Lytle Park’s New Design: An Exercise in Gentrification

If you were to design a park in order to be absolutely sure that nobody – no families, no lonely people, no artists, no Frisbee throwers and especially no poor people – would ever linger or use it as anything other than an attractive sidewalk between office buildings and the Taft Museum, what would it look like?  Would it look like this?


This is the new design created by the Cincinnati Park Department after one-on-one discussions with executives from Western & Southern Financial regarding their plan to convert the Anna Louise Inn into a luxury hotel and adjoining restaurant.

Neighbors in my condominium started to attend Park Department public meetings about the Lytle Park renovation almost ten years ago.  They expressed their concerns on the importance of a central green space to increase the physical and social flexibility of the park.

This is how the new design measures up in terms of the non-landscaped lawn:

Existing Lytle Park:  Hardscape 36,548 SF Planting 18,654 SF Lawn 73,105 SF  – 91,759 SF  of landscape
Original 2008 MP:   Hardscape 42,646 SF Planting 36,515 SF Lawn 48,157 SF  – 84,672 SF of landscape
2015 MP Update:   Hardscape 47,154  SF Planting  61,082 SF Lawn 19,568 SF  – 80,650 SF of landscape

After taking public concerns into consideration the Park Department has reduced the open lawn space by 73.23%. There’s a big increase in hardscape (that’s what we call pavers, I guess).  And plantings have more than tripled. 

Where will moms spread a blanket on a pretty spring day while they watch their kids play?
Where will dads go to teach their boys how to toss a ball?
Where will they put the tables for a Dinner in White?
Where’s the lightweight, movable furniture for friends to gather and talk – or that can be moved into place for a story-telling event under the stars – or to listen to a little jazz trio do their thing?
Where’s the bocce court?  Or the chess boards?
Where will the dogs play?
Where’s the jungle gym and slides, the kinds of fun, imaginative stuff they’ve been putting into the new parks down by the river?
Where’s the outdoor reading room and the public art?
And where the heck is our herb garden????  The one the neighborhood has been planting and taking care of for years? (note: my neighbor showed me there is room for the herb garden in the new design! – see below)
What would ever attract anybody who doesn’t live or work here to spend any time in this park?

For the first couple of years after my husband and I moved into our condo at Park Place at Lytle, I would occasionally see people who weren’t rich sitting in the park.  There was one man in particular I used to talk to on a regular basis as he listened to baseball games on a small transistor radio.  Then one night a couple of cops on bicycles flashed across my path in the dark as I was out for a stroll. My friend was taking a leak over in the bushes and it was almost like somebody had been waiting for it to happen.  The next afternoon he waved to me as he walked across the Purple People Bridge on his way to Kentucky and that was the last time I ever saw him.  I haven’t seen the ladies from the Anna Louise Inn for a long time either, not since an agreement was reached to sell their building.

The new and improved Lytle Park is not for everybody. In fact, it’s more of a stage set than a real park.  It will look nice from the window of a hotel room or an office tower.  It will be safe.  It will be clean.  But this park as it is currently designed doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of bringing real people together in meaningful ways to share experiences and create community, because this park is not really designed to be used.

53 thoughts on “Lytle Park’s New Design: An Exercise in Gentrification

  1. executivedreamer Post author

    You are comfortable with this blurring of lines in our public-private partnerships, Steve? It doesn’t make you squirm just a bit as corporations refer to our parks as “amenities” and “corporate campuses.” — I’m not sure this is a change. When Western & Southern landed the deal to develop the slab over the I71 tunnel without competitive bids in the late 60s and other developers were furious- it was the exact same weirdness at this end of town..

  2. Craig Hochscheid

    This is nothing but corporate welfare for Western-Southern at the public’s expense.

    The return to the way in which business was conducted in Old Cincinnati (well connected cronies meeting behind closed doors) under the current administration is very disturbing. The Mayor’s political supporters and cronies get big handouts, and we would not know about any of it if not for involved and informed citizens like you Kathy, and diligent reporters like Chris Wetterich (who are few and far between in Cincinnati). Keep up the good work, and keep applying pressure because people are paying attention.

    1. executivedreamer Post author

      I want to trust my government, Craig. And I love Steve Schuckman who is in charge of guiding this design process. I know he’s trying. It just seems like we have come to accept the dominance of the corporate perspective without question, so much so that we don’t even recognize it anymore.

