By Ken Alltucker
This article originally appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer on April 20, 2004.
A revitalized Fountain Square and Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine have the potential to pump new life into Cincinnati’s downtown core.
But local political and civic leaders must first determine what people want in order to create diverse, vibrant places with events and attractions year round, according to Fred Kent, president of New York-based Project for Public Spaces.
Kent spoke at an Over-the-Rhine Foundation luncheon attended by about 200 people. He Shared his observations on Cincinnati and dozens of other cities where his nonprofit group has helped develop plans for parks, squares, and other public spaces. Since forming in 1975, Kent’s group has offered advice on redevelopment of 1000 public and private spaces in a dozen nations.
Cincinnati’s public and private development interests are exploring design changes to Fountain Square and Washington Park. While no details have been made public, the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. expects to unveil preliminary renderings next month for its Fountain Square overhaul.
Kent said a key in turning around such locations as Bryant Park in New York or the Omaha waterfront is enlisting the help of city agencies and corporate leaders. Too often, municipal transportation and parks departments are narrowly focused on their jobs and fail to identify a mix of uses and attractions that help create and maintain a vibrant public space. Roads, shops, benches, and seating all must be inviting, he said.
Kent acknowledged that he hasn’t spent much time in Cincinnati, so his observations about the Queen City aren’t as detailed as other cities he’s studied. Nonetheless, he challenged the city’s civic and corporate leadership to make design improvements to Fountain Square and Washington Park.
Kent said it isn’t the sole responsibility of local government to make a place welcome and inviting. Private interests, too, must design office towers and campuses in a friendly setting.
He cited New York’s Rockefeller Center — one of his firm’s first projects — as an example of a corporate space that works well. His group recommended improvements such as a circular bench, paintings, and better signage to help revive the center’s retail offerings.
What doesn’t work in Cincinnati? “That Procter & Gamble fiasco” is a bad use of corporate space, Kent said, because it doesn’t have benches, seats, or other attractions for visitors.
“It’s the one (Cincinnati) public space that I put in our hall of shame,” Kent said of P&G’s Fifth Street offices.