Sunday, May 30, 2004

Make square a walking nexus

Corridors should not just be for access, but treat visitor to rich visual experience

By Gil Born
Guest columnist

Fountain Square is a pedestrian space in the heart of the community; but clues to its purpose and function come from beyond its immediate location. Think of the square in two ways: 1) as a point of destination, and 2) as a place of interaction between many points of destination.

All proposed improvements should enhance the experience of the user as pedestrian.

First among the improvements should be freedom of movement. Consider desired lines of movement between destinations and how they originate or intersect at Fountain Square: Paul Brown Stadium, the Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Great American Ball Park, the convention center, the hotels, the Aronoff Center, the Contemporary Art Center, the Taft Museum, residential locations, office buildings, shops and restaurants, parking garages, etc.

Open up passages of access to and from the square to these locations and make them clean, safe and as free from physical barriers and vehicular traffic as possible. These passages should use existing streets and alleys, but should also pass through existing buildings wherever possible. (The Carew Tower arcade is a good example.)

All of these corridors of access should provide a rich texture of visual experience in the form of small shops, displays, landscaping, small gathering places, lighting and unexpected features. The square itself should offer the best of these experiences, flowing into and through the surrounding buildings and reflecting the rich diversity of the city's 50-plus neighborhoods.

Respecting the Tyler Davidson Fountain as the center, the surrounding open space should remain grand in scale, but should become more densely furnished with pedestrian-friendly amenities that:

• Engage all the senses and encourage exploration.

• Introduce colorful displays of flowers, statuary and information.

• Provide places for impromptu performances (music, dance, etc.).

• Provide another water feature and the chance to splash or wade.

• Include comfortable places to sit for large or small groups.

• And of course, offer many food and beverage options.

In addition to the fountain, include formal markers of civic pride in the form of flags, banners and information kiosks.

Consider also a state-of-the-art information system. I can imagine, for instance, a JumboTron-style visual display of images and information featuring regional events and timely messages - rapidly changing and intelligently scripted. The use of a ribbonlike format wrapping around the space as in Great American Ball Park might be effective on Fountain Square, but this needs careful integration with the rest of the square and its architecture.


Gil Born is a professor emeritus of industrial design at the University of Cincinnati's College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning. He has a bachelor's degree in industrial design and a master's degree in community planning.

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