CLEVELAND, Ohio – Public spaces in downtown Cleveland are greener, more plentiful, better designed and more attractive than they were a generation ago, when gray was the primary color and concrete the material major.
But the city still has a long way to go before it competes with peer cities that offer coordinated, well-scheduled, and promoted outdoor events that are scheduled year-round through licensing processes that facilitate fun.
That’s why the Cleveland Foundation has partnered with Destination Cleveland, the city’s convention and visitor bureau, and the Greater Cleveland Partnership, the region’s chamber of commerce, to determine how to take advantage of the eight parks and plazas the largest in downtown Cleveland.
“We have beautiful spaces,” said David Gilbert, President and CEO of Destination Cleveland. “We just need to make better use of it and make it easier to use.”
Civic organizations and the foundation are launching an online survey Monday at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/H859CRZ asking Clevelanders what improvements they would like to see in the way the city uses downtown public spaces.
The survey is part of a larger effort to capitalize on the tens of millions of dollars invested in downtown public spaces over the past decade. The foundation and its partners brought together a working group of nearly 30 civil servants, urban planners and cultural leaders from companies and associations to find solutions.
The public space group is led by Gilbert, Baiju Shah, president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Partnership, and Lillian Kuri, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Cleveland Foundation.
Their group engaged Cleveland-based Strategy Design Partners and urban planning consultant August Fluker, an architect, to report on best practices employed by Cincinnati, Detroit, Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Seattle.
By fall, the group should be ready to come up with solutions that could restart downtown public spaces by next summer, Gilbert said.
The survey focuses on North Coast Harbor, Downtown Malls, Public Square, Perk Plaza, Settler’s Landing, Canal Basin Park, Star Plaza at Playhouse Square (also known as US Bank Plaza) and Eastman Reading Garden of the Cleveland Public Library.
All eight spaces have seen dramatic improvements over the past few decades, many thanks to projects involving some of America’s most acclaimed landscape architects and public artists.
The Cleveland Public Library saved its Reading Garden in the early 1990s after public outcry over plans to enclose it in a new east wing. After redesigning the project, the library designed the east wing as a separate building and renovated the garden with a pond and fountain designed by Maya Lin, designer of the highly acclaimed Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Perk Park at East 12th Street and Chester Avenue, formerly known as Chester Commons, was renovated in 2012 after a nearly decade-long struggle to raise $3 million by the nonprofit ParkWorks, which has merged with Cleveland Public Art in 2011 to form LAND Studio.
The park’s renovation, designed by New York landscape architect Thomas Balsley, has helped boost occupancy of surrounding offices and apartments. That success, in turn, helped convince the city, Cuyahoga County, corporations and foundations to commit more than $50 million to renovating the plaza in time for the Republican National Convention in 2016.
The convention and recent NFL Draft, held on the downtown lakefront next to North Coast Harbor, highlighted the ability of downtown parks and public spaces to accommodate large crowds and large-scale events.
Yet Cleveland is still playing catch-up in the design, management, programming, and day-to-day licensing of daily events.
The city-owned Mall B, which also serves as the green roof for Cleveland’s Huntington Convention Center exhibit hall, “is a beautiful space, but it’s empty most of the time,” Gilbert said.
Additionally, event planners do not have it easy when it comes to obtaining permits for concerts, festivals or other gatherings.
“He tends not to be very user-friendly,” Gilbert said. “You have a lot of different organizations running these spaces.”
To boot, there’s no central website functioning as a clearinghouse with calendar information about what’s happening where and when.
Public Square has its own busy calendar of events at clevelandpublicsquare.com. Perk Park aficionados are used to hitting up the food trucks on Nut Wednesdays, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame hosts outdoor concerts during the summer in its plaza.
More could be done, Gilbert said, to centralize information about these programs so that the public — including out-of-town visitors — have easier access to information.
A necessity, not a luxury
Improving the use and programming of downtown parks makes powerful economic sense at a time when the downtown is trying to increase its population, said Michael Deemer, president and CEO of the association with purpose. Downtown Cleveland nonprofit and member of the Park Planning Group.
Public space is more important than ever as an incentive for more residential construction and for employers to bring employees back downtown after more than two years of remote working caused by the coronavirus pandemic, he said. -he declares.
“We’ve made great strides in transforming downtown from a 9-to-5 office environment into a mixed-use neighborhood with a population of 20,000,” he said.
“Before the pandemic, we were talking about reaching 30,000 [residents] by 2030,” he said. “We must do everything in our power to reach this threshold as soon as possible. This is even more important now, given the uncertainties about the future of work.
Deemer said the city shouldn’t emphasize big events at the expense of routine, everyday ways to enjoy the city’s outdoor spaces.
“Big events are good and enjoyable,” he said. “You need them and they have a role to play. But to make downtown special and engaging, and to make it the place people really want to be in relation to the virtual experiences they have at home, you have to keep it fun, quirky, and interesting all the time.
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