Will Northeast Ohio choose more Ohio City and Shaker Squares or keep expanding highways and sprawling into the countryside?
We caught a preview of the Proposed Vision for the Cleveland-Akron-Youngstown-Lorain metropolitan area’s future at this week's VibrantNEO board meeting. Underlying a raft of recommendations from their consultants, Sasaki & Associates, is the notion that redeveloping in existing urban areas creates a rising tide for the entire region.
Sasaki will show us an alternative to sprawl—and the projected deficit for all 7 counties in Northeast Ohio—that preserves valuable natural resources. It will show how to use the current transportation system to provide options that are less fossil fuel dependent. How changing the pattern of development so that more hybrid bus-rapid transit lines are a stronger play to meet rising demand for urban style living (which has driven a 35% increase in Cleveland’s downtown population). Regional sustainability group, VibrantNEO, will examine the vision for the future in a series of public meetings and caucuses from October 7-17.
How do we get there? For one, Sasaki proposes we re-prioritize current investments to create a regional network of express transit connections between Northeast Ohio’s core job centers. At both ends of express bus or commuter rail, cities would focus their investment on building more vibrant places that weave in local transit.
The vision will need the backing of the 100 organizations involved in VibrantNEO who will be responsible for implementing it, says VibrantNEO Board chair, Grace Gallucci.
Gallucci directs a metropolitan planning organization, NOACA, which makes the rules for road building projects. Sasaki could easily get more specific and recommend how MPOs reform their scoring systems so that we fix our many miles of existing roads first and shelve any further attempts to expand or widen roads all across the region.
Part of Sasaki’s $1 million contract with VibrantNEO will be showing just how much value and vibrancy sustainable development will produce. Previously, it showed how much fiscal drain was expected from sprawl (bottom line: fiscal distress across the board for suburbs and cities).
Sasaki recommends (and may have to prove) that the greenest act Cleveland and her suburbs can make is re-prioritizing how it invests in its future. Actions may include new rules that steer develop away from pristine river basins and farms and toward reusing vacant land. Cities might revise zoning and expedite permitting for new commercial development, Sasaki advises. Sasaki and VibrantNEO, it is assumed, will not only recommend but also guide municipalities on how to create transit-oriented development and district level plans to specify use and density targets in critical regional nodes.
The goal is to address the mismatch between the demand for living in more quality, connected places, Sasaki says, and the supply. Cleveland and its regional transit agency have introduced some plans for TOD—from the proposed redevelopment of a ‘suburban style’ shopping center at W. 25th and Lorain Avenue to the expansion of Uptown to fill in the missing teeth on Mayfield Road between University Circle and Little Italy.
Back in 2002, the city, Detroit-Shoreway and EcoCity Cleveland launched an ambitious plan, the Cleveland EcoVillage, which centers a green, transit village around the W. 65th Rapid Station on the Near West Side. The impulse for an ecovillage in the city still holds true today, as this post from EcoCity Cleveland founder, David Beach, points out. The ecovillage began as a response to sprawl, “to attract people back to the city by creating healthy, attractive neighborhoods.”
A study and master plan emerged and guided some of the city’s first green developments, including the first green-built townhomes on W. 58th Street, the first green redevelopment at 3500 Lorain Avenue, the efforts to convince RTA to keep the W. 65th Street Rapid Station open and to redevelop it, and the plan for ecological landscapes at Zone Recreation Center.
GreenCityBlueLake Institute (then EcoCity Cleveland) worked with many community partners, including Dr. Wendy Kellogg at Cleveland State University, to provide the theory and eventual site plans for the ecovillage. We revisit the work in a newly created project page on this site. Again, the Cleveland Ecovillage provides perspective and a foundation for building on the current work of VibrantNEO as it seeks to act on a sustainable vision.