Hardest Hit Fund Should Help the Hardest Hit

As the world’s focus is locked on Flint, where the a catastrophic chain of cause and effect has poisoned the city’s youth. Governor Snyder’s directive to obtain water from a lower-quality source led to corrosive water leaching lead out of the city’s outdated lead pipes. Without any of those elements – the water source or the outdated lead pipes – this doesn’t happen.

However, many larger cities are facing a similar outcome with a much larger impact. Lead paint in housing has a similar effect on children. Just as Flint’s older lead pipes primarily affected African American neighborhoods, the preponderance of lead paint (banned since 1978) is also in older, inner city, African American neighborhoods. Lead paint consumption, just like lead-contaminated water consumption, can be disastrous for younger children whose bodies are still developing.

The City of Cleveland and Senator Sherrod Brown are asking for the federal government’s help on abating this issue through an existing program that has been wrongly applied in some instances. The Treasury created the $7.6 billion Hardest Hit Fund in 2010 to provide assistance, mostly through homeowner counseling, housing mortgage modifications, and housing demolition, directly to the states most affected by the housing crash. This would be mostly big states such as Ohio, Michigan, Florida, California, etc. Each state’s HFA set the policy for spending all of the money in that state.

In Michigan this program is used almost exclusively for demolishing Detroit’s historic neighborhoods en masse. To expedite this mission, Snyder undercut his SHPO’s otherwise-sanctioned duty to conduct Section 106 review of HHF-funded projects. That could be a problem if your project is just demolishing what remains of Detroit. In Ohio – at least in Cleveland – the funds are similarly put to use.

The city’s spokesperson, Natoya Walker Brown, is calling for feds to allow the funding to go toward home rehabilitation instead. This would allow the funding to be directed specifically toward abating lead paint in older neighborhoods that are still occupied, but lack the financial resources to renovate their homes every 20 years like in some areas of the city. Historic preservation groups, including the Cleveland Restoration Society and the Legacy Cities conference we co-hosted with CSU, have long been calling for the Hardest Hit Fund to take a look at housing rehabilitation not just as well, but perhaps instead.

I understand the multi-faceted argument behind demolishing unused housing stock. It reduces overall vacancy, “right-sizes” cities for their new and likely long-term populations, makes remaining property in the city more valuable, and mitigates the “broken window” effect more locally. All of those are legitimate. However, an even bigger consideration that has been completely ignored is the impact of a newly rehabilitated home on its surrounding block. Especially of that home’s exterior has been professionally restored to its original luster. Donovan Rypkema’s economic impact report on historic preservation concluded that a rehabilitated home has greater impact on its surroundings than removing blight.

While winning the economic argument will always be important for historic preservation, the real argument to win is the impact on people’s lives. Rather than destroying history and removing future opportunities from a community, the Hardest Hit Fund could be used to rehabilitate homes in low-income communities, keeping them standing, and safer for the children that grow up in them. That’s what could be done if Treasury, HFA’s, historic preservationists, and public health officials partnered toward solving this issue.

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Cleveland: RTA “Rapid” Photo Tour

Cleveland, once the fifth largest city in the United States before its suburbs took over, is one of those cities that inherited an old-school transit system. In a way, it’s Rapid Transit system is manifesting new-school trends as well, diversifying its modal split in recent years. The old school still prevails though. While best-known for its award-winning Healthline BRT (which was supposed to be light rail, but switched to BRT in order to get FTA funding), the older rail network still carries the bulk of ridership.

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Overview of TOD across the entire city

Its 19-mile, heavy rail (think MARTA or WMATA) Red Line dates back to the 1950s, and carries 19,500 daily riders in retro “silver bullet” trains, which is higher ridership than the Blue and Green lines combined. Utilizing a historic railroad trench, most stations are grade-separated – TOD designs are just now emerging that facilitate a seamless integration with that grade separation. Every single Red Line station has recently been rebuilt. Red Line station redevelopment has been a decades-long initiative, primarily moving from west to east. The Red Line connects the Airport to Tower City through westside neighborhoods such as Westpark, Lakewood, West Blvd, Detroit-Shoreway, and Ohio City. After Tower City, the eastbound Red Line connects to University Circle and East Cleveland through some of the east side’s hardest-hit communities, such as North Broadway, Fairfax, and Kinsman.

For the photo tour, I will start with the westside Red Line – but it is worth noting that all of these photos are from 2013-2014. Where possible I will contrast these outdated photos with renderings and newer photos from myself or the media. I need to take newer pics one of these days, but I’ve just gotten out of the habit of doing this in my adopted hometown:

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Large TOD planned for a current strip mall site that separates the Red Line from the iconic West Side Market

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The half-completed Eco Village surrounding the W. 65th Red Line Station

Tower City offers connections to the Blue and Green lines to Shaker Heights, the Waterfront Line to the Flats and lakefront, as well as the Euclid Avenue Healthline BRT. Tower City is one of the nation’s largest and oldest TOD’s, originally built by railroad moguls O.P. and M.J. Van Sweringen. The Van Swearingen brothers actually founded the Cleveland Interurban Railway to connect their master planned suburban development, Shaker Heights, to Downtown Cleveland. Tower City, then the Union Terminal Complex, was the western terminus for that transit network, which anchored downtown’s Public Square.

