In our new office there are only two windows. They are floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall, and they provide the perfect lens for our view of a changing city.
When Cleveland Public Art and ParkWorks recently joined to form the new nonprofit LAND studio, we needed to define what our role in Cleveland’s future would be. The views from each of these windows, we soon discovered, provide the perfect frames to help define that mission.
Our western window faces bustling W. 25th Street and the Market District -- a true neighborhood center. And with the upcoming 100th anniversary of the West Side Market, the ripple effect from this storied landmark is reenergizing the surrounding commercial district, and is spilling out to the rest of the neighborhood.
To the east, our window provides a panoramic view of the Cuyahoga River Valley and, beyond that, the downtown Cleveland skyline. Whether you’ve lived in Cleveland your whole life or just arrived, the combination of nature, infrastructure, and industry knotted together by the wandering Cuyahoga River produces an inescapable and magnetic pull. And with the burst of downtown development taking place, the city center is reasserting its rightful position as the core of the entire region.
We are excited that our work has and continues to play a role in these places, and we see LAND studio’s role within this changing landscape as a simple one: To create places and connect people.
We believe that active, artfully designed public spaces are vital to the health of our city and its neighborhoods. One need only to look at the community park at E. 118th Street and Buckeye to see how a threadbare neighborhood street corner can be transformed into a point of pride and true center of gravity for a community. Or visit our recently completed Perk Park at the corner of Chester and E. 12th Street downtown. Left untouched since its inception in 1972, the gloomy park left visitors feeling they'd landed in a landscape-design time warp. A nice "retro piece," perhaps, but it also dimmed the promise of surrounding development while failing to meet the needs of a growing downtown residential population, which demands safe, beautiful, active urban spaces.
A stroll through Perk Park today, in stark contrast, would please both the urban and suburban dweller, while evoking images of equally compelling contemporary public places in New York, Paris, Chicago, and San Francisco. Continuing to lead successful projects like Perk Park is LAND studio’s reason for being. The park is also a taste of what’s to come for other public spaces in Cleveland if we continue to set the bar high, putting the best design talent to work on projects big and small.
And that’s precisely what's happening.
Several of the world’s leading landscape architects, urban designers and artists currently are dreaming up new visions for Cleveland's grandest public spaces -- from the River Valley to Public Square, from the Mall to the Lakefront. Add to that an impressive measure of global expertise presently reshaping University Circle and you're left with nothing short of a design revolution taking place in Cleveland. It truly is remarkable.
LAND studio will work to emulate the Perk Park transformation in all public places. In partnering with other organizations, we'll continue to bring together residents, landscape architects, artists, designers, and community leaders to plan, build, and activate these essential community spaces. And along with our partners at places like the Cleveland Urban Design Center and MOCA Cleveland, we will continue elevating the dialogue around the critical importance of good design to the quality of life and economic competitiveness of our region.
“Mind the Gap” is a phrase Harvard Graduate School of Design professor Alex Krieger lifted from the London Underground. In the "Tube," the phrase reminds people to pay attention to the space between the platform and the train. In city design, the term has been adapted to highlight the importance of connectivity -- paying attention to the spaces between buildings and places. Cleveland must Mind the Gap if it wants to fully leverage the investments being made with a new casino, Medical Mart/Convention Center, and Flats East Bank project. To keep these newly designed projects interwoven and attractive to people moving in, around, and through them, an organization needs to Mind the Gap.
This is where LAND studio’s unique position as a nonprofit with a focus on connecting people comes in. Working in partnership with Mayor Jackson’s Group Plan Commission, we are focusing our downtown strategy on leveraging these major investments by linking them together through well-designed streets and public spaces that draw people effortlessly from place to place.
Why is this attention to detail so important? There is a measurable economic multiplier effect that happens with bold public space investments. It happened with Millennium Park in Chicago and the High Line in New York. It also happened with St. Louis’s City Garden, Columbus’s Scioto Mile, and Cincinnati’s Fountain Square. All of these projects reaped huge dividends, including elevated property values and increased demand for residential, retail and commercial properties.
LAND studio, along with partner organizations who work day-to-day to improve the quality of life in our city, have been beating this drum and striving to make these connections for a long time. The good news is we no longer find ourselves tugging at the coattails of elected officials and business leaders for a moment of their time. It’s quite the opposite, actually. From the front page of the Plain Dealer, our mayor can be seen calling for the complete overhaul of Public Square to create a new green center at the heart of the city. The Greater Cleveland Partnership and corporate community are now actively engaged in assembling the funding strategy to make Public Square and other public spaces complementary to the big development projects taking place. The County Executive’s recent announcement of a $100 million urban investment fund to stimulate new development between Ohio City and Cleveland State University, and from the Innerbelt to the lakefront, also speaks to this positive momentum. It’s not just the big, sexy development projects making headlines; it's the public places in between that will truly connect residents in lively, meaningful ways.
Working with our partners and local leadership, LAND studio will focus on four areas that promise to reshape Cleveland’s future growth: Landscape, Art, Neighborhoods, and Development. If you’ve missed it, these four areas also make up the acronym for our new name: LAND studio. As we view our changing city through our two windows, it is the synthesis of these four areas that will help create great public spaces and connect the people of Cleveland.
Our future vision is to look out our windows and see no gaps.