Transforming Cleveland’s Public Square

If you ever come to downtown Cleveland, you know that Public Square is a bit dodgy.  One of my close friends is literally afraid to walk across Public Square at night because of the characters that line up along its four quadrants, waiting for buses (or not) while cars whiz by.  Even during the day, the people who spend quality time in Public Square are homeless.

And this is the focal point of our city.

But things are changing.  Hopefully.  Tonight, at CSU’s Maxine Goodman Levine College of Urban Affairs, local nonprofits ParkWorks and Downtown Cleveland Alliance are hosting an interactive public forum on three designs for transforming Cleveland’s Public Square.

The three proposals will be presented by James Corner, urban designer and landscape architect with James Corner Field Operations and the Kent State Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative. The forum will provide an opportunity for participants to view the plans, ask questions, share their ideas and discuss ways to make Public Square a gathering place connecting Cleveland’s downtown.

Transforming Public Square: Three Strategies for Enhancing Cleveland’s Civic Core

January 21, 2010 (today)
5:30 – 7:30 PM
Cleveland State University, Maxine Goodman Levine College of Urban Affairs Atrium (1717 Euclid Ave)

Additional information on the proposals is available the Downtown Cleveland Alliance’s website.

To see the designs, 

The three concepts below are all different designs for unifying what is currently four disjointed islands.


The concept involves framing the square with a giant frame measuring 55 feet high and 40 feet thick.  The frame would be covered in vines, creating a green wall around the square, and would make an opening around the Soldiers and Sailors Monument.  The frame could provide a built-in platform for solar-powered lighting and could encompass overhead walkways, running tracks and viewing areas for concerts and performances.  Traffic would pass unimpeded on Ontario Street and Superior Avenue.


This concept calls for closing Ontario Street and creating two large rectangles filled with trees native to Ohio, including maples and oaks. A large clearing would be established on the northern rectangle, creating an area for concerts. The southern portion would feature fountains and gardens.


This proposal would erect a manmade hill over the intersection of Superior Avenue and Ontario Street, with four main slopes rising from the four quadrants of the square. Pedestrians could climb the hill, rising 20 feet above street level.  Areas below the structure could include bus stops, public restrooms, newsstands and coffee shops.  This proposal is by far the most popular with the 34-member steering committee for Public Square.

Financing the Project

To be perfectly honest, there is no current financial support for this project.  But ParkWorks and Downtown Cleveland Alliance have made the bet that by showing people what it could be, they can rally public support and funding to make it happen.

Although projects of this nature are by no means inexpensive, the long-term value that they add to a city (think of Chicago’s Millenium Park or NYC’s Central Park) could easily outstrip the upfront cost. 


History and loads of international case studies have shown that investments in public spaces can trigger substantial increases in property values and development.  Because people go where there’s a nice place to enjoy life and businesses go where there are people.  Basic economic development.

So let’s go to this public forum and show support for the idea that we can transform the vital center of our city into one that we’ll want to spend time in.


5 thoughts on “Transforming Cleveland’s Public Square

    • You know, Jake, that is an excellent question. Homelessness, poverty and racism will most likely still exist in Cleveland even after we build a nice park in the middle of it. That’s why we need a structural support system for people in and on the edge of poverty and we need housing and job training programs for the homeless.

      None of these issues are at all easy to conquer as a city. I recently attended a city hall meeting in Fresno, CA that was attempting to respond to the issue of homelessness while they are re-designing their inner-city with Stimulus funds. To talk more about what I learned there, I’m going to write my next post about inner city homelessness, so stay on the lookout for that.

      Thanks for reading and hope to hear from you again soon,

  1. So how did the forum go?

    What were people’s reactions?

    I’m sorry I couldn’t make it – I like the first one – the frame – as it’s easiest to implement – and I especially like the idea of a running track, viewing area for concerts and an infrastructure frame (for lighting, etc.)

    What did other people think?

    • Hey Marc,
      How’s it hanging? The forum went really well and I actually filmed most of it, which I will be posting soon. In terms of responses, the person running the forum asked the audience to raise their hand for the concept that they liked the best. The first two concepts – the forest and the frame – got a few sprinklings of hands, but the last concept – the thread/hill – got an overwhelming majority of support.

      Apparently, it wasn’t only the forum audience that liked the hill idea. It was also the most popular with the project Steering Committee. According to the designer, this is likely the most popular alternative because it is the most distinctive, it leaves the streets intact, and it allows for the most amount of play/recreation space. Plus, people can walk in a diagonal across the intersection, which is what everyone really wants to do.

      One comment that I was especially fond of came from a woman who suggested that this project of transforming Public Square could be done in phases. For instance, we could start with the frame idea, since it is the simplest, and then we could gradually build it out to the thread/hill idea. Once that is done, most people voted that they would actually like to close one of the streets, adding to the available park space. Neat idea.

      Anyways, I’ll post footage from the forum soon and you can see the whole thing for yourself,

  2. I like the “Forest” concept. Though interesting, the “frame”concept clashes with the surrounding architecture ( belongs in an area such as Erieview plaza/ CCC/ Cleveland Clinic/ some corporate park/ etc… ). Besides, the southwest quadrant gets little direct sunlight – a precious commodity in Cleveland – and you don’t want to add to the “shadow”! Blocks views as well. As for the “thread” concept; it’s like trying to “squeeze” Central Park into a much too confined area – it needs “openness”. It also looks out of place like you’ve dumped a hill between some buildings. Again, it blocks views. Keep with the “classical” approach which is what I believe the “Forest” concept comes closest to being. Think: Trajan’s forum in trees, or, a giant English garden with the surrounding buildings as the walls. In summary, keep it in theme with the surrounding architecture.

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