parks 2.0: focus now shifting from developments to green space in between

If you ride your bike through the West 76th Street tunnel to Edgewater Park on a Thursday evening this summer, you’ll observe thousands of people gathered on the golden, freshly combed beaches hanging out, eating ice cream and dipping their toes in the water.  
With all of the development currently taking place in and around downtown Cleveland, one often overlooked aspect is the redevelopment of our city’s parks. As urban neighborhoods become more vibrant, so too are the green spaces. Urban planners are focusing their efforts on creating world-class public spaces that will complement the latest flurry of developmentYoga at Edgewater Live - photo Bob Perkoski“Improving green space and park amenities is crucial to continuing the momentum of downtown development,” says Michael Deemer, Vice President of Business Development and Legal Services for Downtown Cleveland Alliance (DCA). “If we look at peer cities, we’re all competing for talent and business. Increasingly, cities are realizing that quality of life amenities are needed to create a competitive advantage.”
In the past, Cleveland was better at building big projects than fostering the public spaces in between, Deemer says, but that’s changing. Three new or improved parks have just been unveiled this year: Scranton Flats, the marina at North Coast Harbor and Rivergate. At the same time, landmarks like Edgewater and Euclid Beach are being revitalized. Programming is a key part of the package, with a summertime calendar flush with marquee events like Wade Oval Wednesday, Walnut Wednesdays at Perk Plaza, and a brand new concert series at Halloran Park.
“Activating public spaces is key,” says Deemer. “It’s not enough just to build a green space and hope that people will come.”
Scranton Flats: A far cry from Moses Cleaveland’s day
The long-awaited Towpath Trail into downtown is four-fifths of a mile closer to completion. The $9 million Scranton Flats project, a new riverside park with a 10-foot-wide paved multipurpose path, opens up a fresh stretch of the Towpath Trail perfect for joggers, cyclists and strollers. Scranton Flats is located on the long-neglected Scranton Peninsula.
What some might not realize is that Scranton Flats is much more than a trail (although it certainly is a great trail). When the new Innerbelt Bridge is completed in 2016, the path will link up with Abbey Road, offering near-westside residents direct access to a revitalized riverfront. Already, downtown running groups can be seen populating the meandering path. 
Scranton Flats Ribbon Cutting Ceremony - photo Gabe FedorThe park is beautiful and majestic, a slice of the Cuyahoga Valley in downtown Cleveland. With the city skyline in the background, visitors can pause on comfortable benches and watch the freighters go by or observe blue herons as they fish. Signage outlines the remarkable recovery of the Cuyahoga River, which now boasts more than 50 fish species, up from just a handful a few decades ago.
This is the first major riverfront park to open in decades, with others to follow, including Rivergate and the public boardwalk currently being built at Flats East. The coolest feature of this park might be the “Scranton Spoon,” a public pier that juts out into the naturalized river, offering a wonderful vantage point.
By the numbers, Scranton Flats restores 3,000 feet of natural shoreline (bulkheads were removed, allowing residents to walk right up to the edge and check out the native flora and fauna), creates a two-acre fish habitat out of what previously was a decrepit marina, and converts nine acres of polluted land into meadowland.  
“The native meadows need time to mature, but in a few years they’ll be eye-popping,” says Tim Donovan, Executive Director of Canalway Partners. “We planned a number of aquatic plants along the shore. The fish habitat will promote spawning and migration.”
Donovan says that the natural shoreline could become a model for other parts of the shipping channel where the loading and unloading materials is not required. Although it’s expensive to remove bulkheading, the solution is a fairly permanent one, since natural shoreline doesn’t require ongoing maintenance.
Donovan adds that the Scranton Flats project, developed in an area that once housed property owned by fur trader Joel Scranton, should spur more reinvestment in the Flats. “When you put in a $9 million public investment, usually you’ll see the private sector follow that with their own investment. We’re anticipating that’ll happen in this case.”
Slip right into North Coast Harbor
A recent visit to the new 53-slip transient marina in downtown Cleveland revealed nearly packed quarters. A flotilla of boats had just made its way in from Catawba Island for a long weekend. Meanwhile, on dry land, a caravan of food trucks was getting ready to open for business. The reenergized venue now offers short-term boat dockage plus an outfitter that rents paddleboats, kayaks, paddleboards and jet skis. The dock is a floating structure with concrete cast decking, and there’s an attractive wood-clad public restroom.
Demand for slips has been high, Orlowski says. Previously, boaters who wanted to dock at North Coast Harbor could only tie up to the wall, a dubious proposition. Now they can dock their boats for a few hours or overnight and have access to water, electric and other amenities. They can also hobnob and scrub the deck while drinking coffee, which doesn’t sound so bad. 
Last weekend, the dock was 80 percent sold out. Labor Day weekend and the first two Browns home games already are completely booked. What’s crazier than muni lot tailgate parties? Rock & Dock tailgate parties, baby.
North Coast Harbor also hosts events like North Coast Namaste (a free yoga class) and Lunch by the Lake (a food truck event).
Rivergate Park: new dining on the old Cuyahoga
This new park was announced in 2012 when the Cleveland Rowing Foundation and Cleveland Metroparks worked out a deal to purchase the land, and it’s now beginning to bear fruit. Not only do hundreds of rowers make use of the docks each week, but this week the Metroparks is opening a new restaurant.
Merwin’s Wharf is a casual, full-service restaurant with a 3,000-square-foot riverside patio perfect for watching freighters and eight-man skulls go by. The facade has a rustic feel, with mosaic tile tables and stone seating, while the interior has a semi-industrial feel with exposed metal ductwork and concrete floors. Garage doors slide wide open, connecting the interior and exterior spaces.
According to Metroparks CEO Brian Zimmerman, improvements to Rivergate Park will be completed by early next year, adding another jewel to the Emerald Necklace. “This is really about connection to water, and it’s about placemaking,” says Zimmerman.
The new parking lot has been completed, but the public docking area and trail are not yet fully open. Visitors can still drop in kayaks here and classes from the Metroparks are also available. What’s better than floating down the Cuyahoga and learning about its history? Tell all your friends it’s no longer on fire.  
What’s on the horizon?
One of the key elements of the Step Up Downtown plan, which was developed by Downtown Cleveland Alliance to improve connections between downtown developments, among other priorities, is “identifying and eliminating barriers to pedestrian activity and bicycling traffic.” 
Rendering of cycling greenway along Rockwell linking Public Square to the MallsRenderings produced by the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative show, for example, a pedestrian and cycling greenway along Rockwell linking Public Square to the Malls.
Other major projects under consideration include a transformed Public Square, pedestrian bridge to North Coast Harbor, improvements to Willard Park, bike lanes on Huron and improvements to the Main Avenue Bridge, which is a barrier between the Warehouse District and Flats.

Based upon this ambitious plan, the next phase of downtown development will include even more emphasis on green space and connections between major developments and neighborhoods.

Read more articles by Lee Chilcote.

Lee Chilcote is founder and editor of The Land. He is the author of the poetry chapbooks The Shape of Home and How to Live in Ruins. His writing has been published by Vanity Fair, Next City, Belt and many literary journals as well as in The Cleveland Neighborhood Guidebook, The Cleveland Anthology and A Race Anthology: Dispatches and Artifacts from a Segregated City. He is a founder and former executive director of Literary Cleveland. He lives in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood of Cleveland with his family.