Release Date: July 12,2017

Downtown Akron Partnership to improve Akron’s public spaces, increase city vibrancy with $1.5 million from Knight Fdn

Downtown Akron Partnership today announced a project to connect Akron residents to downtown Akron through improvements to public spaces with $1.5 million from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The project aligns with the city’s larger goals to build city vibrancy, encourage private investment, improve perceptions of safety and keep and attract talent.

Over the next two years, Downtown Akron Partnership will study, test and implement improvements to public space in key areas of downtown. The project builds on a “Public Space Public Life” study completed with Gehl Studio, the U.S. affiliate of Gehl Architects, a global leader in people-centered urban design. Gehl’s previous work reveals that the vibrancy of urban public spaces—greenspaces, sidewalks, streets—has a significant effect on city success. New development and retail, as well as actual and perceived safety, talent attraction and retention, sociability, walkability and property value are all affected by how public space is designed and programmed.

As part of the 18-month study, Downtown Akron Partnership worked with teams of volunteers and other groups to measure current use of public space and create prototypes to test how those spaces might be improved. Building pedestrian, cycling and social activity on city streets was further identified as a priority in both the Downtown Akron Partnership strategic plan and the Downtown Vision and Redevelopment Plan.

Based on this work, Knight Funding will focus on improving three key public spaces:

The Link: Creating a one-mile corridor for pedestrians and cyclists that will connect The University of Akron and Akron Children’s Hospital.

Cascade Plaza: Enhancing a key public park adjacent to new residential development.

Night Out at North High Street: Improving and activating the sidewalks around the North High business district to attract new activity and pedestrian traffic to the area.

In addition, Downtown Akron Partnership will work to scale up the current clean and safe services provided by Downtown Ambassadors, and expand the startup rent subsidy for new downtown retail businesses including the Northside Marketplace, while providing for marketing Akron’s downtown.

“In every study and stakeholder focus group that Downtown Akron Partnership has convened, participated in or assisted with over the last three years, we have heard a resounding desire to continue to improve downtown’s vibrancy with more people, more consistently in more places,” said Suzie Graham, Downtown Akron Partnership president and CEO. “This project moves us toward that goal, recognizing that public space has a leading role to play, as we continue the work to secure more jobs, increase housing options, connect employees to downtown activities, and improve infrastructure.”

“As Akron aims to create more opportunities to keep talent in the city and attract new investment, we must make it more of a city where people want to live, work and build their lives,” said Kyle Kutuchief, Knight Foundation program director for Akron. “Creating public spaces that improve downtown life and motivate people to explore and connect with their city is essential to Akron’s future success.”

The previous Gehl work included a survey of public spaces and public life, and helped define the current state of activity in Akron’s public spaces. The study sets the groundwork for devising a strategy to better connect Akron residents to downtown.

Support for Downtown Akron Partnership comprises part of Knight Foundation’s efforts in Akron to attract and keep talented people, expand economic opportunity and create a culture of engagement. Since 2008 Knight has invested more than $58 million in Akron.

Click here for Gehl, Groundswell and Better Block images of the focus areas and rendering concepts.