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Blogging from SXSW Eco: Cleveland takes the stage

Marc Lefkowitz  |  10/03/12 @ 11:00am  |  Posted in Vibrant cities, Transportation choices, Transform

Great start to SXSW Eco—the high (green) powered meeting in Austin, Texas—as Cleveland’s own David Jurca shared lessons from Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative’s Pop Up City product—this April’s Complete and Green Street demonstration, Pop Up Rockwell.

Pop up Rockwell<br />

Jurca talked up the benefits of a ground level approach for cities like Cleveland who are figuring out how to redesign streets that function better for cars, bikes and people.

“We see (pop up complete streets) as Tactical Urbanism,” Jurca says, “a deliberate, planned approach.”

“Being in a 3D space is more effective at engaging people, and it’s a way of testing project ideas before spending millions on permanent improvements. Involving the public in physical testing of ideas can yield unique insights in to the expectations of future users.”

That extends to elected officials and city of Cleveland traffic engineers who started their training for implementing the city’s Complete and Green Streets legislation on the ground and in the class room.

Asked why such a well done pilot couldn’t be made permanent? Jurca held out hope that the Group Plan Commission and Mayor Jackson’s plan to close off car traffic on Ontario Avenue through Public Square would be the catalyst for Rockwell becoming a permanent complete and green street.

“It has to be planned in tandem,” he said. “I’m hopeful because it is one of main connectors to tourist destinations.”

Fellow panelist, Joshua Houdek, Land Use and Transportation Program Manager, Sierra Club Minnesota listed the keys to success for implementing Complete Streets.

  • Transparency from the agencies involved. So, working directly and getting to know engineers, decision makers and what projects are coming up which is often a political decision
  • Need innovation from engineers and designers. Being flexible with design. Standards are changing to address the needs of users in more urban situations.
  • Flexible with process—adding a community process (Sierra Club created a public complete streets workshop in Minnesota, then delivered a petition to elected leaders)
  • Address neighborhood concerns—mowing more treelawn, maintaining a bioswale. Talk up the real estate bennies
  • Get wide group of stakeholders involved. Active living, health professionals and seniors

Houdek was involved in Complete Streets legislation in Minnesota. Moderator Kari Banta’s job is one of four Sierra Club Transportation Associates (the Lone Star chapter). Sierra Club has Transportation staff in four states – Minnesota, Texas, Florida and Ohio. Banta reached out to Jurca because of Sierra Club’s interest in pop up complete streets as a positive demonstration of environmental values. The Lone Star chapter—and potentially Ohio (if we can find out who our Transportation Associate is)—is interested in partnering on more pop up complete streets.

A good overall argument for cities interested in Complete Streets?

“It can increase tax base because folks want to live on a street like this,” Houdek concludes. “No one wants to live on a street were cars are speeding.”

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