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ReImagine plans to recommend 'catalytic' vacant land projects

Marc Lefkowitz  |  08/30/10 @ 4:00pm

ReImagine a Greater Cleveland keeps the city's deep thinkers and land-based technical experts concentrating on how to restore ecological and economic function to 3,300 vacant parcels in Cleveland (and more in the suburbs). At what was intended to be the final steering committee meeting last week, Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative (CUDC) Director Terry Schwarz revealed some of the proposed "catalytic" projects that could offer proof of concept for the ReImagine study, Pattern Book and work groups, which worked for more than a year establishing a new framework for reusing vacant land. The Cleveland Foundation has committed to funding conceptual designs for two-four projects from the ReImagine initiative.

As they continue to bear down on the most effective way to translate this vision into a few projects, what's under the microscope seems to fall into a two categories: those that catalyze existing projects and assets and those that create a wholly new opportunity.

Neighborhood Progress Inc. Senior Planner Bobbi Reichtell-who championed this project with Schwarz and the committee-commented that the goal should be to improve the lives of those struggling with the negative impacts of vacancy.

While consensus for "stabilization" as a marker of success is building, the path there is less clear. Topmost are projects that could both stabilize an area for market development and possibly establish a green infrastructure model. These include:

Multi-tasking-Cleveland spends $3.3 million a year mowing lawns on vacant land. Should they pursue a project that finally proves the viability of a low-mow grass and which cuts down on those costs? Schwarz is in discussion with one expert who wants to test a phosphate soil enhancement to help the grass grow and improve the uptake of lead in the soil.

Indicator – MIT professor Alan Berger wowed the ReImagine group with his "Indicator Landscape" idea a few months back. It involves broadcast spraying wildflower seeds on vacant land that will turn colors to indicate what's in the soil. A living map showing what is toxic and what isn't is part public art, part planning tool. "It's relatively cheap," Schwarz said, "and would allow a series of stabilization projects a way of holding larger sites." One concern Schwarz has is invasive species, which Berger likes for their hardiness.

Guerilla-Can we encourage people to take charge of their own neighborhood vacancy by making plant materials, soil and seeds available? Schwarz wondered. This is an intriguing self-help model-can ReImagine figure out a way to promote more of what's already happening in Cleveland neighborhoods-where block clubs and individuals are planting veggie gardens on vacant lots-without the city needing to be a referee when disagreements happen? Can we give the maintenance over to residents-approving more side lot expansions? Marie Kitteridge, Director, Slavic Village Development wondered. The city's Building Director confirmed it costs them $400-500 per cutting (which makes you wonder why they don't hire landscape crews who could certainly do it for less?). A recent discussion with a leader of a dozen guerilla gardens in Cleveland revealed that soil is their biggest cost and hold up-a modest ReImagine project could be to provide resources like plants and compost bins to guerilla and community gardeners to help them build their own soil.

City planner Freddie Collier and Schwarz presented ways to leverage existing city projects. The meeting got through six of fourteen projects, and so it was decided a follow up meeting would be scheduled to complete the presentations and voting. The projects already presented were:

Ohio City Farm expansion-Building a functional green terrace that stabilizes the hillside leading from the new Ohio City Farm to the west bank of Cuyahoga River. Imagine an algae farm or fishery along the banks, County Planning Director Paul Alsenas said.

Kingsbury Run-The city seeks conceptual design support to expand recreation and restore a natural corridor along Kingsbury Run, an historic watercourse on the city's southeast side. The area includes a proposed expansion of the city's bikeway, and could include smaller projects such as Meyer's Dairy, a site in Slavic Village near E. 55th that the Northeast Ohio Sewer District is interested in for a large-scale, green stormwater system that supports future development.

E. 79th Street/Forgotten Triangle-This is the site of the largest parcels of vacant land in the city. The former industrial corridor located near two RTA Rapid lines and the future Opportunity Corridor is ripe for Transit Oriented Development, for stormwater pilots and urban agriculture, Collier said. E. 55th Street needs to be put on a road diet to promote more walkable/bikeable development, Kitteridge said. The area would be ideal for a health impacts assessment, she added. The city's Opportunity Corridor project planner Stephanie Howse said the Opportunity Corridor should be a true green boulevard and funding for conceptual plan is needed. She is also meeting with Orlando Bakery which is the largest business nearby and wants to expand.

Morgana Run-An old freight rail line slicing through Slavic Village was converted to a bike trail in 2008. Plans call for an expansion of the trail to connect with the MetroParks' Garfield Reservation and to a new school opening this fall. An urban ecology class is an idea that could use some support, Kitteridge says. The plan calls for students to plant micro-prairies along the trail.

Mill Creek-Historically, Mill Creek has been one of the most heavily polluted streams in the Greater Cleveland with its drainage area primarily residential and industrial. The water quality of Mill Creek is of particular concern to Northeast Ohio Sewer District as it discharges into the Cuyahoga River approximately 1 mile upstream of the Southern discharge to the river. A Sewer District plan to restore an area near Kerruish Park, where the creek is culverted and where a whole street was never built, into a wetland/natural area was discussed.

Doan Brook-The city's Rockefeller Park needs some improvement, including restoring the natural edge to the brook and stormwater gardens, and connections to neighborhoods with parks and greenways (proposals for an E. 105 and Superior pocket park and an Ashbury Run greenway aside, a plan need to be developed). The proposals include green infrastructure in the area around St. Luke's Pointe, a stalled LEED-ND project.

Dugway Brook-County Planning Director Paul Alsenas made a pitch for an Inner Ring-to-Lake Greenway along the Dugway Brook which runs through Cleveland Heights, East Cleveland, Cleveland and Bratenahl. The Sewer District is interested in the site, which was the focus of a 2002 RIDE study identifying problem areas, and a 2000 CLUDAT study by a team with American Institute of Architects. The west branch of the brook goes through an area of East Cleveland heavily impacted by vacancy, and the city's mayor expressed interest in tying in an intergenerational regreening program and targeted demolition through its Neighborhood Stabilization Program (II) funds. Kresge Foundation supplied a community health grant to E. Cleveland and planning funds from ReImagine could boost the Greenway's chances for Kresge's next round (implementation), Alsenas said.

The other city projects ReImagine will examine for its ability to catalyze include:

  • West Creek
  • Big Creek
  • Walworth Run
  • Burke Brook
  • Lower Cuyahoga
  • Tinker's Creek

Multiple catchment areas

  • Green Cap
  • Emerald Fibers
  • Metroparks expansion

Non-site specific

  • Urban ecology field station
  • NatureHood native plant nursery
  • Alernative energy project
  • BioCellars
  • Watersquare (the latter two are from the CUDC Water/Craft book)

A space is being held for other projects. To be continued…

Resources [Greater] Cleveland Action Plan for Vacant Land Reclamation

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