Public Square is a large, 4-block commons area in the dead center of the city, typical of communities founded in the Connecticut Western Reserve. Just as Cleveland’s open space legacy harkens back to its New England roots, so do its liberal politics and extensive transit legacy. Before Tower City was finished, there was Shaker Square – the entrance to Shaker Heights, and where Van Aken Blvd (Blue Line) and Shaker Blvd (Green Line) split. To this day Shaker Square is one of the city’s hottest and most-integrated neighborhoods, a testament to the enduring value of transit-oriented real estate. On the other end of the line, transit is being totally revolutionized in Downtown Cleveland – particularly with the new Public Square. Below are some photos inside the Terminal Tower complex and the adjacent Public Square. Renderings of the new Public Square follow.

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$32 million makeover of Public Square, designed by James Corner Field Operations (designer of NY’s High Line)

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It doesn’t get more real than this

Fare thee well old Public Square, hello new Public Square.

The new Public Square and corresponding improvements to Tower City, including the $400 million Horseshoe Casino, aren’t the only transit-oriented development change in downtown. In fact, it is downtown’s western periphery – the Flats East Bank, Warehouse District, and the lakefront – that show the most promise for TOD. While much has recently been finished, more is underway currently – the largest impact will be plans that the city will get to after the RNC Convention. The Waterfront Line is the $70 million extension of the Blue/Green lines past Tower City, to wrap around downtown. While it was “finished” in 1996, it has always been considered incomplete – original plans included a complete loop back into the Rapid system, around Cleveland State University.

Ridership was so low when the Browns left town until a new stadium was built that service was discontinued shortly after its completion. Service was resumed in 2013, but ridership remained low until the Flats East Bank development opened. This line will be further rejuvenated by a Cumberland Development and Trammel Crow project at North Coast Harbor, in between the Browns stadium and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. This area will also be bridged to Voinovich Park by a $25 million modern drawbridge, that may also connect to a new intermodal transit hub that will replace an embarrassing Amtrak station.

I find it incredible that this bridge costs almost as much as the entire Public Square redesign, which underscores two things: in the public works realm, $32 million for a high-quality project like Public Square is an incredible bargain; and secondly, the city is all in on this pedestrian bridge to the lakefront. I hope there is a good way to match its design up with the intermodal rail hub, but it may be too late. The drawbridge is already funded, but has been delayed by a promised “downtown construction freeze” for the RNC Convention. After that date, the city will also start discussing (ie., look for funding, hire designers, start planning, etc) the lakefront rail station. As a final note, redevelopment in this area will be complicated by a 70-foot grade separation (downtown sits on top of a bluff, above the lakefront), as well as parking lots that are known as Browns tailgating ground-zero (this is a big deal).

As I mentioned above, this line is heavily in flux with several projects currently in various stages. The Flats East Bank project is nearly finished, the new drawbridge is funded and about to break ground, the North Coast Harbor is similarly financed but still on the boards, and then the new Amtrak/intermodal hub is still in discussions.

Of course, this blog article would not be complete without mention of the Healthline. Not unlike other transit authorities that volunteer themselves to FTA to be BRT guinea pigs, the transit authority’s own focus has shifted to the surprising success of the Healthline project. It helps that Euclid Avenue is the historic “Millionaire’s Row,” built-out all the way to Wickliffe (suburban Lake County) by the Rockefellers and their ilk.

The Healthline has been described by proponents as light rail with tired, and by detractors as a “federally-funded streetscape,” yet from my point of view those are both good things. I have covered the Healthline TOD phenomena ad nauseum, including a lengthy expose at CEOs for Cities that showed both sides of the coin. Given that the Healthline’s center-lane alignment and platform stations were designed to allow for easy future conversion to light rail, I’m a fan.

The project also branded the Euclid Corridor, the city’s iconic main street, and got the east side of Cleveland moving. The distinctive corridor project has been an undeniable magnet for TOD, nearly $6 billion according to this heavily BRT-slanted ITDP study. While most of it has been market-rate development with minimal affordable development to date, making it feel perhaps more like Dallas than Minneapolis. Despite that, this is all the more incredible given the weak market conditions along the corridor, and the fact that most all development has just been infill with no displacement potential. As crazy as it sounds, this bus project really was the impetus for Downtown Cleveland’s remarkable resurgence.

It’s worth mentioning that a lot of the $5.6 billion in TOD was mostly institutional expansion that may have been negligibly spurred by the Healthline. While these institutional actors (such as Cleveland State University, the Cleveland Clinic, Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals, etc) may have still needed a green light from the public sector before reinvesting in their physical presence along Euclid Avenue, you can’t seriously attribute the expansion of the Cleveland Clinic to a BRT system. There are Saudi sheikhs who maintain private wards at the Clinic just for when their family needs check-ups. The magnitude of the Clinic is not even in the same ether as Euclid Avenue and its bus rapid transit, and for better or mostly worse, the planning of the Clinic (and its cornucopia of parking garages going up every year) reflects this. In my opinion, TOD should have to be underparked in order to qualify.

The Healthline is also not perfect. Signal prioritization absolutely does not seem to be working. I say that because I was a frequent Healthline rider who sat at many a traffic light in my day, which is the whole point of signal prioritization, especially when the BRT has its own lane. In fact I’m pretty sure the only purpose of the traffic signals along Euclid is to first infuriate everyone, then put cars second, and transit last. The route is also longer than BRT can be expected to remain on schedule. Also, due to congestion in University Circle, the ideal center-lane alignment gives way to curbside-alignment and mixed traffic operation.

It is that eastern end of the Healthline corridor that is perhaps the strongest. That is also where the Healthline is least Healthline-like (just described above), which also casts aspersions onto the catalytic extent of the BRT itself.

