Ten days ago Civic Commons sponsored a forum discussing the direction of future development along West 25th Street. It seems concern exists on many sides as to what is appropriate and what is not appropriate for the area known as Market Square. NGO’s like Neighborhood Progress Inc., Ohio City Inc. and The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority have their own vision of what the district should be while local business and the areas residence have their own.
I found the discussion to be both stimulating and varied. It definitely brought to light the differences between current development philosophies and actual implementation practices. It also reinforced the differing viewpoints of the areas NGOs and the areas stakeholders. No matter the varying viewpoints, I think everyone is well intentioned and doing a great job at bring life back to Ohio City in general and The Market Square District in particular. I also believe that with comprehensive planning, West 25th has room for everyone. The street can be anything it wants to be as long as growth is organic and a strong sense of place is maintained by sharply defined edges. Let it be what it wants to be because in 30 years it will be something else.
A glance at recent history showstheWest 25th Street of the late 70’s is notthe West 25th Street of today. The ABC was on the other side of the street and one did not venture in armed only with their fists. There was a department store, a drug store, and even our own pawn shop. There was a combination greasy spoon/fancy hand dipped chocolates shop that survived not on the food/chocolates they sold to the wealthy suburbanites, but on the locally supported bookie operation they ran. The businesses supported the neighborhood and the neighborhood supported the businesses. In those days only the very adventurous came from Chagrin Falls or Bay Village to visit and if you were to buy a home here, your parents thought you were crazy.
The establishments of the late 70’s probably would not support today’s neighborhood, however they did at that point in time. The street of the 70’s was neighborhood oriented and survived on the patronage of the local residences. With a few exceptions, today’s business establishments do not rely on the local community, they rely on regional support for prosperity. This is not to say there is anything wrong with this type of development, one just has to recognize the fact that the Market District has become a destination and as such requires a different set of physical requirements and parameters from those of years past. This is not Kansas any longer.
I do not believe the question is what type of development should take place, but how are the decisions being made for what type of development is to take place.
Planning concepts often become standard practice due various reasons; a financing mechanism has become available; it is derived from a solution that worked for a specific problem in a specific location and at a specific time; or one that has been developed from a well-defined and inherent set of goals as the primary foundation for designing an environment that is sustainable, transcends the status que, and creates an environment that is healthy and personable. The first two may or may not address the concerns of the day and will usually do nothing substantial to support a long term, sustainable neighborhood. The last example is the basis of the true art form of urban planning. It supports the needs, desires, and dreams of the areas users and opens the door to the development of an environment that will sustain itself.
Like most fashion statements, many planning trends tend to be like the flavor of the day and like the flavor of the day they have a tendency to come and go. Many go unproven or are short lived. Often failure becomes the norm when broad range concepts are applied to restricted areas. Planning concepts are made fashionable by the fast paced electronic media in a random and frantic search to calm the chaos that surrounds our everyday life. In some cases they do not even adequately address the problems they are meant to rectify.
These concepts are often supported by impressive sounding research or seemingly widely accepted practices such as urban living, density, and transit oriented development. Most often these concepts address urban development in general terms or are applied in an arbitrary manner or may not even apply to limited and restricted neighborhood development.
Having been an Ohio City resident off and on since 1973, I take great pride in knowing there are a great number of well-intentioned individuals actively working to make and to keep Ohio City the greatest place to live and by living, I mean what is often referred to as the live, work, and play concept. With this now in mind, we should return to the topic of this discussion, “What should West 25th Street be?” Personally, I think it could be and should be both. Actually it should be more, it should be whatever is required to be the best neighborhood anywhere.
During the past couple of years two development proposals have been presented by the areas NGO’s. What is being proposed they feel are necessary and preferable for sustaining the image, growth, and success of the District. Sometimes what is being said and what is reality are not the same. Both proposals are based on the broad stroked planning concepts previously mentioned; urban living, density, and transit oriented development. Physically both proposals are arbitrarily limited and both have limited vision. Nowhere do these proposals adequately address the fundamental survival issues of parking, vehicular congestion, or vehicular/bicycle/pedestrian conflicts. In fact, what is being proposed only adds to the chaos of the District. Additionally, nether proposal adequately addresses the multimodal integration usually associated with transit oriented development and nowhere are environmental issues even mentioned.
These oversights apply only to the Districts most basic and every day functional operations. What about the Districts amenities that are unique, sustainable, and available to the entire neighborhood to enjoy. The type of amenities that make a good neighborhood great. What about a “Town Square” that is more than a bus stop and contributes to environmental by managing storm water? What about expanding Ohio City Farm and Farmstead to be a focal point of the District alongside the West Side Market and to provide educational opportunities. Is there a possibility of a park setting that cascades down Franklin Hill to the banks of the Cuyahoga and connect with a bike trail. Could the northern edge of Market District be Detroit Avenue with a bicycle terminus at each end of the bridge’s lower deck, accessible by the old streetcar ramps and amphitheaters? Maybe we could throw in some vertical connections from the bridge deck above to the Canal Basin Park below? Do you think parking could be placed over the Rapid tracks with a restaurant and fitness facility included and the roof equipped with solar panels and wind turbines to supply electricity the Market? By the way, a limited access West 25th Street between Franklin Blvd. and Lorain Avenue is just a perk of comprehensive planning.
I am sure all sides of this discussion are taking exception to what is being said, however I find it very difficult to segregate the two types of development, neighborhood or destination, in a comprehensive evolution of current urban life styles and development. There is nothing magical about creating a successfully combined neighborhood and destination urban environment or to take advantage of the Districts potential amenities. It just requires the establishment of time enduring goals, fundamental design objectives, and non-biased financial implementation, not the fashion of the day.
Now you are probably wondering who I am and why I am stating my opinion. Other than being a resident of Ohio City and the author of the Quality of Life Ideas for Cleveland, Ohio; No. 5-Market Square, I have no agenda for expressing my opinion other than attempting to make Ohio City the best neighborhood environment it possibly can be. Personally, I bought a house on Jay Avenue in 1973, rebuilt it with my father, and lived in it with my wife until 1981. Living in Ohio City in those days was a little like living in the Wild West with a Calvary detachment of only 35 families. Professionally I am an architect with over 37 years of experienced with single family residences, historic preservation, and urbanism.