      1. jan

        Regrettably, art and design direction is for sale these days. Bring your millions, and you get to call design shots, introduce your favorite partners, and get lots of philanthropic credit. But wait. This is public land maintained by public dollars. Is it supposed to be developed thus? Or is this just a natural evolution from paying millions for naming rights, now to paying in to make key decisions in planning and execution? Is it all OK just as long as we keep on getting new stuff built?

  3. Paul Breidenbach

    If they don’t change the design to accommodate more public uses, it would be a great spot to stage protest rallies, especially ones that address the moguls who work and visit there. People can insist on using public space as they wish, despite the fondest intentions of their betters.

    1. executivedreamer Post author

      My grandson plays on that equipment, too. What we put in that park is an invitation as to who we want there. The new park clearly does not want any children.

      Thanks for commenting, Niki. People don’t realize that it’s possible to raise kids in the city and there are real people who do it.

    2. 5chw4r7z

      Is the proposed splash park still going in or has that been axed? And how about the statue of Abe Lincoln, Vampire Hunter? They better not get rid of Abe.

      1. doanspraul

        They place him smack dab in front of the Taft….an aesthetic nightmare; blocking the sweep view of a gorgeous building and losing a great statue to a tight, flat backdrop. Abe will be more of a parking lot bollard or pedestrian baracade for Pike than a park feature. Sad.

      2. executivedreamer Post author

        Steve keeps telling everybody that this is not a final design. Abe could be moved. We could get a playground. But those are such tiny, little distractions, aren’t they? Who is programming this park? Private security has been chasing people away for years. Why aren’t we inviting people into this beautiful space so that it’s actually used? Why aren’t we talking about an outdoor reading room like they have in NYC or plein aire painting events, art carts, checkerboards. There’s so much possibility here.

  4. Mark Sackett

    It seems to me that we are losing our neighborhood, bit by bit, to the hotels and commercial interests of Western Southern and the Marriott Hotel Chain. And, with all the reported private meetings, do we have government working with and for the people, or do we have government who wishes to make decisions and then tell the neighborhood what’s good for them? I know there are good people in our neighborhood who view these changes as positive for property values. However, we didn’t buy our condo as an investment – we simply want to live here. One has to wonder what living in a pristine Disneyland-like neighborhood, with no monkey-bars, slides, children, herb garden, and damn little grass to be mowed, will be like. But then, opinions are like noses – everyone has one. And that’s mine …

    1. executivedreamer Post author

      I am so glad you get it, Mark. I thought I was the only person who didn’t want to live in Disneyland (even though I have to admit, it’s nice in the wintertime when Western & Southern gets their walks cleaned right away and everybody else is complaining.) — What bothers me the most is that all of this is so unnecessary. As I explained to Mario San Marco from the first time we talked about the changes around Lytle Park – we all want the same thing. Nobody in our building is against development. Nobody in this city is against it. Why can’t the process be more open and honest? Why can’t we work together? The part that’s offensive is the paternalistic attitude that corporate executives are the only people with anything to contribute to the conversation. They know best and the rest of us just get in their way.

  5. Marc Raab

    First, I am not a resident of your wonderful pocket of downtown, Kathy. From a visitors perspective, it looks like the park is built to be an extension of the Taft. The design looks clean and full of vegetation, so it should be easy on the eyes. If anything, it seems the parks changes were more to appease the Taft than W&S, as this looks to benefit them the most.

    I think if anything there seems to be a disconnect in what we label a park versus landscaping. I look at parks as functional areas where people can congregate, play, relax, etc. This design is not a park. It’s glorified landscaping. But I kind of like it. Not every park needs all the amenities. There’s a mile worth of amenities a few blocks south. As for keeping certain people out…of course W&S wants “their” park to be clean and full of white businessman. Cultureless institutions like W&S are scared of what they don’t know. But I am not sure if I believe there is a conspiracy in this design to keep your friend who was run off to NKY.

    I guess the fact that I like the design, and the residents of the neighborhood don’t, kind of shows it was designed without concern for the local residents.

    So let’s rally and stop John Cranley park tax/developer slush fund. It’s time the city works for us.

    1. executivedreamer Post author

      A lot of the residents like the design, Marc. I don’t think it’s the end of the world if it goes in as presented. — But I would like to see more programming that makes others welcome. It’s a beautiful park. Let’s use so that it does what parks are designed to do: bring people together.

      1. Pamela Zelman

        People who like the design are those who don’t use it as a park, they only look at it from their windows. W&S doesn’t care who lives in the surrounding condos, and they certainly don’t care if there are children; they get what they want because they are W&S, the big corporate bully.

