The Hot New Park at the Center of the Republican Convention

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The Hot New Park at the Center of the Republican Convention
© Bob Perkoski

Just in time to play a starring role in next week’s Republican National Convention, Cleveland’s most iconic civic space has undergone a $50-million face-lift.

Public Square, for the past century little more than an unpleasant traffic-clogged intersection at the center of the city, is again a park for people—six acres of swooping promenades lined with sinuous sculptural seating, lush gardens and a public lawn.

Designed by urban landscape guru James Corner, the guy behind Manhattan’s widely lauded High Line, the new Public Square, only a few blocks from Quicken Arena, will be one of the most visible public protest zones during the convention. Corner’s philosophy about urban open space has as much to do with promoting civic involvement and democracy as it is does recreation, which makes the timing of the convention all the more fitting. Members of the public are already signing up for half-hour speaking slots on the Square’s new public stage—nearly the same spot where in the 19th century famous orators like Stephen Douglas, Horace Greeley and Sam Houston, and William McKinley once spoke to thousands.

It’s the keystone of an ambitious effort to reknit the Forest City’s grand, Progressive Era public spaces, and one Clevelanders hope will solidify their downtown’s quiet renaissance. “We were certain that if something dramatic wasn’t done to improve our public spaces, we would not see the potential realized for downtown,” says Ann Zoller, executive director of the LAND Studio, a nonprofit that plans and designs the city’s public spaces and played a central role in the Public Square redesign. “And we didn’t want to just check the box, we wanted to do it at a world-class level.”

The remake of Public Square links the once moribund downtown with the city’s 26-acre mall— the grand, European-style civic space designed by David Burnham at the turn of the 19th century that includes the city’s grand auditorium, court house and city hall—and the Lake Erie waterfront beyond, long stranded behind rail and highway corridors. Reconnect these spaces, the idea goes, and you unlock their latent potential. […]