Perk Park / Walnut Wednesdays

Designers: Thomas Balsley Associates, McKnight and Associates, LAND Studio | City: Cleveland, OH | Project Type: renovation
Date Visited: 09.19.12

Location: E. 12th St and Chester Ave, Cleveland, OH
Size: 1 acre
Cost: $3 million renovation
Official Opening Date: original: 1972; renovated: Fall 2011

Originally designed as a sunken park by I.M. Pei and constructed in 1972, Perk Park slowly deteriorated into a site of urban blight as years went on. Though plans for the park renovation were created in 2003 by landscape architecture firm Thomas Balsley Associates, it wasn’t until February 2009, when a murder occurred in the park, that the city began to raise enough money for the new park’s construction.

Now Perk Park is a vibrant social hub in the middle of downtown. The contemporary design features earth berms, bright red trellises, a grid of light wands, and a variety of unique seating options, perfect for people watching. For safety, Perk Park has been elevated to become level rather than sunken, and eliminates previous sight-line barriers. When I visited, I made sure to go on the best time of the week: lunchtime on Walnut Wednesdays.

Walnut Wednesdays is a special Chow Down event sponsored by Ohio Savings Bank and the Downtown Cleveland Alliance that features live concerts and a gathering of some of the best food trucks on a side street next to Perk Park. This summer event occurs every Wednesday from 11:30AM to 1:30PM and can attract crowds of downtown workers up to 200+ people.

Food trucks are apparently, according to a local I spoke to, a successful and integral part of Cleveland’s food scene. Ever since my short stay in Portland, OR in 2008, I’ve become a huge fan of food trucks and naturally fell in love with what I saw at Walnut Wednesdays: a variety of food trucks stacked on both sides of a side street next to a great urban park. I ordered a Vietnamese Bahn-Mi sandwich with pulled pork and daikon coleslaw and it was delicious.

I arrived at Walnut Wednesdays towards the end of the event and missed the bigger crowds, but there were still many people eating lunch at the park. The park is divided into two major spaces: forest and meadow. The shadier forest area features a selected existing trees from the site replanted atop mounded landforms. The sunnier meadow section features a large grass plane with a single oval-shaped mound. A bright red trellis runs along the length of one side of the park with metal swivel seating. An egg-shaped event pavilion carved out between the “forest” and “meadow” for band performances also features an engraved poem by Catherine Wing.

The park is considered a huge success amongst the eyes of local, so long as its clean and maintained. I saw all kinds of people in the space: dog walkers, families, office workers, and even a class of college students studying public spaces come to the space. The area is still surrounded by office vacancies, but hopes are that the success of Perk Park will attract retailers, restaurants, and businesses to the surrounding area.

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