        I’ve been active in my near west side community for 7 years. In that time, it has become very clear that the City sees residents and community councils as a nuisance; they say that neighborhood residents are “stakeholders” but it’s a shell game to appease people while the corporate sponsors do as they please. We’ve been able to make headway with several projects over here, but it’s taken thousands of hours of personal time from our (politically well-connected) group, constantly pushing back at the City with OUR vision for our neighborhoods.

        My point is that it is possible for you to still have influence over the project, but you have to band together and *agree* on what you want, then find the most influential people in your group to meet with the Mayor and Wilie Cardon to push your Want List. There will be many meetings and many, many letters from your group to City Council. It’s the way the game is played and unfortunately, pretty much the only way you get greenspace and a playground.

      2. executivedreamer Post author

        I won’t be back in town until September – but I’d love to come talk about your development experiences on the west side (Lower Price Hill? Price Hill Will?). — I’m gradually working my way through some of the neighborhoods that have a lot of development experience so that we can share best practices with a wider audience. — Lytle Park has almost 2 years before the design is implemented – so I’m sure adjustments will be made. What I’m really working on is the elimination of Emergency Ordinances on TIF associated projects and the introduction of Community Benefit Agreements so that developers have to work more cooperatively with Community Councils – BEFORE the city votes to give them 30 years worth of tax subsidy. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

  6. Marcia Hartsock

    I can speak somewhat to the future, or not, of the herb garden. In the redesign, there are designated spots for community/herb gardens. So indeed the Park did try to accomodate us in the newest new design. However, as I study the plans, the area intended for basil, parsley, oregano, chives, thyme, etc is currently under flowering trees, and right next to the exercise path.

    Herbs need sun, period. They won’t thrive under trees. Gardens tended by neighbors need space around them for gardeners and their tools, their trashbags, their empty pots and fertilizer. I suspect joggers won’t want all that sitting on their path. Not to mention me in my dirty pants, workgloves, and piles of weeds and spent blossoms.
    For those not familiar with the neighborhood herb garden, this was started ten years ago in response to a park initiative to engage local residents. The park offered the land, a hose, and water and residents around the park did the rest. We raised money, shopped for herbs, planted, deadheaded, weeded, and invited passersby, tourists, and local workers to pick something for their dinner. More than a source of fresh herbs, it was a wonderful place that built community.

    This is what I’m afraid will be lost in the new ‘corporate park’ – the sense of community that was created among the residents of Park Place, 550 E Fourth, the Phelps, and Anna Louise, and that benefitted everyone passing through.

    1. executivedreamer Post author

      I love the story of the herb garden, Marcia. Joggers would be lucky to find you in their path, dirty work gloves and all. — But then these are all little details that can be fixed: where the herb garden is, where Abe stands, if we have a little playground.

      What can’t be fixed is the attitude of who gets to set the rules of the function of this park. I’d like more people to spend time here. It’s a beautiful area of town and there’s so much that could be done to invite fellow Cincinnatians to share it will us.

      1. Mark Samaan

        What really gets me about this particular park’s redesign is that we already have a fabulous park here! I would need several sets of hands to count the number of parks and public spaces in this city that could use renovating or just plain regular maintenance. Why on earth does this park out of the many we have “need” to be renovated?

      2. executivedreamer Post author

        Well, at this point, Mark – we have to fix-up at least the half of it that’s all torn-up for the tunnel renovations. But ODOT is giving us $1,000,000 to put it back together the way it was before. — So we could do that and leave it as is. Not a bad point.

      3. Marc Raab

        Not a bad point at all, and if we can defeat John Cranley’s Park tax, this is likely what will happen.

    2. jan

      Marcia, I smile and remember this story about why Abraham Lincoln’s statue is in Lytle Park: “An often repeated anecdote details young Abraham Lincoln’s visit to Longworth’s renowned gardens where Lincoln mistook the master of the house for a gardener: In the middle of the gravel path leading to a pillared portico, a small, queerly dressed old man, with no appearance whatever of having outgrown his old-fashioned raiment, was weeding. Loose pantaloons lay infolds over “Old Nick’s” shoe latchets and a shirt with a huge collar almost obscured his ears.
      When Lincoln inquired whether “your master allows strangers to inspect his premises,” Longworth cleverly replied: My master, they say, is a queer duck. He doesn’t allow visitors, but
      he makes an exception about every time some one does come. He would be glad, in the present case, to consider you as a friend, sir. But before viewing the garden perhaps you would like to taste his wine.”

