Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Tale of Two Public Squares

First, a reminder: Only two weeks remain to share your opinions and ideas about Seventh Street Park and the proposal for its restoration/re-imagining. Click here to access the online survey.

A reader recently informed Gossips that Cleveland, Ohio, is also contemplating a makeover of its public square--a ten-acre civic space in the center of a city with a population of about 400,000.

Public Square , Cleveland: 1907 | Shorpy Historic Picture Archive

Here's what Cleveland Historical has to say about Public Square:
Laid out by Moses Cleaveland's surveying party in 1796 in the tradition of the New England village green, Public Square marked the center of the Connecticut Land Company's plan for Cleveland. Since 1861, when City Council renamed it Monumental Park for the statue (later moved) of Battle of Lake Erie hero Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, Public Square has served as a site of public memory. A statue of Cleaveland was erected on the square in 1888 and on July 4, 1894 the 125-foot tall Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument was dedicated on the square's southeast quadrant in honor of Civil War veterans. In 1879, Public Square garnered international attention when inventor Charles F. Bush showcased one of the world's first successful demonstrations of electric streetlights there.
Cleveland is about to embark on a $30 million makeover of Public Square. The designer for the re-imagined Public Square is landscape architect James Corner, who collaborated on the design for the High Line in New York City and whose name is often invoked by Cathryn Dwyre, the creator of design for Hudson's re-imagined Public Square. (Corner was chair of the department when she got her Master of Landscape Architecture degree at the University of Pennsylvania.)

The Cleveland makeover includes a couple of elements familiar from what has been proposed for our own Public Square: an interactive water feature (the one proposed for Cleveland is a "splash zone" in summer and an ice skating rink in winter) and seating steps. The Cleveland makeover includes a cafe and an "event lawn," but it does not include a dog park or a "topo playscape."

The plans for Cleveland's Public Square makeover were presented in a public forum in June, and the work is expected to begin late this year. The goal is to have it completed in time for the Republican National Convention, which will take place in Cleveland in 2016.

Cleveland.com reported that when presenting the design, Corner cited the High Line, Millennium Park in Chicago, and Campus Martius Park in Detroit as "examples of ways that cities are creating compelling public spaces to encourage people to linger and businesses to invest." Corner is quoted as saying, "These are significant investments that aren't only beautifying, aren't only socially enriching and socially enhancing, but also will boost the economy of the city if not the region." (Just a few weeks after this statement was made, Detroit filed for bankruptcy.)

The striking thing about the plan for Cleveland's Public Square is that it seems so much simpler than the plan that has been proposed for Hudson's Public Square. Essentially, in addition to the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument, which has been there since 1894, this ten-acre public space has only three major elements: a water feature, a cafe surrounded by outdoor seating, and an event lawn.

The apparent simplicity of Corner's design for Cleveland's Public Square brings to mind that many people thought the improvements to Hudson's Public Square should be a matter of simply "editing" to make the space more like what it once was. Far from simplifying what's there, the design proposed rejects everything old and tries to cram too many elements of what is trendy and new in park design into our little half acre space.

There is an interesting irony about the two public squares. By the influence of wealth and privilege in the 19th century, train tracks run diagonally through the Public Square in Hudson. By design, buses will run through the center of Public Square in Cleveland. Judging from the posts that appear on the Facebook page Save Public Square, buses bisecting the square is what disturbs Clevelanders most about the proposed design.


  1. Nashville's Centennial Park renovation is another to consider: http://www.nashville.gov/Parks-and-Recreation/Planning-and-Development/Park-Plans-and-Projects/Centennial-Park.aspx

  2. Maybe a small area of the 7th St. Park could be rented for retail/restaurant to add to its attraction for public use.

  3. I love the Tea House Folly @ Luxemburg Gardens in Paris. A hexagonal building (i think) of all multipane glass - with a roof and finial to match - cozy