative buildings on the north end of town. It’s such a big field.

  5. I would love to see music festivals and food kiosks there!

  6. Have there been any proposals to try and reclaim the one park that now has aging state government buildings on it bordered by Jones, Dawson, Lane and McDowel?

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