Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Square Re-Envisioned

It's probably pretty obvious by now that I love our great city and its history, which is why I hate to see deterioration and neglect (more often than not, caused by the automobile) in once-thriving spaces - especially locales with original "walking Squares" (something rare anymore in today's world)... like Mt. Lookout Square.

I've been so familiar with the area for so long - passing by almost on a daily basis - which is why it
frequently bothers me. So, in an effort to contrive an outlandish solution, I took a couple minutes to overhaul the place with some pens and markers.

• • • • • • • • • •

One can argue that Mt. Lookout is already a hoppin' spot - and I'd concur, having once lived right on the Square - but in reality, it's just a ring of businesses around heavy traffic, which encloses more traffic & parking... a Square for cars. So, just think how much more attractive it would be to remove the (roughly) 30 parking spots in the middle of the mayhem and replace it with some greenery and human beings - a central gathering point for the local inhabitants.

Well, "the board" beat me to the punch. Check out these renderings of the recently-proposed greenspace from Vivian Llambi & Associates:

This is a great treatment - streamlines the space, adds plant life, and pulls in that incredibly-important central gathering point. Still, what if there was a little more money to throw around...

Two things missing in the above renderings that I think are key: (1) It really begs for a central post - a fountain, a statue, a clock tower... something tall to define the square, the history, to mark the spot, for example...

Hyde Park Square has a historical fountain as its central marker.
The fountain receiving its bath before the winter shutdown.
Photo taken on 9/25/9.

...and (2) needs a way for people to access the area safely. The square is the heart of the Linwood/Delta intersection, which makes it crazy busy (via motorists regularly ignoring their speedometer), and thus, sometimes overwhelming for pedestrians...

Crossing the street safely is nearly hit or miss at Mt. Lookout Square.
Photo taken on 9/25/9.

So, in an effort to answer these needs, I thought it'd be fitting to give the square everything listed above... and more!


I first scanned through existing online pics of the Square, which were surprisingly few and far between...

So I decided to go down and take some pictures of the surroundings from the angles I needed...

It was a good thing that I scouted out the area firsthand, because I noticed a conflict with my "central clock tower" idea - one already exists on the corner of Delta & Linwood, near Chase Bank and Mount Lookout Tavern... in deference to that original structure, but still in keeping with my new plan, I decided to nix the clock and just pay homage to the area's name by making a larger tower with an overlook atop.

Anyway, after doing all of this and conjuring up my incredulous proposal (sans paper), I floated the idea to others, who loved the concept, but balked at the assumed expense involved in actually creating it.

Blindly ignoring that, I started on the development, and built up
a reference database from online sources...

...then did some quick sketches of the central tower & fountain...

...and then moved on to some more detailed sketches of the whole park...

To provide more accuracy, I then used Vivian Llambi's "Final Conceptual" overhead plans as a template for my ideas...

...and wrapped up with a quick draft of the final concept:
Concept for Mt. Lookout Square.
Note: Some changes here from the prior sketches.
I also deliberately skewed the perspective to showcase everything clearly.
And... not my best work, by any means - I ignored the ruler and was pretty
loose with the surroundings - but I think it gets the point across.

I originally thought it would be cool to have all of the things seen above: Catwalks above street-level to provide safe access, leading to a stairway through the middle of the tower - up to the top (a small overlook), and down to the bottom park area.

The south side of the park would be greenspace anchored by a fountain, and the north side would have greenspace anchored by a small stage with canopy. Tiered, permanent seating would also abut the tower's north side (kind of reflecting the Serpentine Wall aesthetic, but faced in brick), to aid in viewing stage performances/events or just act as casual seating.

The monumental central tower - also housing restrooms and storage/office space (for the Parks Dept. or community events) - would have an overlook space for casual pedestrian use or to house lighting/cameras for formal stage events.

Pretty ambitious, huh.

In heed of the cost and lack of space, here, in lesser form, are some other quick drafts...

Other ideas for Mt. Lookout Square.
(1) Solo tower without tiered seating, baths, office, and bridges,
and (2) solo catwalk with tiered seating.

I kept the end anchors (stage and fountain) but just reigned in the tower, which would be the most costly part of the project... but in actuality, maybe not, considering the money in Mt. Lookout these days.

And in retrospect, the design probably should've reflected the original shape of the Square, with half-rounds echoing each other throughout. Something like this...

Concept for Mt. Lookout Square (Overhead-edited).
Anything not in color is ground-level.

Lastly, the overarching concern surrounding all of this is, "Where is everyone going to park?".
Answer: I don't care.

