We’ve had bad plans for Moore Square before that, mercifully, came to naught. So when the city announced yet another Moore Square renewal effort, suspicious minds went immediately to Defcon Uh-O. But let’s approach this from the other direction: If the participatory, juried & competitive process described by the Planning Department (first meetings June 17 and June 27; details below) works the way they tell us it will, it could produce a very good plan for Moore Square. And a good plan, if executed, would block all the bad plans from ever again rearing their ugly adornments.

(Excepting, of course, the acorn. And yes, ever is a long time, so make that any time soon.)

This, at any rate, was my thought after the kickoff press event yesterday with Mayor Meeker and landscape architect Rod Swink (disclosure: close friend) , and especially after talking with Trisha Hasch, the department’s lead on the project. Three things she said really registered with me.

First, parks and green space create equity in cities. Absolutely right, especially if your city is out to supersize itself with towers of condos.

Second, Moore Square is Raleigh’s best example of the first point. Historically, it’s been a communal gathering place for East Raleigh and West Raleigh, black Raleigh and white Raleigh, downtown Raleigh and neighborhoods Raleigh. Today, it’s at the center of every cultural cross-current in town. (The city put together a neat little summary of Moore Square’s past — did you know, for instance, that from 1865-71 African-American soldiers of the U.S. Army lived there in barracks? Highly recommended reading.)

And third, a juried competition like this is a first for Raleigh planning — and potentially is a huge step forward process-wise for a city that’s used to taking what developers offer and saying, “Gee, we wish it were better, but — move approval.”

Moore Square’s not a development, of course, but see if the process being used here couldn’t be more broadly applied: 1) It’s a strategic location, so 2) Get the public’s ideas about what makes sense and what doesn’t, and 3) Pass their ideas along to the planning firms and individual designers who’ve entered the competition (actually, they should be on hand to hear what the public says), after which 4) the competitors submit conceptual development plans — what? how big? sitting how on the site? — that are rated by 5) a jury of design experts and community leaders empaneled by the city, with the winner 6) used as the basis of a detailed site plan for, in this instance, Moore Square, but in future settings, perhaps for development around the TTA transit stops, or the Hillsborough-W. Morgan Street roundabout, or the redevelopment of the E. Martin-Haywood Street area, and so on. Or, the big enchilada if the state ever lets loose of at least part of it, Dorothea Dix.

The winner in this case gets $6,000, with second- and third-place awards of $4,000 and $2,000, respectively.

Now, I’ll grant you, there’s many a slip between the cup and the lip, mainly — you’ve spotted this already, I presume — who’s on the jury? If it’s a bunch like the Raleigh planning commission, dominated by people who either are developers or work for them, then the results may not differ greatly from the old process of drawing up small area plans and then watching city officials ignore them. But the small area plans were always so general as to be easily ignored. Conceptual site plans –with three-dimensional renderings — will be much harder to ignore; they also offer the prospect of actually reconciling developers’ goals (make money; is there another goal?) with the community’s aspirations in a more than “You suck. No, you suck” cage match. Especially if they’re considered by an impartial jury of our peers.

Back to Moore Square. It’s been every darned thing over its 200-plus year history. But in all of its permutations, it’s been the communal gathering space that William Christmas imagined in his 1792 plan for Raleigh — indeed, Christmas imagined four such squares equidistant from the Capitol grounds, and of the four, Moore is the only one remaining that is communal. (Nash Square, the other remaining square, is anything but.)

So what should it be going forward? What should it look like? The gathering of ideas commences formally Wednesday, June 17 at Marbles Museum (overlooking Moore Square), with the public invited to stop by between 4 and 8 p.m. A second session Saturday, June 27, between 12 noon and 4 p.m., will take place at the Chavis Community Center, 505 Martin Luther King Blvd. Light refreshments at the first, a light lunch at the second, if that helps.