International Park Design Charrette: Toledo, Ohio

City Parks Forum Case Study


Any history of urban America would involve a discussion of the importance that maritime transportation has had on the development of business and industry. Indeed, nearly every major city in the U.S. is located on a river or other navigable water body and grew as a result of the transport of goods and services. Today, these areas are being transformed from industrial sites to places for public access and enjoyment.

Toledo, Ohio, is no exception. With more than 200 acres of waterfront along both banks of the Maumee River, which feeds into Lake Erie, Toledo is a former shipbuilding city that is rediscovering its waterfront heritage. A major element of that effort was the creation of International Park, a 63-acre railroad yard site on the east side of the Maumee River, opposite downtown. This site was identified and acquired to be a public park; determining the best uses for the park was a little more complicated.

Existing structures on the site were converted to other uses—a maintenance facility building has become The Docks, a popular restaurant spot, and the city's department of parks, recreation and forestry occupies a smaller building there. The remainder of the site has had many "personalities," however. The city constructed a tournament-class outdoor volleyball facility, and funds from various donors have provided for a fountain located in the harbor, a gazebo, and other features. A riverwalk along the Maumee traverses through the park. Perhaps the best-known activity in the park is the International Festival of Lights, which occurs each December.

It became apparent that to revitalize its eastern riverfront area Toledo needed to develop a comprehensive vision and plan for International Park, one that connects the park to its surrounding neighborhood. With a grant from The City Parks Forum, Mayor Carlton Finkbeiner and his parks staff convened a one-day "Waterfront Strategies Forum" involving local interest groups, property owners, and potential developers to gather needed information for developing a strategic plan. The data gathered at this charrette was then organized into various design and planning recommendations for International Park and presented in the form of a poster map depicting the findings of the process. Long-standing issues regarding site design and access were addressed, including a preferred pedestrian and vehicle circulation system.

The revitalization of International Park has grown even further than its immediate neighborhood; it has become part of a broader downtown redevelopment strategy, the Downtown Toledo Master Plan. This plan calls for the creation of a riverfront cultural entertainment district, of which International Park will be a key element. The planning effort in Toledo proves once again that waterfront revitalization continues to be a crucial element to the economic and social health of America's cities.


Larry Anderson
Chief Landscape Architect
Department of Parks, Recreation and Forestry
26 Main Street
Toledo, Ohio 43605
(P) 419-936-2873