While the long-term civic vision of Downtown, Midtown, and University Circle being continuously bridged is slowly coming to fruition, the pace of infill is rampant in the last two miles of that 5-mile trek. University Circle is the hottest square mile of real estate in Ohio, and to get there, you have to first traverse the mile-long Cleveland Clinic campus. You don’t necessarily have to go through Midtown, though. Motorists often prefer the scenic route on MLK Blvd and Rockefeller Park’s cultural gardens, while transit riders may prefer the tried-and-true Red Line which has 1/4th the number of stops along the way. The eastern Red Line is just now getting its new stations, except for some that may realistically just be closed. Below are two year-old photos, with photos of the new stations at Cedar and Mayfield roads. Major TOD is transpiring at these gateways.

And now for the transformative new stations, and resultant TOD:

Lastly, the oldest transit asset in all of Cleveland – the Shaker Heights Blue and Green Lines. These two combine for around 15,000-17,000 daily riders, not bad – but certainly brought down by lower density in affluent Shaker Heights. This is another case where what is old is being made new again. The Shaker area, beginning at the St. Luke’s redevelopment area at MLK, connecting into historic Shaker Square, and then splitting up through Shaker Heights – is seeing renewed development interest along the Rapid. Some of this is legacy real estate, including Shaker Square and Van Aken Blvd’s linear mid-rises. Some of this is recently completed, particularly at Lee Road, between Van Aken and Chagrin.

As with many things in Cleveland, the best is yet to come, with the Van Aken District now under development. Van Aken is the redevelopment of a huge strip mall that used to sit on a complicated 6-way interchange. Roads are being reconfigured, the Blue Line is being extended across the interchange (where it used to terminate), and new urbanist infill is taking over on all corners.

First, the Cleveland-proper parts of the Shaker area (St. Luke’s Hospital area and Shaker Square):

Lastly, the Shaker Heights-proper part of the Shaker area, where higher-end TOD is beginning to transpire.

All of the above (for the Shaker part of this post) is about to soon by overshadowed by Northeast Ohio’s largest TOD in nearly a century: The Van Aken District.

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Rendering looking NW to SE through proposed Van Aken District

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Site plan diagram

That, from these ashes:

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Existing conditions at Warrensville Center Road / Van Aken Blvd / Chagrin Blvd intersection

While all of these rails may have lost some of their luster, they still work well. They are traversed by around 40,000 passengers daily. They are the formative first experience of many newcomers, when they first land at the airport. They may not always comprise the scenic route, but there is a good chance they can get you where you need to go. They are Cleveland’s most underutilized practical development asset, which it is just now beginning to realize.

The future of transit in Cleveland is in flux. The city is currently debating a contentious fare hike that will undoubtedly hit the poor the hardest. Transit in Cleveland, and the breadth of access it provides compared to other Tier 2 metros, is still a bargain. Even the Healthline’s naysayers will admit that the Cleveland RTA is very well-ran, which goes a long ways. RTA has identified 10 “transit-propensity” corridors, which is a way of saying that they have a priority list of Cleveland’s primary corridors.

The agency just completed a $20 million BRT-lite project on Clifton Avenue, which serves high-density pockets like West Blvd, Edgewater, and all of Lakewood. The agency is currently beginning a project to extend either the Red Line or Healthline eastward, all the way to Euclid (population 55,000). It will hopefully be Red Line extension that is chosen in the end, but that will be dictated by the planning process that is currently underway. Lorain Avenue and West 25th are likely next-up, and activists are already duking it out in the media. Me thinks West 25th would be a phenomenal streetcar corridor, and so do many others, including Ohio City Inc. RTA may go path of least resistance with just another BRT-lite.

P.S. For some extra reading, here is the text of the CEOs for Cities article. While they cleared their website, it made it up onto some blog or forum. The article is one of my better pieces, offering a fair and balanced look at the Rail v. BRT debate in Cleveland.

P.P.S. Please ask for permission before reusing pics. Almost all are mine, but some are from Cleveland.com. Renderings are obviously the intellectual property of the architect and/or developer.

Cleveland ranks #8 for brain gain

Then there’s this, a new report from the Cleveland State University Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs’ Center for Population Dynamics. According to the report, Cleveland now ranks 8th nationally, in terms of attracting Millennials with college degrees. Roughly tied with Miami and Seattle.

In case anyone doubted that this whole sustainability-planning-preservation-urban design-whatnot thing works. It’s working for Cleveland. In fact, it’s working wonders for a formerly “dead city.”

Mixing Architecture

While my design soft spot has always and will always be architectural contrast, my professional work has led me to realize there is a strong consensus against that in most cases. To make matters worse (or better), anytime you can simplify design through a public process (where design literacy may vary), the better the outcome.

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Looking straight north up 3rd Street in Columbus, where the German Village’s iconic slate roofs and brick cottages comprise the theme listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The listing notes three styles: Queen Anne, Italianate, and Gothic Revival (Photo credit: German Village Society)

Historic districts promote uniformity, whether we admit this or not (through the theme of contributing properties, which may be one style or several that go together). Urban design guidelines and design districts do this as well through strict standards. That said, we also must admit uniform standards do work wonders toward preserving the quality of a district.

Design is subjective, and design standards and historic districts have been proven successful in objectively raising the bar toward an enactable minimum with which we can all accept. Toward that end, this post is not meant to be an attack on standards, but rather merely pointing out what lies outside the box.

