Forget four square, let’s just have one

by hhf3

The heart of downtown Cleveland is, to me, Public Square. The city’s three tallest buildings front on to the square. Large civic events like the Cleveland Orchestra’s 4th of July concert are held here. It also functions as an enormous transit station, with bus stops on pretty much every side of each of the squares.

Public Square

The four squares of Public Square. Image credit: Green City Blue Lake

But this is a weakly beating heart. Remove the bus stops and I’m not sure you’d have much of a reason to go there. It mostly seems to function right now as a place you stop on your way to get somewhere else. Sure, you could go visit the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, but does anyone else aside from me find that building to look intimidating in its current setting? I guess you could sit out on the benches, but you’d be serenaded by the guy with the speaker preaching or have bums ask you for money.

That, and it should really be called Public Squares. The heart of Cleveland is bisected by two roads. Four almost unusable squares – four little isolated islands – with some one-way streets and some two-way streets with buses everywhere. It’s confusing in a car, and scary on bike. It’s a pain to walk across/around. But what do you do with a such a weak public space?

This is what you do: you bring in the big guns: the designers of the New York City’s gem High Line Park and the innovative Fresh Kills Park: James Corner Field Operations.

And this is why you bring them in:

One of the proposed new designs for public square. Image credit: Fast Company

The best I could personally come up with was a roundabout (it is clear I am not cut out for landscape architecture). There’s a reason why they brought in the best and brightest to tackle Public Square. Look at the rendering! A softly flowing showpiece park! The Soldiers and Sailors monument finally looks at home. My only concern is how it would function for all the bus lines that have stops here. Aside from that, I love this proposal. It looks appropriate, and the biomorphic shape softens the hard edges of all the buildings and roads. This looks a place in which one wouldn’t mind hanging out for a bit, maybe even pass the afternoon on a blanket with some cheese and bread from the West Side Market. The Downtown Cleveland Alliance and ParkWorks were right to invest upfront in design. This really captured my imagination, and I hope it captured the imagination of all of Cleveland. This city deserves good design, and should demand it. Especially in its heart.