Big news on Sunday's Plain Dealer front page: Mayor Frank Jackson tells Steven Litt he wants to close Public Square to cars and make it a huge park.
"I want to see one big square," Jackson told Litt.
The mayor's suddenly talking like the urban optimists I've profiled -- parks advocate Ann Zoller and, in the new November issue of Cleveland Magazine, developer Ari Maron. Like them, the mayor wants to make our public spaces more welcoming to visitors, downtown residents, pedestrians and bikers. He even seems to have had a conversion experience similar to Maron's. Visits to France, Italy and Slovenia have convinced Jackson that we can learn from European town plazas and do more to get people out walking and enjoying downtown.
Politically, this is big for two reasons. Jackson will really have to push for this. Closing Public Square to traffic won't be easy. Commuters will complain. They won't like swinging around a huge traffic circle in the middle of downtown. Buses stop in the square 3,200 times a day, and the RTA will have to find new bus stops for most of them.
But Jackson has a good argument for doing this right now: with the casino, Medical Mart and convention center coming soon, Cleveland is going into the business of attracting visitors to town in a big way. Public Square lies right between the two. Shouldn't it be more inviting?
If he succeeds, a new Public Square could be one of Jackson's signature projects. It could be an answer to critics who complain he's too quiet and has too little vision.
It may have taken him six years to get around to this, but the mayor is doing what leaders do. He's picking up new ideas that are gaining momentum. He's sweeping ideas he doesn't like out of the way (an earlier round of ideas for the square, including the peculiar notion of building a hill over the streets). He's declaring his support for an idea that everyone used to think was off limits.