  7. Jenny Kessler

    my neighborhood in Baltimore is centered around Washington Monument (the original!) – there are four block-long parks radiating from the monument that have been preserved, cultivated, and are constantly used by everyone in the community. The Mt. Vernon neighborhood has several hotels, the Peabody, churches, SUPER fancy homes and private clubs lining the streets by the park. They’ve done a great job of making the park accessible to everyone while making visitors and “important” people feel safe. The result is a more vibrant, connected community that is a lot of fun to live and participate in. Check out the pics –

    1. executivedreamer Post author

      Thanks for the link, Jenny. First thing I noticed was a Facebook page with more than 10,000 likes for a public park. People must really feel an emotional connection to this piece of green in the heart of a big city.

  8. Douglas Gautraud

    I like this article. Parks are FOR PEOPLE to be in and experience, not precious spaces made to only look nice and raise property values.

  9. ejmcewan

    We’ve walked/driven down to Lytle quite a few times to avoid the busy-ness of OTR but stay at a locals’ park (as opposed to Washington Park or the Banks, which cater to visitors). I’ve not seen any other kids, but definitely friendly CBD neighbors. What a shame that the playground has been written out of the plan!

    1. executivedreamer Post author

      I’m pretty sure we’ll get the playground back, ejmcewan. We don’t have a huge number of kids living in the immediate neighborhood. But there’s a way that makes a space look welcoming for kids and there are signs that this is an area “for adults only.” A play area in a park that’s over 2 acres is a visible sign that we like kids and want them here. Diversity of ages and stages of life – that’s fun.

    2. Travis Estell

      I disagree about Washington Park catering to visitors. Maybe on the weekends and during special events like Lumenocity and Midpoint Music Festival. But usually, it’s full of neighborhood residents doing yoga on the lawn, watching a bluegrass band at the bandstand, or watching a movie on the big screen.

      1. executivedreamer Post author

        Washington Park is allowed to have events, Travis. Lytle Park is very much discouraged from doing anything like that as W&S doesn’t like the idea to the point they have hired private security to discourage folks who don’t look like they belong in the park (I’m talking about college educated white guys with beards) Washington Park is bigger, but Lytle could incorporate more low key kinds of possibilities – I love the idea of NYC’s outdoor reading room – maybe in conjunction with a partner like the Mercantile Library – or chess boards – anything that would give people a chance to come together and meet each other. — BTW I know lots of folks who intentionally come downtown to visit Washington Park. My daughter takes the bus with her little boy specifically to play in the park even though they live a five minute walk from the Eden Park overlook.

      2. ejmcewan

        Well, maybe I should have not used he word “caters.” I do believe Washington Park does a good job at providing diverse programming. But, the park is so heavily programmed that there aren’t a lot of days when I can just bring my kids for a plain old day at the park. It’s too big; too busy. I spend the whole time dodging people. It’s the same reason I don’t go to Findlay Market on the weekends. It’s too busy. I’d rather be there on a weekday afternoon when there is time and space to visit with shop owners and other shoppers.

        I should say– I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a large city park being “a destination.” Washington Park has been a game-changer for OTR and downtown. It’s just not always fun for introverts like me who multiple kids to juggle. It’s just too much during a public event.

      3. Travis Estell

        Fair enough. As an OTR resident, I have learned which places to avoid on weekends and other times there are big crowds in the neighborhood. I do Washington Park, Neon’s, and The Eagle on weeknights. Weekends are when I’m most likely to visit some of the lesser-known places around OTR or get out of the neighborhood.

  10. Bonnie Speeg

    All of it, too little too late. This was in the making by those who we see named today in this article. There were numerous people of interest with time, money and energy to pursue stopping the ‘country club’ from developing. I knew it would not come to any different outcome than what I see here today (based on many years…decades of watching the ‘money guys win’ syndrome in this city). It’s all over the hill now. I’d commented far far back regarding the ‘fair warning’ as I saw it from my vantage point 25 years in with affiliation with urban planning, as to what our city would concede, comply and assist interested parties (WS stands out in this picture) in pursuing and succeeding in their mission. What a shame.

    1. executivedreamer Post author

      We’re not dead yet, Bonnie. Lytle Park won’t be exactly what you want it to be. But with work, commitment, and organization – citizens can absolutely improve the outcome.

  11. Michelle Holley

    I played in this park as a child from nine years old till a student a U.C. I read the great books under her sycamores every summer. I threw baseballs over Lincoln’s head. I had my first kiss in this park. This design, all of it, offends me to my bones. It looks like a race track, not a park. With all your money Western Southern, you can’t buy taste, or soul. You wouldn’t know a beautiful park if it hit you in the face. Look at the beautiful parks in Roma, or London, or read about the great history of this historic park in Cincinnati. Read about the live nativity that was here, the swimming pool, the lush flower designs, the immigrants who came her from the Bottoms to picnic on summer evenings. Western Southern and those who agreed to give away our park should be ashamed of themselves.