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Outdated aerial (just showing the older Georgian section) of the Chesapeake Energy HQ Campus in OKC (Photo credit: The Lost Ogle)

Most esteemed university campuses with which I am familiar also have a distinct style, often part of their brand. Oklahoma State University is Georgian. So Georgian that the Chesapeake Energy campus in OKC, with its older core of OK State knock-off buildings, is often called OSU-style and not Georgian. #SoGeorgian. University of Oklahoma is prairie gothic, which I always found to be weird. University of Texas is mission-style. University of Kansas is romanesque. KU really is stunning, as a non-Jayhawk.

The aforementioned examples revolve around classical styles, which are most commonly found in authentic samples. Developing anew in a historic motif, like Chesapeake, is rare and should be discouraged as far as architectural authenticity is concerned. That said, the future will not have homogenous 21st Century districts simply because we are almost always working with a pre-developed context. 100 years from now, the 21st Century styles that we will be preserving will be more mixed amongst older styles, so far as urban context is concerned. If we don’t reconcile our perspectives toward mixing architecture, we risk the chance of enacting the wrong standards and following the wrong approach altogether. Preservation must eventually become more sophisticated, just as development has.

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Corner of NE 2nd and Walnut in OKC’s Deep Deuce area, with the new Aloft Hotel, LEVEL apartments, replete w/ Native Roots grocery store and a bikeshare station in front (Photo self-attributed, taken in 2013)

Modern design districts come in two forms. On one hand you have something like Deep Deuce in OKC, which is almost entirely new infill, developed over parking lots for which OKC’s historic black main street was demolished in the 50s and 60s. With very few original pieces still extant, those have been mostly restored, and some of the infill features nods to the red brick warehouses that once were. However, most of the infill, for lack of an authentic surrounding context, has been pretty outrageous – with free reign for architects to create a 21st Century neighborhood. Steve Lackmeyer, downtown beat writer for The Daily Oklahoman, wrote about Deep Deuce as the “complete” mixed-use neighborhood other cities dream about.

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Mixed design built within landmark historic district in Cleveland’s University Circle. Modern landmarks such as Frank Gehry’s Weatherhood School and Uptown CLE wedged between CWRU’s historic quads and Little Italy. (Photo credit: Bill Cobb)

The last and most common case is where modern design truly coexists in a mixed environment, which usually includes a more nondescript historic building stock (else the modern would be toned down). In the case of University Circle in Cleveland, perhaps Ohio’s most magnificent square mile, few neighborhoods have so masterfully blended old and new, landmarks alike. That said, sometimes the new does endanger the old. CWRU has famously targeted entire historic districts for demolition, such as Hessler Street – giving rise to the famous Hessler Street Fair where the historic street stands tall against outside threats. Little Italy, (the smattering of cottages between the tracks and Murray Hill in the above photo), is better-protected – but its corners have been reinforced with high-end modern condos.

That mixed context, in my opinion, is the most impressive. I hate seeing historic landmarks in University Circle threatened, but as long as the neighborhood can evolve and retain ALL of them – University Circle remains the unquestioned most spectacular square mile of Ohio. It’s a rich and varied architectural cultural that befits Ohio’s cultural district. It’s as simple as that. Tearing down a building is not unlike the Cleveland Museum of Art moving out the Monet to make room for the Chihuly (which they would never do!), however refusing to make room for the Rothko also diminishes the overall value and authenticity.

That said, you don’t put the Rothko, Chihuly, and Monet in the same frame, let alone gallery. In Columbus, a locally-significant developer Jerry Solove (his family name is on the new OSU Medical Center), has proposed to demolish one of Old North Columbus’ most historic High Street blocks. While within two blocks there exists entire blocks of strip malls that could easily be demo’d for their concept, they of course must demolish the best block to make way for 11 stories of modern student housing. Worse yet, the entire project is designed to cleverly slip through zoning and design review in a city with shockingly weak development controls. The only two homes whose zoning would need to change have been swallowed into the development as a façadism nightmare. The setbacks going up every two floors also circumvent the height limits inherent within the zoning classification. With the city zoning administrator’s signature in hand already, the development could practically begin tomorrow and irrevocably demolish what little historic integrity remains on High Street, north of the OSU campus.

Just because there isn’t much integrity left doesn’t make that low-hanging fruit for redevelopment. Sophisticated cities, which Columbus just isn’t quite yet, find ways to retain the good and focus redevelopment opportunities where those opportunities actually exist. The flip side is the argument that “this argument is irrelevant because said development has this site, not that site.” That is the developer’s problem, not the city’s, or community’s. Otherwise there is natural development pressure to keep building up on the good sites, continuing to ignore the bad sites. What gives in the end? When that happens, you get the below nightmare (which really should also render the empty block of strip mall parking two blocks away).

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Google Earth Aerial of Old North Columbus, with the Pavey block outlined in red on the right, and a strip mall screaming for redevelopment outlined in red on the left

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Pavey Square at High and Northwood in Old North Columbus, notice the two otherwise beautiful Second Empire homes swallowed up (Photo from Columbus Underground)

Transit-Oriented Development: More about Orientation than Transit or Development

Cities and Solutions Under Assault

Transit Oriented Development, a term coined by Peter Calthorpe in the 1980s, has become a quintessential rallying cry for planners seeking to move American cities forward. Despite near-unanimous consensus on the need to maximize TOD in order to make cities successful, the buzz-wordiness of the notion now has critics claiming everything is TOD. Worse yet, this now has many cities rationalizing whatever it is that they have as “TOD.”

