Marc Lefkowitz | 11/14/07 @ 5:44pm
Tom Breckenridge's article in the Plain Dealer (Sunday 6/11) continues an important dialogue on efforts to revitalize Public Square. Advocates, such as Parkworks and City Architecture's Paul Volpe, agree that Cleveland's town square can and should be improved without having to spend a big chunk of change. They estimate it would cost every county resident $10 a year for a major enhancement of the square.
While the plans and costs bear closer scrutiny, Public Square is definitely a 'sleeping giant', as Councilman Joe Cimperman said. Is the city ready to wake up to its potential? We say yes - and not only because of Public Square's central place in city life, not just because tens of thousands of workers walk through it daily, but because it is a crucial, missing link between major developments in the Warehouse District and East 4th Street and the Euclid Corridor.
Critics include Cleveland Planning Commission chairman Tony Coyne who argues that resources are scarce and other big planning efforts such as the lakefront and the Flats are ahead of Public Square in priority. Indeed, the city has a lot on its plate, but Volpe's plan - and the need highlighted by Case students and Gund Foundation president David Abbott - present an opportunity to look again at our city center.
Maybe it's time to bring back the public-private partnership so vaunted in the 1990s 'Comeback City' campaign? It's important to remember that Public Square's revitalization will not require a heavy bricks and mortar investment, and could be financed chiefly through private investment.
Breckenridge's article spurred a debate at Cleveland.com's forum. Comments focus on the current state of cleanliness, homelessness, and the attendant ills of neglect in the square. "I'd rather my tax dollars be spent providing access to health care for the uninsured, as well as technological development of renewable energy sources," wrote one forum participant. "Corporate leaders in downtown get plenty of perks and pay almost nothing in taxes - let them fix up Public Square."
Tweaking the design of the square and improving the streetscape could be financed publicly. The Downtown Cleveland Alliance says it will raise $300,000 for some cosmetic landscaping, to be done later this year, and for Public Square planning, according to the PD. Cuyahoga County commissioners will cover half the cost, DCA director Joseph Marinucci said.
Other sources for planning and technical assistance could include RTA's "Transit Waiting Environments" (TWE) program and NOACA's Transportation for Livable Communities Initiative.
The key will be selling the benefits of a clean, safe Public Square to commercial offices, retail, hotels and residents surrounding the square. That's who can help pay for redesigning the quadrants of the square and for amenities such as vendor kiosks, a full-time employee to schedule programs, and for increased security crews and lighting. A nice example of this is New York City's Bryant Park, which, through major private investment, went from neglected and unsafe to a beautiful, clean and safe park.
The Downtown Cleveland Alliance (DCA) is making progress, getting businesses here to agree to tax themselves $3 million annually for five years to pay for street cleaning and security crews. The impact is being felt diffusely through downtown, but a concentrated effort is now needed for Public Square.
DCA is modeled after a similar, successful effort to revitalize central Philadelphia. Cleveland can take a number of lessons from Philly's Center City District where early momentum was built on the cleaning and safety crews. They included Make it a Night, a Wednesday evening promotion aimed at bringing renewed nighttime activity to Center City. Another important idea that the DCA can lift from Philly is initiating fee-for-service work outside the district's boundaries, providing employment opportunities for formerly homeless individuals and those making the transition from welfare to work. Read more about Philly's progress. Link (pdf 1.72 MB).
And then help think about what should go into a Public Square revitalization plan. Link.