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Med Mart and the Mall: where details and execution will matter

Marc Lefkowitz  |  06/17/11 @ 2:32pm

Sometimes we're not the city we think we are. Other times we live up to the promise of becoming a greencityonabluelake, but that vision gets somewhat watered down in the details and realities of being a shrinking city. An example of both situations were found at today's Cleveland Planning Commission meeting where Green and Complete Streets and the design details of the Medical Mart/Convention Center were on the agenda.

First, the good.

Jenita McGowan, manager, Office of Sustainability presented the latest thinking on how Cleveland streets can be made more accessible to all modes of travel while reducing environmental concerns like flooding. McGowan gave a snapshot of the work coming out of a City Hall task force headed by Jomarie Wasik, Director of the Office of Capital Projects that will determine how Complete and Green Streets get rolled up together and how it works, how it shapes the design of streets to be bike and ped friendly and to incorporate the latest in bio-based stormwater engineering without going above a 20% premium (just one of the exceptions). McGowan did a nice job framing CS/GS in the context of recent street projects that strove for elements or all.

McGowan said the city is already doing this, and gave examples including Euclid Corridor, E. 12th Street, Morgana Run bioswales, sharrows on Franklin Avenue and Pearl Road. With the city planning for more sharrows including Edgehill Road in University Circle and W. 65th Street, a key north-south connection in the city's bikeway plan, getting Complete and Green Streets passed by Cleveland City Council this summer will be crucial to ensuring the proper specifications and most up to date bike/ped design manuals are adopted as a result.

McGowan and representatives from the 2019 Transportation group stress that the goal is to raise the standards of street design to the level where Complete and Green Streets elements would not be an extra amenity tacked on at the end of road rebuilding and resurfacing (and always vulnerable to a spending cap) but rather baked into designs from the start. The plan is for legislation to open the door to new policy which will guide the development of new street design guidelines that help facilitate better integration and less instances of exceptions.

And now for some bad (or, perhaps, not so great). Design elements like lighting and landscaping for Malls B and C were presented by LMN and Raphael Stark the design team behind the Medical Mart and new Convention Center which will push up from ground level where the original Mall Plan had the public spaces at grade. How this translates from paper is crucial for preserving a major public space. With, for example, Mall B sloping up to accommodate the convention center's new roofline a new wall appears on the street behind the Main Library where a ramp and the Mall slope up considerably from the street level. The designs do at least call for tall deciduous trees and ground cover ? both will be essential in softening the transition or making it inviting from street to Mall. Mature trees are called for ? the city or developer cannot skimp here ? the space, which also includes six 10-17 ft. cooling towers, obelisks wrapped in reflective glass, will need to be balanced by even taller and fuller trees on both Mall B and C (the team calls for elms by the Med Mart, which sound good, but the city must ensure that big trees get planted on the Malls, not just honey locusts which are also in the plan and are less of a canopy tree).

But this is not the most concerning change ahead. The lighting plan for Mall C calls for four 50-foot towers with five super bright floodlights on each pole, raining car dealership light every night into the space. While safety is the city's top concern, how it will feel to use the space and the signal it sends not to mention the ugliness of the poles and lights 24/7 takes a backseat.

Is this the legacy of the Mall Plan which was never designed with cozy 'urban rooms' as Stark said today. It was always a space that made a grand statement, if that was its designer's purpose, but what was in that statement that created community? In this the civic center of the city where you may never have, even with the med mart conventioneers, regular foot traffic, the Mall is a tricky proposition. How do you design a public space in the middle of the civic district that has intermittent uses (and fewer programs at night)? Do you pour maximum light on it so that no one is lurking in the grass, or do you add the paths back in with the pedestrian scale lights and acknowledge that it will need special event lighting like the big car dealer poles?

And what about the lights on St. Clair, Commission chair Anthony Coyne wondered if they could be pedestrian scale lamps instead of the big street lights (the designers seemed willing to explore this option even if it means adding a half-dozen more lamps). Brad Chase of the GreenCityBlueLake Institute commented that the city needs to strive for the most energy efficient option with its lighting plan ? that all of the lamps should be LEDs which is now in the realm of possibility with Cleveland Public Power piloting LED streetlights. In the end, this isn't to knock the med mart, but clearly it explains why public venues like the Planning Commission can be valuable for airing and adjusting to meet the aspirations of a city beautiful.

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