Urban basketball courts offer tremendous opportunity within cities

The Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) is currently in the process of working out details for a redeveloped Washington Park. The refurbished and expanded park will prove to be a major anchor for redevelopment efforts taking place nearby, but some existing residents have expressed concern over what elements are included in the final design.

Quite simply, not all desires will be able to be met for both logistical and financial reasons. But much of the concern has been over the removal of the existing swimming pool and basketball court. The swimming pool is to be replaced by a splash ground that does not bear the sky-high insurance rates that are making municipally-owned swimming pools cost prohibitive. The basketball court is just not returning at all.

Personally I love the game of basketball and played pickup games through much of high school in addition to organized ball. The problem is that basketball courts do bring a certain element to a park – one that does not mesh with the new design and focus of Washington Park.

It is natural for egos to be bruised in basketball, and nearly par for the course for a few shoving matches or fights to take place. No big deal, it is part of youth and how the game works on the street. The new park will include children’s play areas, an open lawn for lounging and passive recreation, a plaza for theatre-goers to congregate, a bandstand, and a dog park to name some of the more prominent features. These lend the redeveloped Washington Park to an atmosphere that is not conducive for basketball courts, and I do not blame park designers or 3CDC for choosing not to include them in its redesign.

With that said, basketball courts do offer a great means of recreation and exercise. They are also ideally set up for an urban environment where their small footprint lends itself well to the high demand for space in urban settings.

Located just a couple hundred feet away, along the western side of Race Street, are three vacant lots (map) owned by OTR Holdings Inc. which is a wholly owned subsidiary of 3CDC. These vacant lots are almost certainly poised for residential infill development, or parking to satisfy the needs of future residents, but they could be transformed into two basketball courts.

This would go a long way in easing tensions amongst existing neighborhood residents, but also provide the neighborhood with a beautiful asset. The courts could be fenced in and secured during non-hours of operation. They could be well lit and offer the complete amenities of basketball courts in New York City and elsewhere. The beauty is that basketball courts do not need to be set within the confines of a park to be successful, and in fact, they actually offer a tremendous experience when tucked within surrounding structures.

There is a real opportunity to do this right and 3CDC should make sure the western part of Over-the-Rhine holds on to the public recreation facilities that satisfy the needs of both the current and future residents.  If you have questions, comments or concerns about the new Washington Park you can share them on a new website dedicated to making sure the transition goes off without a hitch, and with as much community support as possible.

  • Zack

    While I understand the health, social, and traditional likeness of basketball courts in parks, I also approach the thought that:

    1) Washington Park is not that big. Space is at a premium
    2) a court (not including side space) is 4700 ft^2. It is actively used by 10 players at a time. Where as 47 people could use the same space to do, well, anything they want (within park rules).
    3) One thing this city does not lack is more concrete and blacktop!

  • Bbrown

    I agree with your ideas. When I first saw these plans I thought to myself, where are the basketball courts, tennis courts, and/or baseball field?

    This park reminds me a lot of Goodale Park in the Victorian Village area of Columbus. It has four tennis courts, a kickball/baseball field, and a small basketball court. These are all heavily utilized by the residents of the neighborhood on a daily basis. The tennis courts will usually have people waiting to get on the court next, and kickball leagues are popular during spring, summer, and fall. Even with these facilities, it still has a dog park and a playground. Goodale is 32 acres so I don’t know how that compares to how big Washington park will be after this renovation, but to me it is a great example of an urban neighborhood park.

  • Zack

    After the renovation, Wash Park will be 8 acres.

    So I dont think Goodale is good comparison. Location-wise yes.

    I even wonder if the current plans try to do too much with the space. There will soon be a very expansive park not 9 blocks away along the river, not including the facilities already present.

    The beauty of a park is that its universal. Or supposed to be. you can have a wedding, picnic, festival, meeting, kickball game, movie night, etc… The more “defined space” the less people can actually utilize.

  • Nate Wessel

    Randy, I normally agree with you, but I think you really missed the mark on this one.

    Since when are good public spaces about keeping apart people who might not get along? I would argue that the best public spaces do the very opposite, mashing together conservative families with their less staid neighbors. You hint that you think the park is being designed for families and children; does that leave no place in the park for me because I am neither?

    Public spaces are for EVERYONE. To suggest that basketball courts be hidden away between buildings and away from the “children’s play areas” strikes me as a disingenuous attempt at segregation.

    I hope I misunderstand what you were trying to say; if not I suggest you go back and flip through Death & Life again-Mrs. Jacobs can say it much better than I can.

  • Nate:

    You are misunderstanding what I am saying. The fact of the matter is that even an expanded Washington Park will not be able to accommodate every need or desire. So my thought is lets try to be creative and still supply these amenities as we can. Basketball courts do not necessarily have to be located within a lush green park setting to be successful, and in fact, I contend that locating them in a more condensed environment is actually more intriguing.

    I am also not hinting at the park being designed for families and children specifically, but it does appear that the function of the park will be definitively different after the removal of certain features and the addition of others. To me it makes sense to give parks a certain purpose so that they have a definable use, even if that is an open lawn space that can be used in a variety of ways.

    Washington Park just isn’t large enough to be able to accommodate basketball courts, tennis courts, a swimming pool, a dog park, open lawn area, bandstand, plaza space, children’s play area, and more. So the question isn’t whether you can include all of these, but what should be included and how. With its lush green setting I would contend that park designers went the right direction with this, but I do think that providing basketball courts, and other recreational opportunities, is important…but this can be done in other ways than stuffing them into an already busy Washington Park.

