Hanging out: Group aims to turn Coventry space into an outdoor living room

Anyone who has ever hung out at Harvey Pekar Park on Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights knows it’s a great place to gather in the warmer months, while getting some fresh air while seeing a show at Grog Shoppe, or to just sit and people-watch.

Over the years, the concrete risers edging the plaza have been a spot for informal gatherings of every kind.

Now, a group of Coventry Village residents, business owners, and community organizations have gathered to create a placemaking effort to turn Pekar Park into the neighborhood living room.

Coventry neighborhood resident Cole Ware and Coventry Village Special Improvement District (SID) executive director Mallory Kent want to increase the sense of community in the park and create a public gathering space to strengthen the vibe.

“We have relatively little outdoor gathering space in the commercial district, and I'd say the neighborhood overall,” says Ware, adding that there are benches scattered throughout the district.

So they’ve launched a $6,522 ioby (in our own back yards) campaign for The Coventry Living Room Project to create a space with benches, tables, and chairs; a stage for performances; a canopy for shade; and art that matches the neighborhood's identity.

Community members and businesses envision the Coventry Living Room to be a cozy gathering space where visitors can enjoy music, games, and good company. The space will also provide an informal venue for local artists, musicians, and performers to showcase their skills and entertain people. Ware says he hopes volunteers will help create art, keep the space clean and tidy, and organize community events.

“I think it's right for a little more space to simply have a meal you picked up from a restaurant, or just hang out and see your friends,” says Ware. “I think at a more sort of macro level, it's really about that sense of community and what we can do to further strengthen that.”

The Coventry Living Room Project aims to create a public gathering space that strengthens the sense of community in the Coventry neighborhoodThe Coventry Living Room Project aims to create a public gathering space that strengthens the sense of community in the Coventry neighborhoodThe Coventry Living Room is part of ioby/Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC) Match Fund—making the project eligible for up to $3,000 in matching funds from CAC.

The group has already raised almost $5,000 toward its goal, with almost $2,000 left to raise before Friday, May 19. The money will be used for a canopy, furniture, artist commissions and supplies, planters and plants, and other materials.

The group also received a $500 mini-grant from FutureHeights, Cleveland Heights’ Community Development Corporation (CDC).

Ware says they have several local artists already involved in the project, who will help create the living room look and feel. He says the hope is to create an energetic, vibrant gathering space that it has been in the past—citing eras when people would use the area as a skateboard park, hacky sack arena, concert venue, or was simply the place to hang out and be seen.

“Something that's come up in this process is the number of folks who've lived here over the years who have seen Pekar Park serve certain functions,” he says, “like folks talking about hacky sack that people would play out there, things like that. I think that's been something of an inspiration along the way, hearing stories of how folks used to use that space—probably a little more than it's used now. Not that no one uses it now, but that it used to be a more active space.”

Ware says they also want to help the businesses on the street thrive.  He estimates there are currently about 18 vacant storefronts in the Coventry SID.

"One small part of why we want to do this is to address vacancies on the street,” he says, adding that the impression leads to a negative picture of Coventry. “I think the narrative is usually a little bit worse than reality. People are like, ‘why is Coventry dead?’ I don't think that's a fair characterization, but there's certainly work we need to do.”

Ware says the Living Room will encourage people to spend time on Coventry and patronize the businesses.

“Things that get people out of cars to walk the street are good for business,” he says. “In some ways, this is really a project that will be good for the community and create that soft feeling of what the place is like, but more concretely in some small way, at least good for businesses on the street.”

Ware and Kent have been incubating this project for several months before launching the ioby project—hosting series of community design sessions with residents and local stakeholders to outline design principles for the project.

The group collectively decided that the Coventry Living Room should be an inviting, multifunctional community space with greenery, shade, art, and colorful elements that has extensive seating, including semi-private options. He says the concept of a living room just “felt right” as they discussed their vision.

“Particularly when we did our two community design sessions and folks came and helped us identify ‘what does a living room look like to you?” he recalls. “Essentially some of those design principles. which are on the [Coventry]SID web page, that became a little bit more clear and developed—things like having greenery and color; things like having shade; things like having a sense of safety or enclosure from traffic—but also [enjoying] everything going on around you.”

The ioby fundraiser runs through May 19. Ware says they plan to start constructing the Living Room immediately, so folks can enjoy the space this summer.

When the project comes to fruition, Ware says he thinks it will bring the people on Coventry closer.

“This is manifestation of a strong community,” he says. “I feel like is when people know who the folks are who live, work, and visit the neighborhood—that really develops a sense of camaraderie, safety, and trust. I think the foundation of solving any of the problems we have is having those connections.”

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.