    1. executivedreamer Post author

      Michelle, thanks for your stories about how this green space played such an important role in your life. In all fairness to history, I should point out that it was Western & Southern that sponsored the live nativity year after year (one of the traditions of my early childhood). — Executives at their company obviously believe they are helping the community with their vision of the space. But their’s is a limited viewpoint – most of these guys driving in from the suburbs everyday, going to work, and then driving back home. It’s not the same way of looking at the world as those of us who make the city our home, is it?

  12. Sybil T Ortego

    First W&S build a residential building to house the former residents of the Anna Louise Inn because they didn’t feel that the residents were suitable neighbors and besides W&S wanted to have a hotel at the site. After all the women who resided there couldn’t possible appreciate the lovely park and surroundings. Now there is a plan to put a sterile looking park and concrete where there are a lawn and benches for all kinds and ages of people to enjoy. Our downtown is becoming a place for only the well-to-do citizens and I find it most depressing and terribly wrong.

    1. Brian

      Sybil, I respectfully disagree. I think the current developments have been more inclusive than any other I have observed in my 40 years in Cincinnati. The Smale park has zero barriers to entry, is located as close as possible to Cincinnati’s public transit hub, even the $5 million carousel costs only $2 to ride. I see families of all incomes from both sides of the river using that park on a regular basis. Not too many years ago, that was a parking lot for the downtown suits.

      Washington park also enjoys mixed income use. I challenge you to support your assertion that downtown is becoming a place only for the well-to-do.

  13. executivedreamer Post author

    Thanks for your comments, Sybil. There are still lots of activities for all kinds of people downtown – but you’re right. We have to be very careful. We have to make sure that everybody feels welcome in our public spaces and they are welcome in all of them.

    1. executivedreamer Post author

      I agree. People use Washington Park. It’s a destination that people talk about, a place where people meet each other for the first time in that park. I want that for Mr. Lincoln’s park, don’t you?

  14. Brian

    I like the passion, and I am all for fighting for that which benefits you. If I could play devil’s advocate here, the park is literally less than 1,200 feet from the Serpentine Wall/Sawyer Point parks that have extensive green space and playgrounds, and 2,200 feet from the Smale Riverfront park which has to be the kid-friendliest park in the city. I like the idea that this park will be different. It provides an alternative if you’re looking for a quiet spot as opposed to the happy screams of playground kids.

    Keep fighting for what you want, and keep fighting against back room deals, but in this case, I think you’ve already acknowledged that the “worst case” scenario is an overly sterile park right in your front yard. There are certainly worse things.

    1. executivedreamer Post author

      I agree, Brian. This is not the end of the world. — But I do think there’s an issue that is more important than the design of the park. And that’s how the decision was made. I’ve been poking around City Hall on development issues for over a year – and big developers negotiate their deals behind closed doors with communities running around in their wake trying to have a voice. This is the same deal. I love my friend, Steve Schuckman, in the Park Department. He does a great job. But it’s really unhealthy when the corporate community so totally dominates the process. And they don’t just do it in Lytle Park. This is Cincinnati politics.

      1. Brian

        A sincere question, because I don’t know. Is this dramatically different than how it works in other cities? It seems like public spaces need funding, and if corporates are providing funding they get a say. I understand the concern with W&S not necessarily demonstrating that they have the citizens best interests at heart in this one, and also a concern that they may not be paying as much as they should be to get that kind of say.

      2. executivedreamer Post author

        1. I don’t how it works in other cities. I’m having enough trouble figuring out Cincinnati.
        2. Though we all assumed Western & Southern would be paying for the renovation, to date they have not committed to a dime for the renovation of Lytle Park. If Mayor Cranley’s property tax increase for parks is on the ballot and approved by voters, Western & Southern will not contribute a dime.
        3. Even if park design is bought and paid for by corporations in every other city in every developed country in the world, this is a democratic country and Cincinnati is better than that. I have no problem if the integrity of the process is observed and the majority of my fellow-citizens say, “Makes sense to me.” But I have a very, very big problem when ALL of these decisions: park design, historic district designation, and tax-payer subsidies are made in private meetings not open to the public and corporate interests that make the biggest contributions to political campaigns decide what is best for our community (which just happens to be what is best for their bottom line). THAT, dear Brian, I will fight with every last ounce of my being.

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