Sunday, June 18, 2006

"Public" Square

Cleveland's Public Square has time-over been re-landscaped, re-aligned and re-designed. Within the last few months, a new proposed design to address the under-utilized city center (which incidentally is listed among the Project for Public Spaces "16 Squares Most Dramatically in Need of Improvement") has been quietly revealed in university studies and on local message boards. On Sunday, June 11, this design proposal made its first big appearance accompanying an article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Still waiting for public outcry and some sort of reaction from the design community...

Here's one response to Sunday's article by Tom Breckenridge "Civic leaders envision revitalized Public Square" below. It illustrates only one of many problems with "influential voices" advertising a severely mediocre re-design of Cleveland's Public Square:

A revived Public Square would best contribute to the rebirth of Downtown Cleveland. However, a process by which the public is expected to pay millions of dollars, yet be excluded from any planning or design decisions would be folly and betray the intent of a truly "Public" Square. To best achieve a successful Public Square, we must involve the citizens of Cuyahoga County as much as possible.

Under the leadership of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance, in cooperation with representatives of local design advocacy organizations, a series of public forums should arrive at a program of goals and uses for a new Public Square. These forums would culminate into an open competition for the design of the Square. A competition would promote a comprehensive vision to join parts of the program, encourage the best in design, and give the appropriate amount thought and public involvement to make Public Square successful for the next 200 years.

Architect Paul Volpe's sketch and the ideas of "influential voices" is enough to advance the
cause for a redesigned Public Square, but alone lacks the public participation for the creation of a Cleveland "Public" Square that residents today and subsequent generations will be proud of.

In case you were wondering, there's no word so far from the local architecture critic.


Blogger Philip Astor said...

I wouldn't expect too much from Mr. Litt beyond condescending dismissal. One can look at various historical ideas for Public Square to see that Mr. Volpe's design is not unique in its utter banality and the reasons to reject it.

Let's face it, Moses Cleaveland and his surveying party were probably a poor choice to layout an excellently planned city and they didn't have the vision necessary to foresee their city's huge growth and then emaciation in the late 20th century. Since the creation of Public Square, it has likely never been quite right, though as a single commons used as a cow pasture, it might still work.

From the large rotary envisioned during the construction of the Cleveland Union Terminal; the sunken "International Square" of the mid-century; to Volpe's recently proposed closing-off of Ontario and Superior during certain hours, there have been repeated calls for Public Square's reunification into cow pasture. Any such scheme merely redirects the thru traffic to the edges, making the center even less accessible to pedestrians and the passage through Cleveland's center more irritating and depressing for motorists. Only tunnelization of the through-streets offers the real possibility that we might take back our commons from the automobile.

Contrary to the PD's claim that the square is only used by the public for orchestra concerts and christmas lighting ceremonies, Public Square has been the site of hangings, political rallies, native American pow-wows, etc. The streets have even been closed on occasion by the highest authority of civil direct action - without need for permission by the city government or police - but the PD would rarely, if ever, acknowledge these sorts of activities. Apparently, Volpe and the PD would rather see Public Square administered and completely programmed and controlled by restauranteurs, traffic police, and ice skate rental concessions. Nevermind the homeless and panhandlers.

Somehow, Tom Johnson's "Free Speech Steps" have been taken from us off the NW quadrant, as has the large Rostrum off the NE quadrant. We've lost the comfort station in front of Higbees and have retained only the horrific Victorian pile exceeded in ugliness only by the other obnoxious memorial column at University Circle its design seems to have inspired. Ironically, the individual parts are uniquely beautiful and moving, but taken together, they form troublesome and hideous memorials to traumatic and profoundly changing events in our collective and individual histories.

I don't have great confidence that public participation alone will result in a good design, though it might produce the parameters for a design competition. I agree whole heartedly that we need to resist large public expenditures in implementing anything as dull as Volpe and Zoller's recent vision. Imagine taking green space from our square, and building a restaurant on it, which would be in direct competition with one of the few restaurants still functioning on the Square - so that neither would have an adequate clientele for a sustainable operation! - Incredible! - Reckless! and could such a stupid suggestion really be serious?

11:48 PM  
Blogger Bradley said...

Good points...

I agree that Public Square "has never been quite right." Intersecting roadways made for interesting solutions for each of the quadrants, Soldiers and Sailors, Free Speech Steps, ponds, fountains and bridges, but Public Square has never adjusted the scale of its public space accordingly to the size of its City (instead we see the scale of its roadways change).

Also, until convinced otherwise, I still believe that the only good solution is some combination of tunneling and perimeter roadway... let a competition reinforce this or show me otherwise.

12:25 AM  

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