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Connecting Cleveland's pieces into a Central Park

Marc Lefkowitz  |  10/04/11 @ 4:00pm  |  Posted in Transform

The greatest cities of the world have some common traits. They are vibrant by design and they seem to effortlessly connect civic centers buzzing with street life to places where it's possible to escape the hustle and bustle.

Open green space right in the heart of your city more often than not creates pathways to memorable experiences. If you need proof, what images are conjured when we mention Chicago's lakefront trail (and Millennium? Park) and Barcelona's city beach?

Closer to home, Cleveland's new Group Plan Commission is in the midst of rethinking access to the Lakefront (and the Flats) via the city center in ways that liven up the corridor between the classic Malls and Public Square. The Malls were designed by Daniel Burnham more as grand statements or a hoped for grace of St. Mark's Square would imbue Cleveland with an everlasting excitement generator. But today they are cold spaces, mausoleums to an era when men in suits and straw hats strolled women in confining skirts and cloaks pushing prams.

The new Group Plan Commission ran a lengthy public process recently, producing recommendations for a Mall makeover that shows a Euro-inspired mix of leafy green and cobble stone hardscape (see image above). Smartly, they show a Mall bisected into smaller spaces that include fields and some impossibly mature rows of trees. While it will take years for trees to grow to this height, the Malls are already being shaped by the Med Mart, which will tilt their surface on a slope and introduce new lighting, hardscape-in short, it is the real project and, as such, subject to budgetary considerations that are already widdling the pretty pictures down to size somewhat.

Still, the Commission is looking for how to program and make the downtown greenspace and connections compelling with help from the creatives at Kent Urban Design Collaborative and the newly merged Cleveland Public Art and Parkworks-and with the blessing of the corporate community. CPA and Parkworks have a recent track record here with the Verdant Walk exhibit on Mall B and the Public Square Redesign project.

This video produced by Graham Vecsey for the Group Plan explains the vision and issues a call for the community to post its ideas to the project leaders. Should the Mall have an ice rink, a water park, a playground or all of the above? Should the back lanes and underused service streets surrounding the Main Library (i.e. Rockwell and E. 3rd) get a complete makeover as pedestrian promenades and green bike ways that better connect what would be Cleveland's Central Park with its (currently underwhelming) Public Square? You can contribute your ideas here.

· We have word that some members of the new Group Plan Commission would like to start piloting street revision ideas in the downtown core. A germ of an idea is taking hold there for a Better Block project similar to the one that Dallas and now Ferguson, Missouri are taking to transform moribund commercial districts with creative temporary uses. A Better Block project in downtown Cleveland could be just what the city needs to enliven conversation and renew interest in the streets surrounding the commission's charge. We'll keep tabs on the effort, and report back when there's an opportunity to participate.

· From the announcement of Cleveland Public Art and Parkworks merging to form a single organization, LAND Studio (LAND stands for Landscape, Art, Neighborhoods and Development):

For more than a decade, CPA and ParkWorks have worked both individually and collaboratively to transform Cleveland into a more vibrant, beautiful place. Our joint efforts have energized the Mall in downtown Cleveland, revitalized school playgrounds, contributed to the revival of lower Euclid Avenue, and led to the redesign and rebuilding of Perk Park. These joint projects have produced results that either organization would have been challenged to achieve individually. The success of our combined efforts has led us to envision a new organization that will expand the work of our parent organizations in scope and saturation and take a proactive role in leading the development of Cleveland's built environment.

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