NYC High Line Designers Turn Their Eyes to Downtown Cleveland

How do you revitalize a downtown area that’s become a ghost town? With a stunning new park.

Thread from 200 Public Square

If you’ve ever been to Cleveland, you know the downtown area is a forbidding, pedestrian desert. The main public space, Public Square, is no better–it’s a wind-scarred, 10-acre expanse flanked by skyscrapers. But that could all change, thanks to a series of brilliant redesigns proposed by James Corner Field Operations, the firm best known as the landscape designers who did much of the heavy lifting for New York’s superb High Line Park. FO has sent Fast Company a look at the specific proposals (more on that below).


The economic rationale is that big, splashy public amenities are actually huge drivers of long-term real-estate values, attracting surrounding investment (just look at Central Park in New York, or, more recently, Millennium Park in Chicago). Though the plan has yet to secure any funding, the idea is that investing up front in the design might spark public interest and widespread support. (Compare that approach to the horrible job Calgary did marketing a new bridge by Santiago Calatrava.)

Created at the request of two Cleveland non-profits, Parkworks and the Downtown Cleveland Alliance, Field Operations’ schemes are all about joining together a patchwork of paved islands, and turning them into a cohesive park, amenable to walking and relaxing. And that’s a challenge: How do you draw a hodgepodge of spaces together? FO hit on three basic strategies:

Three Strategies

And here’s how those strategies look. The frame:

Frame from 200 Public Square
Fame Axonometric

The forest:

Forest from 200 Public Square
Forest Axonometric

And the Thread (full rendering seen at the top of the post):

Thread Axonometric

In a presentation to Parkworks and the Downtown Cleveland Alliance, that third scheme, the Thread, was the break-out winner. With a biomorphic ramp that would rise 20 feet above the roadway below, it would give people “new and unique perspectives of the city, much like the High Line…creating a spectacular, one of a kind public realm” according to an email from Christopher Marcinkoski, the design’s project manager.


Next step: In January, the proposals will be shown to the public, in a town-hall meeting.

[For more about Ohio’s history of encouraging cutting-edge architecture–including a bold new building going up now–check out this post.]

About the author

Cliff was director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.