An example of rationalizing: At the OSU Knowlton School of Architecture, we recently had a “Planner’s Panel” on TOD in Columbus. It was a fabulous panel with city planners from Dublin, a remarkably progressive city, our fairly progressive MPO, our downtown SID, etc. For those of you that have been to Columbus and think you’re missing something, you’re not. We don’t have any TOD. But give us 5 minutes, and we will tell you all about how close we are.

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Damned if you do, damned if you don’t: The reality is that TOD has been elusive and “true TOD” still evades even the most progressive communities. (An example of this might be Cleveland’s proposed TOD at the West 25th Red Line station, complete with 555-575 parking spaces. So is it really “true TOD?”) As the concept becomes more shrouded in smoke, many of the more independent thinkers now avoid it altogether for fear of being cliche. Sidebar: I know we’re all looking for the “IT Factor” in how we plan with limited community resources. Usually in business, a good bet is the one everyone is sleeping on or can’t figure out (as long as you can figure it out).

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The iconic St. Charles Streetcar in Uptown NOLA.

One of the more cringeworthy revelations toward this end is Jarrett Walker’s recent assertion that “most urban redevelopment is bus TOD.” Uh yeah, a respected urbanist actually said that. Generally, equity-focused planners (a niche that is historically prone to self-defeatism, in this case perfecting the “deer in the headlights look” with the spread of gentrification along transit routes) have always used their advocacy outlets to dog streetcar projects on any basis that they can (see: CityLab, any articles tagged “streetcar”). They attack and smear struggling cities such as New Orleans that want to harness rail-based transit to turn their situation around (although it seems like unfairly attacking anything New Orleans does is all the rage these days). The worst, perhaps the most dangerous of the mavericktivistsMatthew Yglesias’ VOX screed proclaiming streetcar projects to be categorically “evil.” I am reminded of that time that Hugo Chavez insisted he smelled sulfur after taking the podium following George W. Bush. Pot. Kettle. Black.

264100_2056634249073_2486104_nAnd then, sometimes equity planning’s defense of bus-only transit is downright hilarious. Meet the “Coolest Bus Around.” Why would anyone want a clean, modern, efficient, well-designed LIGHT RAIL when you can have a bus with a hot driver? No? Well you must not get all hormonal when you step onto the typically squalid city bus. You’re just not getting the right contact high when you ride the buses in your town.

Battleground Backyard

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Simply put, modern transit and TOD has become a battleground. Just about everything in urban planning tends to become a battleground, as it’s sometimes hardest to marshal a consensus on projects in our own backyard. We all need to take a deep breath and find ways to move forward on transit. Collectively, holistically, and comprehensively. As a rail advocate, I’m willing to extend the olive branch in agreeing that we must leverage rail corridors to make bus networks more effective. There has to be a place for both. That said, I would rather err on the side of modernity than that of antiquity. ‘Nuff said.

It shouldn’t be bus or rail, zero sum, winner takes all. I understand that’s easy to say when my end goal is just moving the needle a little on rail, however, this isn’t an incremental ploy I’m proposing. I genuinely think with a few small additions of rail, the whole picture for transit can come into focus. With the addition of rail that serves as a “high-frequency spine” that bus routes feed into, with multi-hub corridors that syncs the two transit modes together, American cities can very easily offer premier transit service. It will be those cities – with the ability to make sense of the bigger picture and the combined roles of rail, bus, and cars (maybe even “driverless cars”) – that have the biggest upside in the 21st Century.

If we all take a deep breath on this issue, I’d like to make a new point (I promise not to go all mavericktivist): Transit Oriented Development requires Development Oriented Transit. It goes both ways. Re: “everything is bus TOD.” No, not everything is bus TOD. In fact, bus TOD is almost negligible. It just doesn’t pass the scrutiny of essential nexus. How much development is deliberately oriented toward and not away from a bus stop? There has to be a mutual relationship between the TOD and the transit. When you run public transit as a social service, you limit your TOD to facilities that provide social services. That’s the unfortunate reality, and that’s coming from someone who rides the bus every single day.

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High Street in downtown Columbus is clogged with slow-moving, view-blocking, often-stalled, and smog-billowing buses.

Here in Columbus, efforts to stymie rail planning and transit have been remarkably successful over the last 20 years. Despite countless plans and proposals, Columbus can now lay its claim as the largest city in the nation without passenger rail. Many transit activists attribute some of the city’s development boom to the city’s hyper-concentrated bus service along High Street (served by 6-7 bus lines, with almost all bus routes funneled down High Street through downtown), where development has also been concentrated. Correlation is not causation. The reality is that the occupants of new spaces built along High Street exist in spite of the buses that plague the corridor. Developers are finding creative ways to detach their projects from the surrounding streetscape due to this, and unfortunately, there are no shortage of ways to do this: No street retail, parking podiums, tinted first floor windows, landscape band-aids, plaza/moats, and more.

Here’s a quote from a Columbus Dispatch article three days ago:

Local retail consultant Chris Boring said it is difficult to make retail work on High Street because of bus traffic and the lack of parking.

“The focus needs to shift away from High Street,” he said, even as new multi-use projects on High Street include first-floor storefronts, such as the Day Cos. plans to refurbish three buildings along N. High north of Long Street.

What pains me is the obvious disconnect that I am seeing. We don’t need more transit-resistant development. We don’t need more anti-transit, anti-development, and anti-equity. We need all three of these things to work together and move each other forward. There’s an assumption that retail needs people with fat wallets, whom we all know only show up in cars (I hope not). There’s also an assumption that rail transit is a ploy to create transit just for the rich (because they don’t need transit). Underpinning all of this is an assumption that the two sides can not work together.

