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Forest City's Ron Ratner takes Cleveland's almost-decade old Comprehensive Plan to the mat

Marc Lefkowitz  |  10/29/15 @ 12:00pm  |  Posted in Transform

The last time Cleveland updated its Comprehensive Plan, LeBron hadn’t made The Decision, the subprime lending fiasco hadn’t struck down whole neighborhoods like Slavic Village, downtown’s population was well below 10,000 and 8% of the city’s residents had pulled up stakes and fled (between 2000 and its release in 2007).

Forest city?<br />The Cleveland comprehensive plan hasn't grappled with a city experiencing 20 percent population loss in half of its Census Tracts, says Forest City Enterprises CEO Ron Ratner.<br />An image of Kinsman & Union looking west from the Connecting Cleveland 2020 Citywide Plan.

Cleveland was shrinking, but it wasn’t girding for battle with a plan that had more than a feeling that people would someday return.

“Cleveland’s plan was on the assumption we would grow to 2 million,” says Forest City Residential Group President and CEO Ron Ratner. “Now we’re below 400,000 people.”

The occasion of Ratner’s comments was the Urban Land Institute-Cleveland conference on Form-based Zoning, a tool to make walkability mandatory, especially where it counts—in urban places. Cleveland is considering moving toward a form-based zoning code.

While Ratner acknowledged that his family's company, worth $9 billion, has done practically no development in its hometown—opting to take an even larger risk in developing Denver’s former Stapleton Airport into a model live-work community—he had strong words about the shelf life of the Connecting Cleveland 2020 Citywide Plan developed under the tenure of Mayor Jane Campbell.

Ratner noted that more than half of Cleveland’s Census Tracts have lost 20% of their population.

“Not only is the zoning code a hold over from 1949, but our city plan is pretty badly out of synch with our reality,” he said. “I won’t claim to be an expert on the Cleveland 2020 Plan, but it fails to grapple with the fundamental challenge of basic land use and core infrastructure. We have to bring it in line with massive downsizing that has happened.”

Ratner offered that the city could “rethink density,” and inferred that Cleveland needs to enter into the same conversation that cities like Detroit have had about consolidating.

“As I drive through a mostly abandoned neighborhood and see one house well maintained I say, ‘this isn’t an academic exercise.’ Many are living in neighborhoods that are challenged. And we’ve done nothing to address it.”

Ratner went on to talk about the walkability and density of planning communities like Stapleton and its 30 people per acre, its mixed-use and its emphasis on walkability from famed New Urban designer, Peter Calthorpe.

Forest City has shown signs in recent years—from their support for a Slavic Village housing renovation program to their subsidiary, RMS, leading the Shaker Heights transit-oriented development at Van Aken-Warrensville—in dabbling around the edges of their hometown.

City Planning Commission Director, Fred Collier, pushed back on Ratner’s notion that the city was doing nothing to address its shrinking status. University Circle and downtown have had visionary developers, like the Marons, bringing urbanity back.

What Cleveland needs just as urgently as an updated comprehensive plan is more developers who can walk the talk of New Urbanism. If the city plans, as Collier said, to focus on expanding economic opportunity back to those downtrodden areas that Ratner and others drive through and shake their heads at in disbelief.

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Marc
2 years ago

Matt - I am feeling more positive about the growth nodes in Cleveland than possibly at any other time in the past decade in which I've been writing about the city. Here's another one, the Cleveland EcoVillage, which is a vision for ecological design within an existing neighborhood that I find interesting and, in Cleveland fashion, has been in development for a decade.
gcbl.org/blog/2015/10/tiny-homes-coming-to-cleveland-ecovillage

Matt Kuhns
2 years ago

Marc, I will presume that you are entirely sincere, and may for all I know have a valid point.

If so, however, I strongly urge you to make that point more often. Because the list may go on in theory, but I never see or hear anything past items one and two, i.e. "downtown and University Circle."

I think we would all benefit, particularly, from hearing about other "growth nodes" that are doing well without the massive the massive public subsidies for arenas etc., that we are constantly told are essential to "sustain the momentum" downtown.

Given that I don't see how that model is ever going to scale up, I would love to hear about alternatives. Please, by all means go deep into the rest of the list, as often as you like.

Marc
2 years ago

Eric - thanks for the comment and the correction. The photo caption belongs to the original photo, as you note, but we will correct our caption accordingly.

Matt - thanks for your comment. We used downtown and University Circle as two examples of growth nodes in the city. We could also include, Detroit Shoreway, Ohio City, Shaker Square, Clifton, Collinwood, Kamms Corner, Old Brooklyn. The list goes on.

Matt Kuhns
2 years ago

"University Circle and downtown"

Of course. At risk of banging on about it, this is why I have become much more skeptical about consolidating local governments.

At this point, even with the most reassuring, expert-vetted systems to preserve accountability, I would still be reluctant toward any plan for further regionalism unless it came with a clear statement of vision for the region. i.e., a vision that involved more than just siphoning money out of the rest of the county to funnel it into "University Circle and downtown."

Angie Schmitt
2 years ago

Of course the city's response is to be defensive, attack. That seems to be such an ingrained part of the culture at City Hall. They need to get better at listening.

Eric Silverman
2 years ago

The vintage photo caption is incorrect. That is Kinsman & Union looking west and not East 55th and Woodland looking east.

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