Neighborhood Walks Are a Showcase of Urban Redesign Ideas

Keisha Gonzales gives visitors a personalized tour of her La Villa Hispana neighborhood [David C. Barnett / ideastream]
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Some test cases in grassroots urban planning are on display in several Cleveland neighborhoods this week.  It's part of a series of events sponsored by the American Planning Association.  "We Plan Cleveland" features ideas that spring from local residents and not city planners.

Keisha Gonzales leads a small group of visitors down a brightly painted alley in Cleveland's La Villa Hispana neighborhood on the city’s west side.  An expanse of garage doors is covered with a forest of trees, and the road surface is illustrated with a blue river.  The paint is courtesy of a small grant from the Neighborhood Connections fund of the Cleveland Foundation, and the scene is a reflection of this neighborhood's wilderness heritage.

Gonzales says being a tour guide is something new for her, but she's certainly knows these streets, having grown-up just a few blocks from here.  She notes that her neighbors all pitched in on the paintjob in a show of community pride.  She also thinks there's an abundance of local economic creativity going on.

“On any given day, you're going to be bombarded by signs that say: ‘We sell food off of porches’,” she says.  “We're not looking for businesses from the outside to come in.  We're looking to foster businesses that exist here.”

Gonzales calls them "home entrepreneurs" and not all are licensed, but she says the goal is to preserve the desire for economic self-sufficiency while helping bring them up to code. 

It lets neighbors decide the future of their neighborhood, by celebrating local food and culture.

The American Planning Association’s Arthur Schmidt says these visits are called "Jane's Walks". 

They're inspired by the late-urban activist Jane Jacobs, who criticized urban planners she said were out of touch with the communities they were transforming.

“She was saying, all these neighborhoods have an identity, have a fabric, have their own style.,” Schmidt explains.  “Just on this walk right here, you can get a much better sense of this neighborhood --- the fabric and the feel of it --- than you can if you were sitting in your office and looking at a really big map.

In addition to city walks, this week's "We Plan Cleveland" events include stories about local revitalization projects and a talk by Brian Payne, the founder of a much lauded bike and pedestrian path, called the Indianapolis Cultural Trail.

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