Bring your ideas

The city is hosting two open houses so regular folks can have their say about Moore Square. The first “open call for ideas” is Wednesday, June 17, from 4-8 p.m. at Marbles Kids Museum, on the north side of Moore Square. The second is Saturday, June 24, from noon-4 p.m. at the Chavis Community Center, 505 Martin Luther King Blvd. Work tables will be stocked with plenty of sketch paper, along with maps and historic images of Moore Square.

In 1792, when William Christmas laid out the plan for a new capital city of North Carolina, he put the government square in the middle and four public squares equidistant from it, one in each quadrant of Raleigh. The one in the southeast quadrant was named for Revolutionary War leader Alfred Moore.

Of the public squares, Moore Square has been the most used, and the most interesting, over the two centuries since. Its four acres have been home, at one time or another, to churches, schools, army barracks and one of the early city markets, according to a brief history compiled by Raleigh’s public affairs office.

It also was a place where white Raleigh and the African-American community of Southeast Raleigh first engaged. The small Baptist church that stood on the north end of Moore Square from about 1822 until 1860 was racially integrated. Following the Civil War, African-American soldiers of the Union Army were housed on Moore Square until 1871. In the first half of the 20th century, Raleigh’s thriving “Black Main Street” functioned on its perimeter.

Today, Moore Square is essentially open space, the only one of the original four squares that continues to function as a public gathering space amid the towers of downtown Raleigh. But the various concerts and beerfests held there have beaten it down some; and with the new City Plaza due to open this fall on Fayetteville Street (purpose: concerts with beer), city leaders wonder what Moore Square’s third century should entail. At the least, they think, the square needs some sprucing up.

A few years ago, a Moore Square makeover pitched by the city’s parks and recreation department (and featuring a giant center stage) was properly buried after an avalanche of public opprobrium.

Now, the city planning department is taking a different tack: It’s asking the public what we want.

The department last week announced a design competition for planning professionals and students, with a top prize of $6,000. (Second and third: $4,000 and $2,000, respectively). Submissions will be judged by a five-member jury aided by Raleigh design consultant Rodney Swink, former president of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

The juried, public planning process will be a first for Raleigh, and could serve as a model for future “placemaking” efforts around the city, department officials say. The winning submission will serve as the basis for a post-2010 Moore Square makeover if the statestill the owner of recordand City Council approve.