That’s the problem we face today. We need to come together, not come apart. That’s where we need to seriously reevaluate how our development AND our transit is oriented.

The Land is Thinking Big

I love cities with a propensity for big, bold thinking. Some label it an “edifice complex,” I call it city-building. This is a lost art, often misunderstood by even the best-intended planners.

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Cleveland became known as “The Mistake on the Lake” after a series of high-profile environmental disasters in the 1970s

Cleveland, Ohio – the “mistake on the lake” – is a city with such a propensity. The Fifth City, once an equal anchoring the Eastern Great Lakes half-way between Chicago and Toronto, nowadays the city has dropped off the world stage and settled into more of a regional role. There is nothing wrong with this.

Context – What is a Legacy City?

Ranks 10-40 are filled with cities that once claimed “Top 5” destination status (populations rounded to the nearest million).

  1. New York City-Newark, 23 million
  2. Los Angeles-Long Beach, 18 million
  3. Chicago-Naperville, 10 million
  4. Washington-Baltimore, 9 million
  5. San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, 8 million
  6. Boston-Worcester-Providence, 8 million
  7. Dallas-Fort Worth, 7 million
  8. Philadelphia-Reading-Camden, 7 million
  9. Houston-The Woodlands, 7 million
  10. Miami-Fort Lauderdale, 6 million
  11. Atlanta-Athens-Sandy Springs, 6 million
  12. Detroit-Warren-Ann Arbor, 5 million
  13. Seattle-Tacoma, 4 million
  14. Minneapolis-St. Paul, 4 million
  15. Cleveland-Akron-Canton, 4 million
  16. Denver-Aurora, 3 million
  17. Portland-Vancouver-Salem, 3 million
  18. Orlando-Daytona Beach, 3 million
  19. St. Louis-St. Charles, 3 million
  20. Pittsburgh-New Castle, 3 million
  21. Charlotte-Concord, 2 million
  22. Sacramento-Roseville, 2 million
  23. Kansas City-Overland Park, 2 million
  24. Salt Lake City-Provo-Orem, 2 million
  25. Columbus-Marion-Zanesville, 2 million
  26. Indianapolis-Carmel-Muncie, 2 million
  27. Las Vegas-Henderson, 2 million
  28. Cincinnati-Wilmington-Maysville, 2 million
  29. Milwaukee-Racine-Waukesha, 2 million
  30. Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, 2 million
  31. Nashville-Murfreesboro, 2 million
  32. Virginia Beach-Norfolk, 2 million
  33. Greensboro-Winston-Salem, 2 million
  34. Jacksonville-St. Mary’s, 1 million
  35. Louisville-Elizabethtown, 1 million
  36. Hartford-West Hartford, 1 million
  37. New Orleans-Metairie-Hammond, 1 million
  38. Grand Rapids-Wyoming-Muskegon, 1 million
  39. Greenville-Spartanburg, 1 million
  40. Oklahoma City-Shawnee, 1 million

(Rounded to the nearest million, cut-off at OKC #40 with 1.4 million)

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Not to belabor the point, but scale is so important for “big thinking.” What may be thinking big in Jacksonville, with about 1.5 million in its metro, simply does not pass muster as the same in a city twice the size. As you see from the above list, despite being America’s 48th largest city proper (and falling, with 389,000 residents in its 77-square mile territory) – Cleveland is still pretty big. It is in fact America’s #15 metro. Even still. So while it has lost some of its luster, its important to not hyperbolize the fall of Cleveland. It has fallen from #5 to #15; it’s just less dense, more gentrified, and more suburban, hence the rise of Westlake, Mentor, Hudson, Medina, and around 500 other burbs…

New Orleans was once a Top 5 city as well, with its iconic Jackson Square named for the former president who first became a war hero in its vicinity fighting the French & Indian War. New Orleans has fallen a long way, from “Top 5” to #37. That is a city that just needs to maintain as something as world class as Vioux Carre, Uptown, Magazine Street, Tulane, and more are simply not possible in today’s metros of 1 million. New Orleans is blessed with a legacy that realistically its modern planning can never aspire to replicate. Heck, no city can ever replicate that. So toward that end, New Orleans is the classic “legacy city,” as defined by the famous Brachman-Mallach report on Regenerating America’s Legacy Cities.

Three Underrated Secrets About Cleveland

So the sky in Cleveland is not falling; it’s just a shade of gray 350 days out of the year. Cleveland has not dropped from #5 to #48. The function of Cleveland has changed. It’s no longer a nuclear entity. It is a hub for a larger region. For Ohio, it’s our state’s hub for bad sports (priorities, people), entertainment, banking, manufacturing, high tech, logistics, travel, research, and really practical stuff like that. It basically just lacks what Columbus has, that being government and education, and perhaps has also ceded shopping to Columbus (which is a retail HQ hub).

The first underrated fact: All of these functions (listed above) that Cleveland still dominates represent development opportunities past, present, and future.

The second underrated fact: Despite a legitimate decades-long “free fall” following the turbulent 1960s, Cleveland NEVER stopped building skyscraper cities. It’s a city that always thought big even when the hole was getting bigger. That is unique. Perhaps that’s an “edifice complex,” I don’t know.

The third underrated fact: While it’s never any one thing, if it has to be, the cause of Cleveland’s troubles was (and sadly continues to be) the racial inequality. The race riots were so incredibly damaging, with a legacy of despair that endures decades later in the hearts and minds of people. Cleveland was the #3 “receiving station” of the Great Migration, behind only Chicago and Detroit, and a topic I have researched extensively in a former gig at the Cleveland Restoration Society.

