What are Cleveland’s most iconic public spaces?

by | Dec 4, 2017 | Public Spaces, Parks & Recreation

Greg Peckham and Nora Romanoff from LAND studio giving EA the scoop on their work.

When you see the Space Needle you instantly know the photo is from Seattle, the same for New York City’s Central Park, Bourbon Street in New Orleans, and Chicago’s reflective Bean. These public spaces instantly give the viewer a sense of place. There is a busy non-profit in Cleveland, LAND studio, that is quietly working to ensure that the public places we all hold sacred are kept that way and are infused with beauty, art, creative events, and festivals. Below is more info about LAND studio and how they accomplish all this with a very small but talented staff.
But, we wanted to ask you: What do you think is the most iconic public space in NE Ohio? What photographic image instantly screams Cleveland or Akron to you? What public place in NE Ohio is so unique to our region that it could only happen here? We’ll share a follow up blog with results!
So, more on that LAND studio, which is responsible for so much of the landscaping and public art that make Cleveland’s neighborhoods vibrant. EA met with LAND studio’s Executive Director, Greg Peckham, and Senior Project Director, Nora Romanoff, to learn more about their goals, their work, and what’s coming down the pike.
LAND studio does everything from small-scale installations to the reimagining of Public Square. The group was formed in 2011 through the merger of Cleveland Public Art and ParkWorks. Both groups were focused on creating great public spaces and often worked together. The merger made great sense and has led to great success.
Today, LAND studio has four foci: landscape, art, neighborhood, and development (that’s what LAND stands for). It employs 16 people and is guided by a board of 26 of Cleveland’s community leaders. LAND studio’s mission is to create places and connect people through public art, sustainable building and design, collaborative planning, and dynamic programming. The organization operates on about $1M in contributed revenue and $1M in earned revenue. An EA staffer asked who starts the process of a public space project. The answer…the funding community is both generous and influential in our region. 80% of the projects are driven by philanthropy. Great cities have great public spaces. The philanthropic community of Cleveland understands the importance.

Flock installation. Photo courtesy of CrackingArt.

LAND studio wants the people of Northeast Ohio to be proud of Cleveland and enjoy their neighborhoods. They work with various local, national, and international artists, both established and emerging. About 60-70% of the artists involved in their projects are local. But, the more prominent spaces tend to have more international appeal, like the Flock installation as part of the annual See Also program.
Greg explained to us why great public spaces are essential to a thriving community. The Knight Foundation commissioned a three-year study, Soul of the Community, to figure out which factors attach residents to their communities and how community attachment impacts an area’s economic growth and well-being. So what connects people to their community? Social offerings, openness, and aesthetics rank very high, and that is LAND studio’s area of expertise. People need places to meet that feel diverse and welcoming, and they want those places to be beautiful and interesting. Landscape design and public art are crucial to our everyday happiness.

EA staff at LAND studio.

LAND studio has several completed and planned projects that ensure Cleveland will always be a place that endears itself to both its residents and visitors.
The world’s largest open air art gallery is underway right here in Cleveland. LAND studio has partnered with the City of Cleveland, the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA), NOACA, Anisfield-Wolf, and The Cleveland Foundation to transform the rapid transit line through a series of large-scale, artist-designed murals, installations, and experiences. INTER|URBAN will connect our transit corridor riders “physically, socially, and culturally to not only their surroundings but to some of the most important and difficult issues facing our society.” Anisfield-Wolf is the only American book prize focusing on works that address racism and diversity. Nineteen artists have been partnered so far with Anisfield-Wolf award-winning books to create public art based upon the artists’ inspiration from their paired books. This project will be a testament to Cleveland’s belief in social justice and tolerance.

INTER|URBAN. Photo courtesy of Brandon Shigeta.

LAND studio also has a programming component. They serve ten communities with over 200 community arts and crafts projects. They hire artists and teachers and provide hands on art access to residents in some of Cleveland’s communities unable to provide quality arts education. They accomplish all of this on a $25,000 budget. Impressive!
Along with city-wide projects, LAND studio also works on neighborhood specific projects. They believe the most effective pieces of public art must have a relationship with the neighborhood’s residents. Love Lunes Over Buckeye, a literary art project in the Buckeye community, is a shining example. LAND studio paired local spoken word poet, Damien Ware, with sign painting artist Alan Giberson and Little Jacket, a visual art firm. The Edgewater Hill Blue Birds and the Art and Soul of Buckeye Park are two other nice neighborhood examples. LAND studio believes that all neighborhoods deserve great public spaces. As Greg put it, “Great public spaces can complement development, attract investment, and change the narrative.”

Loves Lunes Over Buckeye. Photo and copyright by Lisa DeJong. Sept. 24, 2016.

LAND studio is also involved in some very high profile projects…
They are working on the Nord Family Greenway along with the city, the Cleveland Art Museum, the sewer district, the Doan Brook Watershed Partners, the Holden Parks Trust, the Cleveland Metroparks, the Fine Arts Garden Commission, and University Circle Inc. It takes a village to undertake such a great project! The end result will be both functional and beautiful.
They are also overseeing the international design competition for the Cleveland Public Library’s MLK Branch in University Circle. So far…over 330 architects, designers, etc. have downloaded the submission requirements. About eight firms will make the shortlist with three finalist being asked to submit firm proposals.

Irishtown Bend. Rendering courtesy of CMG, Michael Baker International.

Two of LAND studio’s most exciting landscaping projects include The Cleveland Foundation Centennial Lake Link Trail and the reimagining of Irishtown Bend. The trail runs through a repurposed railroad right of way along the industrial river valley in the Flats neighborhood and turns the right-of-way into a multi-modal trail and natural storm water management system. The Towpath and the Lake will finally be connected! The Irishtown Bend is a major restoration project that will transform the open space along the Cuyahoga River next to Downtown Cleveland and the Lake. The project will stabilize the hillside, which will provide a gorgeous greenspace, improve connectivity of near west side neighborhoods, and will serve as a hub for Cleveland’s trail system.

Perk Park.
Photo by Lisa DeJong

LAND studio has worked on so many of the great downtown Cleveland projects. The downtown population is on its way to its goal of 20,000 residents, and its residents deserve great spaces. Perk Park is one of those great spaces. The previous design was bleak and had too many obstructed views (not safe for a public park!). LAND studio guided this project designed by NY landscape architect Thomas Balsley and Cleveland landscape firm McKnight & Associates. The result is now safe, inviting, and well-used. It’s known for its famed food truck gatherings, Walnut Wednesdays, and live music.
Downtown is now home to over 1,000 children under the age of 14…that means that imaginative play spaces are needed. LAND studio is working on playground areas downtown, and the work will begin in 2018!
Most people are familiar with one of LAND studio’s largest and most impactful projects – the reimagined and reinvigorated Public Square. Eight years of planning transformed the previous, isolated quadrants into a single public park prime for events, programming, and public art. Public Square is now a true Cleveland destination. LAND studio worked with James Corner Field Operations (famous for the High Line in NYC), the City of Cleveland, Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, Donley’s, Nelson Nygaard, and 20 (yes, 20!) utility companies to create a $57M vibrant city hub. The result is an amazing economic catalyst. The area is lively and welcoming and full of some impressive art. LAND studio is managing LANDFORM, a public art program bringing temporary pubic art to Public Square, the Mall, and other areas of Downtown Cleveland for three years. Every time you visit downtown, there’ll be something new to see!

Public Square. Rendering courtesy of James Corner Field Operations.

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