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Buckeye District Renewal: Landmark Neighborhood Seeks New Identity

Friday, March 2, 2001 at 7:04 AM

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A re-designed Shaker Square was opened to holiday shoppers, late last year, injecting new life into an historic Cleveland shopping district. And yet, several blocks away, another landmark neighborhood continues to search for a new identity. After decades of mistrust and poor planning, the Buckeye district seems to be on the road to renewal. 90.3's David C. Barnett takes us for a visit.

David C. Barnett- John Aniliefo is a multi-cultural guy in a multi-cultural neighborhood. The Nigerian native is a resident of Euclid, but he spends his days buried in the paperwork that covers his desk at the Buckeye Area Development Corporation. As the agency’s Executive Director, John Aniliefo has tried to be a patient midwife to the re-birth of Cleveland’s historic Buckeye neighborhood.

John Aniliefo- The Buckeye community has a rich cultural history. A long time ago, it was home to the largest Hungarian community outside of Budapest. Now, it’s largely African American.

DCB- The neighborhood gets its name from Buckeye Road, which cuts diagonally across the east side of town. A wave of new Hungarian immigrants filled this street in the 1940s and 50s, but as available housing filled-up, the younger generation started moving to the suburbs. The Buckeye Road that John Aniliefo walks this afternoon is a far cry from the thriving thoroughfare of, say, 40 years ago. Storefront after storefront is empty, with an occasional low-overhead shop or fast-food joint breaking up the feeling of abandonment.

JA- The biggest challenge for Buckeye Road is the battle against people’s perceptions. People still think this is a dangerous place, which isn’t really true anymore.

DCB- For some older white ethnic residents who stuck it out, the deterioration of Buckeye - and the perception of danger - is linked to the African American families who moved into the neighborhood in the 1970s, just as the Hungarians were moving out. But, a recent community meeting demonstrated that black families are just as concerned as whites about the condition of Buckeye.

Woman- It’s about one of the most filthiest streets in Cleveland. I had some people who come from the south and I’m ashamed to have them drive up Buckeye to get to my house.

DCB- A local retailer says there have been attempts at redevelopment over the years, but the plans never seemed to have any teeth. There were pretty architectural drawings and schemes for coordinated store signs but nothing seemed to come of it. But now, something different’s happening.

About 50 area residents gathered in the Harvey Rice Elementary School auditorium to talk about the future they want for their neighborhood. The meeting was convened by Kent State University’s Urban Design Center, a group that specializes in re-designing troubled neighborhoods. This is the second of a planned series of meetings, where the Design Center staff listens to the residents and draws up some new housing, retail, and traffic patterns. Associate Director Andrew Baque says that such research helps his staff discover a community’s soul.

Andrew Baque- It’s the idea of creating a special identity that this neighborhood can claim as its own. That retailers can claim. That shoppers can claim. And then it gets registered in our mental maps. Larchmere is a good example of that. It’s where you can buy antiques. It’s a theme that they are promoting.

DCB- Baque describes the process as being like an oyster creating a pearl, finding that central grain to expand upon. For Buckeye, he thinks an old, boarded-up theater may hold some possibilities.

AB- One of the ideas that we’ve gotten good response to is in creating a performing arts district, that focuses on African-American cultural arts, building on the theater that’s there. Now, if one thinks of that theme and builds on it, and thinks about the history, where, in then past, there used to be jazz bars, it used to be known for its jazz clubs, and performing arts. And if there is a way to build on that history, one begins to envision a theme for those places - a theme in retail - coffee shops could even take on the theme of the performing arts. It gives people something to hang on to - to hang their hat on.

DCB- Planners and residents talked back and forth for a couple hours. A lot of ideas were tossed out and disagreements were aired. It might make you wonder if these neighbors will ever be able to wrap themselves around a common idea, a common theme. Buckeye Road businessman Mike Feigenbaum says, despite the differences, there are some shared desires.

Mike Feigenbaum- They’ll agree on basics, like the need to take down the abandoned stores, increase the police presence, and make the neighborhood safer.

AB- They want their neighborhood to come back.

DCB- Urban designer Andrew Baque says, for some neighborhoods, the biggest challenge is just re-establishing hope after years of neglect.

AB- Many of them have memories of what the place used to be. To get the community to rally around a bold plan is tough because they’ll say, well sure, we can support that. But what’s the hope of that ever happening?

Woman at meeting- It’s going to be done, with us or without us. BUT when it’s done, keep it up, put your policemen in place. People who can keep the place clean and keep the place nice, because if you keep it up this way, you’re going to attract people. You can change the name or whatever - it’s still going to be “Buckeye.”

DCB- There seemed to be plenty of hope and determination at the Buckeye Road community meeting, the other night. At least for these 50 people - a mixture of older residents and newer stakeholders - there was a common sense of ownership In Cleveland, David C. Barnett, 90.3 WCPN, 90.3 FM.

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