Putting all these facts together: Cleveland will always keep building, “under construction since 1798” as they say,” but it needs a foundation of community, and should that ever happen then Cleveland can really blossom. Working towards equality is work towards city-building.

Cleveland as a city, as envisioned by the founder of equity planning Norm Krumholz, is a beacon of refuge for the disenfranchised. Basically for all of NE Ohio’s disenfranchised. For better or worse, that is the City of Cleveland’s primary customer – those who have nowhere else to shop (so to speak).

Before Big Dreams, Big Nightmares

As a city that for better or worse has always “done it up big,” several factors have wreaked havoc on the city that exists today. Many of these factors have impacted other communities as well, but I can think of no other city adversely impacted by all of these issues, and sadly what makes Cleveland unique is the magnanimity of the adverse impact.

A few trends:

  1. De-industrialization
    1. Cleveland falls in the category of cities that have lost 43-56% of industrial jobs since 1950
  2. Foreclosure crisis
    1. Slavic Village, Cleveland’s inner-southeast neighborhood, was the #1 ZIP code (44105) for active foreclosures in 2007. This has led to the “Foreclosure Ground Zero” moniker. This one neighborhood had 787 active foreclosure filings at once. (!!!)
  3. Airline hub consolidation
    1. Cleveland has actually fared better without the United Hub, so take that
  4. Sports relocations
    1. Browns to Baltimore, then expansion team awarded (Browns return). These episodes really tear at the intangible bonds within a community, whether you’re pro-sports or not.
  5. Suburban sprawl
    1. NEOSCC / Vibrant NEO has assembled an incredible resource on Cleveland sprawl
  6. Urban renewal
    1. I.M. Pei. “Erieview.” East 9th Street. Need I say more?
  7. Race tensions
    1. In any city, the health of its people is going to manifest itself in the built environment. In Cleveland, 60% of its permanent residents are disenfranchised minorities. While its an extremely liberal and pro-diversity city, regressive policy at the state and federal level aims to push most Clevelanders around.

A visual representation of these trends:

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I must credit Angie Schmitt for both this gif and the “America’s worst parking crater” moniker

Comeback City

Rising out of the literal wreckage of all of the aforementioned conditions and trends, and out of the psychological shadow that lingers long after the dust has cleared, is a city that never stopped building. The 950-foot Key Tower, the tallest between NYC and CHI, was built in 1991 at a time when you could have taken a nap in the middle of Euclid Avenue. The 660-foot 200 Public Square tower was built in 1985. The 450-foot One Cleveland Center was built in 1983. The 450-foot Fifth Third Center was built in 1992. The 430-foot Stokes Courthouse tower was built in 2002. All in all, from 1983-2002, these 19 years resemble some dark years – so that it comes as a surprise that the city built so much during this period. To be fair, this period also had several “false starts” of premature revitalization that failed to stick not unlike November snow.

We have now transitioned into a period where revitalization is in full force, heralded by the national media any time Cleveland is mentioned. These projects and this revitalization are now more like a January blizzard, with ground cover that (like it or not) is going to stick for a while. Perhaps until June.

Recently Completed (last 2-3 years)

I really want to get to the projects I see in the pipeline right now, but I couldn’t do that without mentioning just some of the major projects that still have that new project smell. It is these projects that inspire confidence in A, the staying power of this revitalization; and B, that proposed projects will come to fruition.

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The 9 is a $170 million complex featuring an upscale Heinen’s grocery store in the historic AmeriTrust Rotunda. In the Marcel Breuer-designed brutalist AmeriTrust tower behind, there are high-end apartments, and The Metropolitan (A Marriott Autograph Collection hotel). Photo credit: The Plain Dealer

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The Cleveland Clinic continues to build, but the Sydell-Miller Pavilion gave it a centerpiece. Also, the $500 million pricetag distinguishes it from most Clinic projects here and there. Photo credit: The Plain Dealer.

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The Horseshoe Casino was a $350 million investment that revitalized the Higbee Building, which the Van Sweringen’s built to house the department store they felt their Union Terminal Complex needed.

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MOCA, the Museum of Contemporary Art, was comparatively cheap at just $27 million, but leverages the impact of its really cool design to make a splash

Copyright Keith Berr Productions, Inc.1420 East 31st Street Cleveland Ohio 44114 216.566.7950 www.keithberrphotography.com All Rights Reserved

The $250 million University Hospitals (CWRU) Seidman Cancer Center

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The $525 million Louis Stokes VA Hospital campus. Finished 2014.

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PlayHouse Square exterior improvements. Again, at “just” $16 million, doesn’t really meet the threshold for this list, if only it weren’t all spent on design that really makes an already-incredible district pop. Pictured: The world’s largest chandelier (hanging over Euclid Avenue)

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Battery Park, the $100 million redevelopment of the former Eveready Battery factory complex in Detroit-Shoreway, will feature mostly lakefront condos (330 units). The old power plant has been restored into a wine bar.

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In Tremont, the Gospel Press factory has been rehabbed into 102 lofts. Before functioning as a printing press for bibles this complex was the short-lived “University of Cleveland,” that was replaced by Fenn College, which eventually became Cleveland State University. (I may have over-simplified that sequence a little)

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The Tudor Arms, rehabbed into a Doubletree in 2011, is even more incredible inside. As a historic tax credit projects, this $20 million investment went a long ways. Typically historic rehabs realize huge cost savings, at least if something large-scale and high-quality is your end goal.

