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New Shaker Square Design Integrates Central Public Space With Neighborhoods

Architectural rendering of new Shaker Square design.
Hargreaves Associates
Architectural rendering of garden "rooms" with seating areas and a splash pad. The trellis shade structure would convert into a shielded space for a winter market.

Shaker Square will have a new look that’s meant to be more pedestrian-friendly and connect the town center with nearby neighborhoods.

After months of gathering community input, the groups working to reimagine Shaker Square presented design plans Sunday at a discussion and community picnic.

The design involves rerouting Shaker Boulevard so that all traffic goes around the Square, creating a larger, less divided interior space.

Inside the center of the Square, there will be a central plaza and trellis-like shade structure where the farmers market can operate, a splash pad and play area for kids, year-round garden “rooms” for people to sit that could include warming pits, a lawn and stage on the south side to be used for events such as outdoor movies, and a promenade around the Square with patio space. Three new parking garages — some with housing on top — are planned behind the stores.

This architectural rendering envisions a promenade with patio space around the Square. [Hargreaves Associates]

The team overseeing the redesign says they want the Square to be a more cohesive space rather than individual quadrants.

“We want to be able to have people not just go to the quad they were destined to go to and committed to going to, but to also take a lap, cut across the Square for the first time in its history, grab some errands at CVS, go have a drink at Fire, and then go to dinner at Edwins,” said Wayne Mortensen, Director of Design and Development with Cleveland Neighborhood Progress. “The Square itself can be a better place and more connected place.”

A Buckeye-to-Doan-Brook trail would cut a north-south path through the center, leading visitors to and from the Larchmere neighborhood to the north and Buckeye to the south.

“They feel miles apart, but they’re literally only a quarter mile from each other. So it’s a very convenient walk between the three, and together they provide the skeleton for a really convenient neighborhood,” Mortensen said.

The path would also connect Shaker Square to trails further north, he added, leading to University Circle and Lake Erie as well as south to Luke Easter Park.  

“We’re really bullish on the ability for this trail to start to connect people to a region,” said Mortensen. “So you start to get a sense of a better-connected neighborhood that for years has been just the opposite and oftentimes intentionally excluded from all of these amenities. So we’re very excited about the Square as a fulcrum for a broader neighborhood connection strategy.”

To help improve the connection between the Square and the surrounding neighborhoods, murals will be painted on the backside of buildings, including the movie theater. There will be art and better lighting in corridors connecting the interior and exterior sections of the Square, as well as improved streetscapes.

“So for instance, Drexmore Avenue, just south of Dave’s, there is no sidewalk,” said Mary Lydecker, Project Manager with the landscape architecture firm Hargreaves Associates. “And so it's reconnecting that urban streetscape so that you have sidewalks, street trees, safe lighting – all of the things that make it comfortable to walk from Buckeye Rd up to Shaker Square.”

The corridor beside Dave's Market is one of three pathways connecting Shaker Square with the surrounding residents. Lighting and art are among the improvements planned for the two exterior and one interior corridor. A public restroom will be added to the interior corridor next to CVS. [Annie Wu / ideastream]

Funding and logistics have yet to be ironed out. Donley’s, a Cleveland construction firm, has been tasked with estimating the cost of the project.

The diverse ownership issues in the Square pose a challenge for the group managing the redesign. The Coral Company owns Shaker Square. The streets are the property of the city of Cleveland. The land where the rapid runs belongs to Shaker Heights but is leased to the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority.

LAND Studio’s Senior Project Director Tiffany Graham says they hope to separate the Square’s public spaces to be owned, operated and managed by a private nonprofit third party, “with the ability to generate revenue and seek sponsorships and philanthropic support in a way that a private entity would not be able to do.”

Mortensen expects to move forward with some of the plans in the next 18 to 24 months, including community murals, improvements to the corridors, and a design competition for the trellis structure.

Architectural rendering of the public space leading to Dave's Market. The existing circular driveway would become a drop-off lane. An entry plaza focuses on foot rather than car traffic. A community mural on the side of Atlas Cinemas is intended to make the back of the Square feel like a front gateway. [Hargreaves Associates]

Shaker Heights resident Meghan Hays has attended several public input meetings and says she’s been pleased with the community-involved process. She especially supports the rerouting of Shaker Boulevard that will eliminate the traffic lights and make the space more transit-, pedestrian-, and bicycle-oriented.

“And I love that this is dramatic,” she said. “It’s a destination for us already, and it will be even more exciting and fun and comfortable and more opportunities to just hang out, which we don’t do a lot of, hanging out. We come for reasons, but I envision we can come here more just to hang out which is great.”

Architectural rendering of the Square in the winter with warming pits and a shielded area for an indoor market. [Hargreaves Associates]

Some elements did not make it into the design plan. A proposal for parallel parking and a protected bicycle lane did not go over well with the community. Instead, head-in parking will remain. A market plaza and picnic lawn were both removed when community members said the space had too many elements.

Mimi Plevin-Foust, who grew up in Shaker Heights and moved back 15 years ago, says she was excited to see that some of the suggestions she’d made at earlier meetings will be part of the design plan.

“I wanted there to be a play area and an interactive water area for kids. I wanted there to be art,” she said. “I wanted there to be places where people could hang out, and it’s so important there be safety and good lighting, and they’re going to do it.”

She expects more older people will bring their grandchildren to the Square after the plan is developed.

Architectural rendering of the great lawn. The play area and the stage are meant to be built-in safety barriers from the traffic around the Square. [Hargreaves Associates]

To keep people inside the Square safe from traffic, Lydecker says fixed bollards will be placed at opposite ends of Shaker Boulevard. There could be raised planters in the northwest garden rooms, as well as benches or a light chain link blocking the train tracks. Raised crossings will also signal pedestrian walkways.

With Shaker Boulevard traffic rerouted around the Square, the stop lights would be removed and replaced with flashing red signals or stop signs. The only lights would be to allow the Rapid trains to pass. [Annie Wu / ideastream]

As the project enters the development phase, the plan is to continue to keep community members involved — what Mortensen calls an “equity framework.”

“So that not only do they know and understand how the project continues to evolve, but that they can weigh in with the implementation team’s decision making and where some of the compromises need to take place,” he said. “So that they’re involved, engaged and informed partners throughout the process instead of just at the planning level.”

The RTA train tracks will remain as-is. [Annie Wu / ideastream]
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Annie Wu is the deputy editor of digital content for Ideastream Public Media.