Each month, City Parks Alliance recognizes a “Frontline Park” to promote and highlight inspiring examples of urban park excellence, innovation, and stewardship across the country. The program also seeks to highlight examples of the challenges facing our cities’ parks as a result of shrinking municipal budgets, land use pressures, and urban neighborhood decay.
Located in the historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, Washington Park has been through its share of changes since the city first acquired the land in 1855, which was then being used a cemetery. After relocating the cemetery plots to a more suitable location, the city began park construction in the 1860s, adding features like footpaths, wading pools, bandstands, and other activities to draw visitors from the surrounding neighborhood. The park and neighborhood entered a period of decline after the Great Depression and World War II, and by the end of the twentieth century, Over-the-Rhine had changed from a vibrant community to one of America’s poorest and most run-down neighborhoods. Lack of investment led to the deterioration of many park features, and there was little inclination to make changes and improvements to the park. With property values at rock bottom, developers purchased distressed properties and began the process of redeveloping Over-the-Rhine, which is believed to be the largest, most intact urban historic district in the United States.
In 2006, the Cincinnati Park Board, partnering with the Cincinnati City Center Development Corporation (3CDC) launched the planning process for a $48 million renovation and expansion of Washington Park. Directed by the Park Board and 3CDC, the project was based on a master plan created through an extensive public participation process. It resulted in the transformation of Washington Park from 6 acres to an 8-acre urban sanctuary. Enhancements were made to the historic southern section of the park, and new features were added within the 2 acre extension of the park to the north. Improvements included a performance pavilion and a civic green of more than an acre over the top of an underground parking garage that serves residents, businesses, performance venues, and park visitors. Numerous sustainable features were built into the park including green roofs, the city’s first “dry-wells,” which reduce the amount of stormwater runoff that infiltrates the aging sewer infrastructure, and the reuse of original stone walls and pillars. Other attractions included an 18,000 square foot playground with climbing walls based on historic Cincinnati architecture, and a replica canal boat set in a water channel. The park also features a large unique interactive fountain, a restored bandstand, a plaza facing the Music Hall, an enclosed dog park, and floral displays.
Reopened to the public in 2012, Washington Park has quickly become an anchor in Over-the-Rhine, and an integral part of the neighborhood’s remarkable transformation from urban cautionary tale to one of the best developments in the United States. The park has spurred new economic development around it, and it now better serves its diverse community and a new population of visitors drawn to its extensive program of concerts, movies, educational programs and special events.
For more information on Washington Park, please visit: