Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Pro-urban learnings in Cleveland

Another post I should have written in advance of the opening of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland would be pro-urban learnings within the city that are worth knowing and applying to your own setting.

I haven't been to Cleveland for more than ten years so there is more that I don't know than I do know, but I have fond memories of what I learned, attending the National Trust for Historic Preservation conference in 2002. This is a list of a bunch of stuff, not in order of importance.

At its peak, Cleveland was the nation's fourth largest city and was home to many major businesses, including railroads and oil production (Rockefeller interests).  It still benefits from some of that legacy.  At the same time, the Cleveland Metropolitan Area hasn't gained much population in the last 55 years, so growth in the suburbs has come at the expense of the city.  The city still has some large banking and insurance corporations.  Ostensibly, Forest City Development is based there, although its big projects are now far outside of Cleveland.  Health and medical and higher education institutions are leading drivers of the local economy these days.  The city is long past its glory days of manufacturing and iron ore processing.

These great examples of urban policy and practice aren't likely to have much influence on the delegates to the Convention.

- Public Square is a fabulous public space downtown, Tower City, the train station complex fronts it and old, now vacant massive department stores--some as large as one million square feet--are located nearby, when Euclid Avenue was Downtown Cleveland's main shopping street.  Politico has a feature ("The hot new park at the center of the Republican National Convention") on the rehabilitation of Public Square in advance of the Convention.
Jabin Botsford for the Washington Post

- West Side Market is the city's public market in the Ohio City neighborhood, and is open 3 days/week.  I love it.  One of the times I was there, a vendor started talking to me about Ray Oldenburg's book The Great Good Place!

- CDCs.  In the late 1990s, Cleveland's foundations told the community development field that there were too many CDCs for the number of neighborhoods and in order to keep getting funds, they'd have to agree to mergers and accountability systems and metrics.

- Cleveland's foundations.  Like Pittsburgh, Cleveland is fortunate to have a lot of old money parked in foundations that remain committed to investing in the city's future.

- Famicos Foundation is a community development corporation affiliated with the Catholic Church that takes on tough housing rehabilitation projects

- Cleveland Restoration Society is the city-wide preservation organization.  There provide a great deal of resources for rehabilitation of historic properties.  In the past, they were active in taking on tough house rehabilitation projects, with the aim of stabilizing neighborhoods and protecting historic resources.

Note that the problem with maintaining the architectural and historic integrity of houses in weak real estate markets is that the extra costs are often unrecoverable, because housing values don't rise commensurate with such investments.  Strong markets don't have such problems.

- Conservation easements.  Jonathan Sandvik's architecture firm works on large rehabilitation projects, not just in Cleveland.  While most people in the field are familiar with historic preservation tax credits, the firm was a pioneer in also using property easements as a way to generate funds for big projects that needed additional sources of funding in order to move forward.

- Facade improvement program.  Starting in the 1990s, the City of Cleveland was a leader in the development of a great storefront improvement program, at least one decade ahead of DC.

- Transit.  Cleveland didn't junk its heavy rail system and has expanded it a little bit.  I think it's fair to say that the neighborhoods served by the system fare better than those neighborhoods without a rail connection.  But while the heavy rail system is more extensive than Baltimore, it hasn't brought about massive in-migration of population seeking transit access that has been experienced by cities like Washington, DC.

Cleveland, Ohio Shaker Square

Flickr photo by Army Arch.

- HealthLine Bus Rapid Transit.  While I argue that this BRT system is over-touted as a major success and the reason that for the expansion of universities and medical systems that would have expanded anyway, it is an example of a modern BRT system successfully launched in a major city, and we don't have that many such examples.

- universities and Cleveland Clinic.  Like how the universities and hospital systems based in Pittsburgh serve as major anchors for that city in a post-industrial city, the same goes for Case-Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic in the University Circle district of Cleveland.

- the Evergreen worker business cooperative initiative ("The Cleveland Model," The Nation).

- Warehouse and Gateway district revitalization initiatives.  The revitalization of these areas adjacent to or in Downtown that have converted warehouse and other large buildings to housing and other post-industrial uses.  It's from the Warehouse District experience that I learned about "aging out," that as residents age, once they get to be in the ir mid to late 30s, they tend to move out as they are less interested in going out at night, less accepting of noise, etc. The Gateway district is anchored by the baseball stadium and basketball arena, not unlike how the LoDo district in Denver is anchored by Coors Field.

- Terminal Tower/Tower City.  The historic train station was converted into an indoor shopping mall in the 1990s.  It was great for saving a historic building complex, and "standing your ground" in terms of retail downtown, but not so great at supporting independent retail.

- Business Revitalization Zoning overlay.  This zoning overlay allows for extranormal review of projects in revitalization districts, to ensure that developments are coordinated and are able to achieve quality incomes in support of the goals and objectives of the district's revitalization objectives. Separately, Cleveland has an Urban Design Review process for major projects.

- the arts tax.  Cleveland has an arts tax that supports arts organizations and initiatives.  While I think it's good to have such a funding system and an open and transparent process for funding arts organizations, I don't like how Cleveland has assessed the tax, on tobacco products ("Cuyahoga cigarette tax for the arts grows in importance as other sources of government support shrink: new report," Cleveland Plain Dealer).

I hate smoking but it doesn't seem reasonable to fund the arts on the backs of typically low-income smokers.  Communities such as Denver and Pittsburgh and Salt Lake have similar funding systems, but they are assessed on property or sales taxes more generally.

- Van Sweringen brothers. The developers of Shaker Square, Shaker Heights, and Cleveland Heights wanted to connect these communities to downtown via a streetcar. The Nickel Plate Railroad system wouldn't sell them access to the right of way necessary to build the streetcar system, so they bought the railroad. And eventually they built Terminal Tower.  These communities followed the classic development of streetcar suburbs, with denser development primarily commercial, retail, and apartments at the core, and lower density housing radiating outward from the core.

- Burnham's Cleveland Mall and City Beautiful.  The Cleveland Mall is probably the nation's most realized "City Beautiful" complex.  It does "explain" why Jane Jacobs wasn't a fan of the movement in terms of its many failures in enlivening public spaces.  Great buildings were constructed, but often at the expense of street life.  The Cleveland Mall is gorgeous but proves the point.

- Heinen's downtown supermarket.  I haven't seen it although I'd been in the bank branch lobby where it is now located.  Back when banks were designed to be "cathedrals of finance" the Cleveland Trust Building lobby with stained glass windows was made to impress.

- Playhouse Square.  Euclid Avenue was home to many of the city's major movie and playhouses.  In the early 1970s, the theaters there, Ohio, State, and Palace Theatres, were bought by a nonprofit for restoration.  An architect assigned to the project realized that the theaters were adjacent and could be connected to each other with a common lobby, which would simplify operations and cut costs.  The Playhouse Square Development Corporation has gone on to be a major force in the area's revitalization (see "Real estate value capture and the arts").

- Gordon Square Arts District.  The arts initiative in Gordon Square is an example of a city- and neighborhood-serving initiative, while Playhouse Square serves arts audiences at the metropolitan and regional scales.

- Stadiums, Arenas, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  These assets have pluses and minuses in terms of their contribution to revitalization, but at the very least, it's much better to have the baseball stadium and arena in the city as opposed to the suburbs, while it's arguable about the football stadium, it does absorb space that might otherwise go unused.  For the most part, these facilities are served by transit, so they have less of a deleterious effect in terms of motor vehicle traffic, compared to suburban locations.

- Norman Krumholtz and advocacy planning.  Cleveland was known as a center of "advocacy planning," a more socially engaged method.  The planning agency also did more than "land use planning and building regulation," it also provided support to other city agencies with the aim of improving operations, policy, and practice.  It's not clear whether this legacy has been maintained into the 21st Century, although some of the earliest successors to planning director Norman Krumholtz were more "advocacy" oriented.

- the KSU urban design studio based in Cleveland.  Kent State University is about 40 miles from Cleveland.  The College of Architecture and Environmental Design has a major base in Cleveland through the Urban Design Collaborative studio and practice center.  It provides a lot of support to citizen planning initiatives, acts on planning contracts, etc.  (For example the Transit Waiting Environments report produced for the transit authority around the turn of the century influenced me deeply at the time.)

- Cleveland State University is urban-focused, like the University of Illinois-Chicago, Wayne State University, Hunter College of CUNY, etc.

- Steven Litt of the Cleveland Plain Dealer is the architecture and art critic for the paper, and he writes plenty of great stories on urban design, museums, revitalization, etc.  He is one of the best writers in the country on these issues and the Cleveland community is fortunate that the local newspaper still assigns someone to this beat full-time, as many newspapers (including the Baltimore Sun) have dropped such coverage.

- Greater Cleveland is home to the First Suburbs Consortium, which was created by suburban communities outside of Cleveland, the so called "inner ring suburbs," to focus on suburban revitalization of those communities. It's one of the earliest examples of a focused suburban revitalization effort. Like Cleveland, these communities suffer similar ills from population outmigration and development further and further from the core of the metropolitan area.

- Cleveland Arcade and the 5th Street Arcade.  Cleveland still has extant and active arcades, which were an early form of "shopping mall."  The Cleveland Arcade dates to 1890.  Granted because of the city's depopulation, they don't show as well today as they did in their heyday.  To profitably use the building, much of the Cleveland Arcade (pictured below) is a hotel.

- There is the Detroit Shoreway CDC Cleveland EcoVillage initiative, a strong sustainable economy effort, the "Cleveland Opportunity Corridor" plan to rebuild a roadway in a manner that supports urban improvement, investment in "old" transit stations, the FreshWater Cleveland blog and e-letter, and many more examples of great programs.

- charlie calls our attention to coverage on the attempt to stabilize the Slavic Village neighborhood ("In  Cleveland, a bid to save a recession-racked neighborhood before tearing it down," Chicago Tribune; Epicentre of the Great Recession: what happened to Cleveland's Slavic Village?," Guardian), although I would argue it's not much different than what CRS and Famicos were doing 15 years ago.
Reuters photo.

- which reminds me of Ohio's nuisance curing process which allows nonprofits to become receivers of vacant, abandoned, and other types of nuisance properties, with the aim of stabilizing and improving the building so that it is a neighborhood asset.  For more than 10 years, I've advocated for a similar process for DC comparable to the Ohio Receivership Statute

- The City of Cleveland was an early leader in tying deposit of funds in local banks to community reinvestment programming.  Low cost rehabilitation loans have been available through CRS in association with this program.

- The Cleveland business community hasn't been fond of elected officials not kow-towing to the Growth Machine.  Former Mayor Kucinich was "run out of town" because he wouldn't buckle and sell the city-owned electric utility to the privately owned Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company.

- Carl Stokes was the first African-American mayor of a large US city.

- Main Street Tremont was one of the first urban Main Street programs, but I never managed to check it out...

- Cleveland Restoration Society has a program to save churches (Sacred Landmark Program) and to provide support for the architectural lighting of church steeples with the financial support of the Reinhold W. Erickson Fund of The Cleveland Foundation
St. Theodosius Russian Orthodox Cathedral is one of the 19 churches participating in the steeple lighting program.

- The United Bank Building in the Ohio City neighborhood is a nine-story building constructed in 1925.  It's an illustration of the point that except in downtown business districts, historically, tall buildings were exceptions, built by special interests and with noneconomic considerations.

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At 9:12 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

If I remember, the Union Bank building, where I used to have to wait for the bus downtown, was more about Ohio City independence (Cleveland acquired Ohio City and the west side ala NYC and Brooklyn) and the power of the east side money making sure west siders have no banks.

Great write up.

The place where I go buy Pierogi was originally on w25, moved to parma years ago, just went through another ownership change and is now on Pleasant Valley road.

I didn't know Robert Putnam was from Cleveland. He talked about everyone playing together. My experience in 1970s was vasty different -- while Cleveland was the most diverse city it was also like Yugoslavia. Could explain the gang fights in 1985 between my serbian friends and the croation ones. I suspect WASP like Putnam never bothered to learn that.

(Or as my friend who still lives in the same town said to me, "Did you know the Catholics own this town?") He just figured it out.

At 11:15 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wrt the bank, "yes," it's an illustration of how outlier tall buildings are generally constructed for noneconomic reasons. Another example would be the tall office building in Takoma Park, it's about 10 stories tall, that was built by the Adventists for their use, when they were headquartered in that city. It didn't make sense otherwise (now it does ok for microbusinesses, as an illustration of the JJ point in _DaL_ on "the large stock of old buildings paid off, whose lower rent cost supports innovation).


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