Old news by now in the architecture community, but Cleveland has hired the firm that built Greenville’s "Liberty Bridge" to create a community-building element for Cleveland’s downtown-on-a-comeback. Liberty Bridge is not only the largest pedestrian suspension bridge – with a curved walkway – in the U.S., but it’s what ties downtown to the Reedy River and Falls Park into a unique mid-sized urban experience.
Okay, Greenville is a small town. There are about 50,000 people who live within the city limits, and the surrounding area claims half a million residents. So, what’s this small town doing setting a precedent for the likes of a large city like Cleveland? It works. It’s original. And the idea was thought not to work at all, and end up as a waste of $4.5 million.
Of course, the idea that’s least likely to work is the most likely to win.
We’ve been reading so much on what it’s going to take to revive downtown Detroit. And, of course, we’re watching Cleveland with a keen eye. The one consensus I can find is that most people agree that creating a “thriving” downtown is the savior – of Detroit, the suburbs, and even the state of Michigan. I can tell you from living in Greenville for almost six months now that this model has serious potential, for both Cleveland and Detroit.
Let me explain a little about Greenville. Anyone who left in the mass exodus in the 1970’s remembers Greenville as a dying dump. And the 80’s didn’t help matters, with the mass building of strip malls and indoor malls built just outside of the city limits. In the past few years, many Michiganders have migrated to Greenville – the closest comparison for Greenville in the 70’s and 80’s is Pontiac on its worst day.
Most of the local literature credits a forward-thinking, revolutionary idea:
"In 1990, landscape architect Andrea Mains introduced the concept of transforming the park into a regional attraction, with beautiful public gardens and a pedestrian bridge."
"The park" is Falls Park, which sits on the banks of the Reedy River. Liberty Bridge spans this river right smack in the middle of the downtown area. The result? A Thanksgiving tradition that is now ingrained for my family… after the huge turkey feast, we meander downtown and walk the Liberty Bridge, admire the river’s falls, and take a picture of the boys in front of a tree whose roots are exposed, creating a natural work of art.
And, more importantly, a place for people to visit downtown that doesn’t cost a thing. There’s no admission fee, and the park is noticeably absent of anything to buy. Entertainment is provided by the river, the boulders on the banks, open green spaces, and the lush gardens. Every summer a volunteer group of thespians produces free Shakespeare performances. Yet, should the consumer in you rear its ugly head, there are coffee shops, stores and restaurants just up the steps.
I’m setting a vision for Cleveland with this post. Yes, Cleveland, you, too, can have a walkable downtown with things to do. Yes, people will visit, once they know its there. Detroit, you, too. You’re next. Campus Martius is a great place to start, but it’s still an island. The key with Falls Park is that it shows up just as you’re strolling from one place to the next. There’s no car ride, no shuttle or cab necessary to get there. It’s there, where you already are.