  • Nate Wessel

    I’m glad to know I misinterpreted your post 🙂

    I do think though, that a high profile project like this, done by a group that is already taking heat-justly or not-for gentrification and displacing poor residents needs to be extremely careful in what they choose to eliminate from the park.

    I contend that they could just as well locate the dog park in a neat little space between buildings and put the basketball court in it’s place in the park. You seem to be saying that not every element can fit, so something has to go. My question to you is this: why is it the part that is associated with poor and black culture/people that has been eliminated? Whether that is the reasoning for the choice or not(and I see that in your case it is not) that possibility is what bothers me about the plan.

    It doesn’t seem to be a park for the current residents or people like them. It seems to be a park for the gentrifiers. Now of course rich white people with families should have a place in the park too, along with everyone else, but the elimination of basketball courts in favour of other amenities seems to signal a definite shift.

    I want to be clear that the conclusions I draw from the decision to eliminate the courts are subtle ones, but I think very real nonetheless. I’m NOT saying 3CDC is racist or classist, just that it smells funny and leaves somewhat of an aftertaste. We need to keep a close eye on the neighborhood now while we still can before it crosses into the other economic extreme of gentrification and none of us can afford to do anything about it.

  • Bert

    I think 3CDC is doing a fantastic job throughout downtown and over the Rhine. Just four years ago the city was practically begging people to come downtown. Now People are complaining about gentrification.

    Washington Park needed to be redeveloped years ago. Having a central park in the middle of any city is a great amenity. People love parks. Sadly people just don’t feel safe walking in that park as the sun begins to go down. After the Renovation of the Park and the surrounding buildings hopefully it brings a brand new vitality to the area.

    A number of people have expressed unease about the removal of the basketball courts. They believe that the removal of the basketball courts implies that 3CDC doesn’t want African Americans who play basketball in the park. That is not only silly but dangerously misguided.

    First of all Washinton Park was never famous for basketball. There are many places for people to play outdoor basketball in the city. There are also many places to play indoor basketball. African Americans aren’t the only ones who play basketball. And basketball isn’t the only thing being removed from the park.

    3CDC is doing a spectacular job. I hope more and more business continue to open up in OTR. I hope more and more homeowners and renters decide to live there. If I were single I wouldn’t mind living in one of those new condos.

  • Nate Wessel


    I don’t think 3CDC is doing a bad job. In fact I think they are doing such a good job that I pretty much take it for granted that OTR will gentrify dramatically in the next several decades….well, that’s not just 3CDC but a ton of other factors too. And I’m looking forward to it!

    Anyway though, it is only from the assumption that OTR is going to gentrify that I criticize 3CDC and others. I don’t think a neighborhood can realize it’s full potential unless there is true diversity in the people living there. Right now, no one has really been displaced, and in my opinion, almost everything that I see happening is great. But that will not necessarily always be the case. In 30 years OTR may well be where Mount Adams is now, which I don’t think is optimal.

    I worry though about choices we make now that will still be in place in long into the future. Are we still going to need 500 parking spaces in Washington Park in 50 years? I think not, and I believe the garage is a very poor long term investment. That doesn’t mean I don’t like 3CDC or think they have bad intentions. It just means I disagree with their choice.

  • Nate:

    I do not think that the new park design is eliminating features that appeal to poor residents, or those that are both poor and black. The southern portions of the park will remain much the same while the new additions and changes will take place where the school, pool and basketball courts used to exist.

    When looking at a new park from a programming standpoint it makes more sense to have an open lawn area than it does to have basketball courts. My assumption is that the pool is being removed for insurance liabilities. Poor residents will utilize the open lawn just as anyone else would. This is not discrimination in my opinion, but I do understand the perception some have had of 3CDC in OTR as they continue their work…and that is the reason I recommended that 3CDC pony up some money and land to replace the basketball courts in the nearby area since the basketball courts tend to stand for more than a recreational option.

    With that said, I think the concern over the dog park is also somewhat silly. The concern assumes that black people or poor people do not own dogs. It is assuming that only affluent white people will utilize that asset and I think that is a false assumption to make.

  • Zack

    Well, at least we are debating how to make the park maximize its potential, which is a huge step.

    I do think that a 500-car garage will be advantageous in 10 years if the development continues. All the local residents within a block or so can all park in the garage (ala NYC) rather than needing garages, carports, or streetspots. Plus Music Hall will always need the spaces. And its a “half-way” point on the streetcar line 1 block from the Quarter.

    As for gentrification, i struggle to find 1 renowned neighborhood in existence that is reaching its full potential. The reality is that there is a plethora of residential property within walking distance of all the downtown employers. And most likely the employees of those companies will drive the neighborhood atmosphere.

  • Eric Puryear

    I for one am happy to NOT see a basketball court in Washington Park. This is not a sports recreation park per se, but a public greenspace in a dense urban core. There are several courts already in OTR and they are very popular (The courts on Findlay and the two on 12th st. across from the old SPCA) I think there is an opportunity to develop more – along with chess tables, boce, and children’s playspaces; but just not in Washington Park. This is a place that all city dwellers can enjoy.

  • Justin

    Washington Park is a highly historic park, once a jewel of the midwest. Let’s not cheapen it with a basketball court. There’s plenty of other empty lots around OTR that can be turned into basketball courts.

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