It's a square for pedestrians in that neighborhood - people living there should walk to it, not drive. And if people visit, it's not a big deal to park a couple of blocks away and actually use their feet from there - that's pretty common for other current events that take place in the area anyway. I'm assuming the
Mt. Lookout Community Development Corporation (MLCDC)
and Vivian Llambi feel the same way... or maybe they're hoping for the second coming of a streetcar line to one day aid in their efforts.

Anyway, it's just a thought.

• Thanks to the excellent reporter and progressive Cincinnati advocate, Randy Simes, over at UrbanCincy for the news and images. Also check out his corresponding article on soapbox!.


CityKin said...

Wow this is fantastic stuff.

I don't agree with the bridges. Yes it is really cool and fun to draw, but in real everyday use it is better to keep people on the street level and calm the traffic enough so they feel safe.

Jeffrey Jakucyk said...

It would be interesting to see Mt. Lookout Square become more than it is, or has ever been. It was never an esplanade like Hyde Park or Oakley Squares, originally the Delta Avenue streetcar line ran through the middle where the parking is now, so it's always been kind of messed up.

The thing is, esplanades are generally not particularly pleasant places, being surrounded by traffic on all sides. Without a huge amount of landscaping, benches, fountains, elevation changes, etc., like you see at Hyde Park Square or Piatt Park downtown, they basically become useless green space like Oakley Square. With the terrible traffic on Linwood, I wonder if maybe the better solution would be to shift the roadway all to the west side of the square. That would leave enough room for a real square on the east side where all the restaurants are. It gives lots of positive outdoor space accessible to the businesses that would benefit the most from it, instead of splitting it all up and isolating it in the middle of a sea of traffic.

This is basically what they did to Fountain Square decades ago. By diverting 5th Street all to the south, it allowed the fountain to become a focal point for a large pedestrian space, rather than a landmark isolated on a small traffic island.

COAST said...

OMG you've rediscovered the skywalk. You will now be forever banished from new urbanist circles.

CityKin said...

I like J.J.'s idea of shifting the whole square, but feel the esplanade could work if the traffic is sufficiently narrowed and the crossings maybe slightly raised with different pavings helping to slow the cars for the safety of the pedestrians.

Matt Hunter Ross said...

Thanks for the feedback everyone.

COAST, I don't hang out in New Urbanist circles, so I'm safe there... but I do agree with you and Mike that Skywalks are a detriment to maintaining a vital streetlife. And although I do actually miss the Westin bridge that used to cross 5th St. downtown, the concept that I came up with for Mt. Lookout just has bridges used to cross the street, nothing more - they don't lead to businesses on either side, so you would be forced back down to the street level eventually... so I don't think they would actually be considered Skywalks. Actually, the only reason I thought of bridges in that location is because immediately across from where I put the central tower, there are huge "driveways" on either side - room for stairs coming off the raised walkway.

Anyway, yeah, Jeff is correct about the whole esplanade thing - you really have to make it special to make it some desirable for pedestrians to actually use on a daily basis - though, I do kind of think this also might be a reflection of the neighborhood's inhabitants as much as the landscaping. Still, that's a great idea, to move the Square completely over to one side...

Still, bridges will never be built there, obviously, nor a tower or a stage, etc. This was just all for fun. Yet, the traffic there really is overwhelming due to the crossing of those major roads, and I'm not sure speed bumps or anything else would relieve the mess.

Lastly, I have some other concepts for other parts of the city coming soon. Stay tuned!

Radarman said...

One more thought. East siders would have a terrible time understanding the concept - they generally stopped trying new concepts in elementary school - but Mt Lookout Square could and should be the first place the city tries out the concept of no traffic markings whatsoever as it is practiced in the Netherlands and some British cities. Without lane markers, traffic lights, stopsigns, or even sidewalks, pedestrians and motorists share equal status and negotiate their progress. It works well and it removes tons of visual clutter. But educating those Hyde Park SUV drivers....

Anonymous said...

Sometimes you just need eye-candy/a landmark - it gives an identity and referrence point an area. Some people will actually use it some won't. I pass Hyde Park Square all the time but have only been on it maybe five times in my life. I always think fondly of it - it's what I think of when thinking of Hyde Park.

Avondale had the opportunity to build a completely new square on Burnet between Forest Avenue and Erkenbrecher Avenue. Yes, a major undertaking, but a worthwhile investment. The boat was missed there. That stretch of Burnet is becoming just another street with buildings on each side - like everywhere. Avondale could have used a new identity - helping it and its beautiful housing stock to be rediscovered.

Great ideas, Matt, Thanks for sharing. (VLA's plan was rather boring).