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Waterfront Planning

Tuesday, March 18, 2003 at 12:31 PM

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Cleveland is a city that was founded on the water. Lake Erie provided the benefits of waterborne transportation and the Cuyahoga River offered industrial sites close to Great Lakes shipping. During the Rust Belt years, many of those enterprises declined and the city turned its back on the water. But recent renovation in the Flats and Mayor Jane Campbell's new waterfront planning initiative have revitalized interest in what a focus on the water could do for the community. One Cleveland group that promotes sustainable urban design has created a tool to help citizens identify elements of a successful waterfront. ideastream's Karen Schaefer reports.

It’s an early spring afternoon in mid-March and the wind blowing along the shore of Lake Erie is still decidedly chilly. Gulls feed on smelly heaps of dead fish near the outflow from Cleveland Public Power. The cries of the birds compete with the roar of traffic from Interstate-90. But none of this deters the dozens of fisherman who’ve come down to try their luck on this tiny fishing pier at Gordon State Park.

David Beach: It’s one of the fragments of access we have. The only problem is, it’s so close to the highway, you don’t really get a lake experience… you can see how well-used it is, both by people and by wildlife. It demonstrates a need to create a more liveable lakefront.

David Beach has a particular interest in creating liveable urban environments. He’s founder and director of EcoCity Cleveland, an organization that’s been promoting sustainable urban design for over ten years. When the city began a public planning process last year to re-envision Cleveland’s waterfronts, Beach wondered what his organization could do to help. With a grant from the Gund Foundation, EcoCity Cleveland began talking with stakeholders from lakeshore neighborhoods. The group also began to develop a tool for analyzing the elements of a successful waterfront from examples elsewhere in the country.

David Beach: We spent a lot of time last summer touring great waterfronts in the Great Lakes and also around the country, getting pictures of the ones that work and tying those pictures to the principles.

Consultant Patricia Stevens is turning that information into an on-line slide show that will be available on EcoCity’s website. She says their research led to five basic elements that define a great waterfront.

Patricia Stevens: Access, the qualtiy of the amenities, activities and design, economic development, environmental quality, and the public process. These seem to be common thrusts through all of the waterfronts that we investigated.

John Craig is editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He’s also a driving force behind Riverlife Task Force, the group that’s working to revitalize Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Triangle.

John Craig: What we’re creating is a huge park. And it’s a new kind of park which is, the centerpiece of it is water. It presents great opportunities for use, all kinds of use, for people. Obviously, it is also not just water, because it’s bordered by banks and all sorts of development and all sorts of natural beauty.

Craig says in Pittsburgh, large public investments in new stadiums and a convention center have been offset by public/private partnerships. Those partnerships have helped build a museum and other smaller venues that connect the area and showcase Pittsburgh’s history. There’s also plenty of public access to the rivers and back into the neighborhoods along boardwalks and bike paths. But Craig says other things had to come first.

John Craig: There are several things you have to have if you want to do this and one of them is you need money. And secondly, you need to have support of the people who control what it is you want to deal with.

Local planners like David Beach point out that Cleveland is ahead of the game. It’s stadiums are new and money for major infrastructure projects like the Innerbelt re-design is waiting in state coffers. Much of its waterfront is already in public hands, although elements like port facilities could be costly to move. And while a new convention center may be a high priority for the business community, the mayor has said it’s not high on her agenda. Ed Freer says issues like these can become sticking points for waterfront planning. Freer is an architect in Madison, Wisconsin who’s worked on waterfront design for cities across the Great Lakes region. He’s also been invited by the city of Cleveland to put together a preliminary plan that encompasses ideas gleaned so far from citizens, the business community, and other local stakeholders. Freer warns that, without consensus, even the best projects can be stalled.

Ed Freer: The challenge is, it’s really getting the people around the table and coming up with one common agenda. I’d say the cities and the projects that are just painfully sitting there and struggling are those that people are pursuing specific agendas and don’t come up with an agenda for the community.

David Beach agrees that open and honest discussion is vital to the planning process. But he thinks Cleveland may face other challenges.

David Beach: One might be a pauctiy of vision. We’ve had a crummy lakefront for so long, it’s hard for people in Cleveland to imagine how great it could be.

Next month, the city will resume waterfront planning meetings with neighborhood groups. In May, they’ll stage a series of public meetings for the entire community and unveil preliminary designs. In the meantime, folks at EcoCity Cleveland hope their new tool for recognizing the elements of a great waterfront will give citizens one more reason to get involved. In Cleveland, Karen Schaefer, 90.3.

Additional Information

* EcoCity Cleveland
* Duluth, its waterfront make for a shore bet

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