As many metropolitan areas around the Midwest begin to reap the benefits of a downtown resurgence that has graced cities from Cincinnati to Chicago, Cleveland plans to turn its lackluster Public Square into a 10-acre park in the heart of downtown.
James Corner Field Operations, Cleveland-based LAND Studio, and transportation consulting firm Nelson/Nygaard have designed a plan to close a two-block section of Ontario Street, a major thoroughfare, and leave Superior Avenue open only to buses. The site is currently four squares, segmented by Superior Avenue and Ontario Street. The proposal hopes to unify them thematically and spatially beyond the closure of Ontario Street.
“Public Square at this point is a means to an end,” said LAND Studio senior project director Nora Romanoff. “It’s just not very pedestrian-friendly at all.”
In the design, tree-lined pathways and grassy hills weave the square together. The programming aims to make it a true civic space. Dedicated spaces, such as “Picnic Hill” and “Speakers Terrace,” complement space for kiosks, cafes, and ice-skating.
In Cleveland, downtown development has gathered considerable momentum since the 2008 financial collapse. The city’s mall is getting a facelift, and recent developments include a massive new medical mart and convention center, a casino, and downtown residential and hotel developments. In early June, Cuyahoga County and the City of Cleveland announced another $360 million for planned development linking Public Square with the lakefront.
While redevelopment efforts in the 1990s failed to produce the public interest that comes with a true civic renewal, planners today are focused on parks and cultural experiences. The designers of Public Square hope to unite citywide development gains, stitching together a lively downtown with a leafy civic space.
“We’re trying to optimize all of these catalytic projects that are happening around Public Square,” Romanoff said. “If we’re doing our job right, absolutely this is a park that spurs all of these other things that have nothing to do with the park, but at the same time have everything to do with the park.”