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I used to park on this site when I first moved to Cleveland in 2012. And into 2013. Finished 2014. This $65 million project features roughly 200 high-end apartments, dorm spaces for Cleveland Institute of Art, as well as street-level retail including Barnes & Noble, a bowling alley, Panera, Constentino’s grocery store, restaurants, and bars. This was a New Markets Tax Credit project (Constantino’s is a QALICB).

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The $92 million, 330-foot, 23-story Ernst & Young office tower has brought activity back to the Waterfront Line (light rail, pictured). Photo rights reserved by me.

Coming UP

Now we get to the exciting part – as Cleveland continues to reach higher, plan bigger, and execute better – these are the projects either under construction or moving through the proposal process. This is the next wave of progress that is set to come crashing down, in a good way.

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Overall, the Flats East Bank project is a $500 million vision. Phase 1 was the $100 million EY tower + Aloft. Phase 2 mostly completes the project, and brings the residential, retail, restaurant, and entertainment component. This pic from @Clevelandgram on Instagram, progress as of two weeks ago.

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UC3, or University Circle City Center, will add 700 mixed-income apartments including a high-rise component. The project anchors the southern terminus of Rockefeller Park, opposite the Wade Lagoon in front of the CMA.

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nuCLEus: $300 million, 54-story, 650-foot tall tower. The “jenga” connector, which is a 4/5-story “bridge” cantilevered between the two smaller towers and the base of the main tower. 500 apartments, 400,000 SF of office (leases already signed, lead-tenant will be Benesch Law Firm), and 140,000 SF retail arcade. This WILL happen. Not just because they’ve already secured financing, but also because of developer Bob Stark’s track record, which includes Crocker Park in Westlake.

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Bob Stark is also proposing to add apartments, pictured below, atop the garage at E. 6th and Euclid. This is a bit more tentative, and probably gets built after nuCLEus.

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Weston and Citymark, two of the biggest names in the suburban Cleveland real estate market, just last week proposed this $100 million behemoth on the above-pictured “World’s greatest parking crater.” Yes, those parking lots that separate the Warehouse District from Public Square/Tower City. When finished this will encompass 1,200 apartments and 3 million SF, broken into two phases.

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Intesa, a $100-110 million proposal by Coral and Panzica, is proposed to flank the new Mayfield Road Red Line (light rail) station between Little Italy and University Circle. With 700 parking spaces, 300 micro-apartments, and tech incubator office space – this project will complement the adjacent light rail. If it ever gets off the ground.

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One University Circle is a $112-million, 20-story, 240-foot luxury condo tower. This project, downsized from 28-stories at first, is taking the site of the Cleveland Children’s Museum, which has to relocate first.

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As great as all of these projects are, what Cleveland really needed was a $270 million RNC Convention Hotel. Actually it’ll be great because this 380-foot, 32-story, 600-room hotel will enable to Cleveland to continuously bring in top conventions.

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Lakefront development proposed for the North Coast Harbor site, surrounding the Rock & Roll HOF and Browns Stadium, could total $280 million, 1,000 apartments, in addition to office and restaurants.

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The $32-million redesign of Public Square, consolidating the four blocks into two that function better as one (only buses allowed through). This is one of the public investments making all of this private investment possible.

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Tyler Village, the mixed-use revitalization of a factory complex in St. Clair-Superior, will yield 450 new apartments. Underway currently.

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Upper Chester, by the Finch Group working in tandem with other developers, will fill in the gap between University Circle, Midtown, the Clinic, and Hough. This projects responds differently to the context on all four sides. The $42 million first phase is complete, and the next phase of build-out (three altogether) should start soon. The coolest phase will be the restoration Newton Avenue, a tiny little cobblestone road with cute little wooden homes. Many other developments would demo this street, rather than blending it into a new development.

Whew.

That was exhaustive, and in the event anyone actually read all of that, congrats for making it this far. Isn’t it incredible how this “dying city” is thriving?

What is even more impressive – all of the smaller projects that connect the neighborhoods to these business districts and corridors.

There is still a disconnect between population growth (or lack thereof) and all of these projects. I am not sure what is happening as there are many different theories. One, “gentrification” is reducing densities in some neighborhoods that really were too dense (for instance, imagine a Tremont house subdivided into an 8-plex during the dark years, now rehabbed into a single home or double).

Undoubtedly, the “good news” is still mostly confined to a growing list of neighborhoods where investment is concentrated. The truth is that the NE Ohio market is always hungry for new product, and rather than more stuff in Beachwood/Westlake stuff is finally happening in Cleveland – but that doesn’t translate into a market for Cleveland’s roughest neighborhoods. There is still a “tale of two cities,” and while downtown Cleveland’s population is set to surge north of 20,000 in the next 5 years (just counting everything under development for certain), the east side is still hemorrhaging population. The truth is many minority families are now moving out into the southeastern suburbs like Warrensville, Bedford, etc – much in the same way that Poles/Ukrainians/Russians in Tremont moved straight south into Parma/Independence/Seven Hills. Black flight won’t be all that different than white flight, sadly.

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Urban revitalization isn’t much different than yoga. You gotta be able to enjoy the view, move into seated downward fold, and breath out – all at the same time.

However, for a city with challenges and opportunities just like any other – you have to be able to stretch your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. You have to fight for growth where the market works and fight to save neighborhoods where the market doesn’t work. You have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

 

Note: Post taken from my first WordPress, the Eurokie blog.