MetroHealth System’s Campus Transformation Plan, released this month, aims to soften the concrete surface of the Cuyahoga County owned hospital acreage at W. 25th Street in Cleveland’s Clark-Fulton neighborhood.
The plan calls for some much needed updates to the blocky Brutalist campus, with words like ‘bold’ ‘visionary’ and ‘engagement’ (with the surrounding community) offered as a selling point when the county issued $945.7 million in bonds to pay for it. Illustrations (above) show the hospital removing concrete plazas and surface parking for manicured green space, tall, glass-fronted buildings, and a long-term plan to act as developer for neighborhood-based retail.
Caddy corner to MetroHealth is La Villa Hispana, a plan hatched in 2014 to redevelop the handsome building stock at W. 25th Street and Clark Avenue as “Hispanic Town,” an arts and culture district. Recently, MetroHealth showed signs of engagement with the community when it acted on a recommendation from a 2015 transit-oriented development study to invest in a bus-rapid transit (BRT) line on West 25th Street. MetroHealth served on the Steering Committee for the study, which was supported by Enterprise Foundation and led by Cleveland Neighborhood Progress. It called for “a strategy that improves livability and commerce along the West 25th Street/Pearl Road corridor by connecting regional assets, serving major employers, and addressing the needs of residents, current and future.” When RTA announced the consolidation of three bus lines into a single line (#51) with a boost in service, new stops, shelters and longer “BRT-lite” buses serving W. 25th in September, 2017, MetroHealth agreed to become the title sponsor.
When it came time to release its campus plan, many expected MetroHealth to offer a vision that includes a 24/7 dense, walkable, urban district adjacent to W. 25th Street to support its investment in the signature transit line. What has appeared instead strikes its critics as a mirror image of another urban health campus in Cleveland. With canyons of reflective glass curtain walls, buildings that face inner courtyards and a large, green zone to buffer it from the street, MetroHealth seems content to upgrade from 100% impervious surface to grass dotted with concrete.
Its motivation, to revitalize an area hit hard by the economic downtown and foreclosure crisis in 2008, makes it hard to criticize MetroHealth. And yet, its critics have a point. MetroHealth is a not-for-profit and it took the admirable step in forming a nonprofit development arm to explore future opportunities. We generously offer that the grass buffer zone may be a mere holding strategy until favorable market conditions appear to build out Villa Hispana and lead a mixed-use development on its campus. But that vision would be better served if MetroHealth took the pulse of Cleveland’s sustainability initiatives, and lived the bold transformation it writes about in its plan. Being a nonprofit health agency located where the built environment plays a part in either ameliorating or exacerbating the environmental impact of an urban area should provide an opportunity to think a little outside the box.
If MetroHealth is looking for a bold, sustainable campus transformation plan from a county nonprofit agency to follow, it need look no further than a mile or two north on W. 25th Street where in 2011 the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority took the bold step in converting a never-used yard behind its Riverview Tower public housing estate into the city's largest urban agriculture space. The six-acre Ohio City Farm has hosted ag trainings of CMHA residents, offers employment to refugees, and sells healthy food directly to local restaurants and neighbors through its Community Supported Agriculture program.
MetroHealth could certainly do worse that to emulate the Ohio City Farm when it plans for its green transformation plan. A sign that MetroHealth has higher aspirations than the illustrated green space in the draft plan can be found in its description for meeting the national EcoDistricts standard.
“MetroHealth knows that good health is not just good health care. Good health is determined to a large degree by a healthy neighborhood. MetroHealth is committed to improving health equity and playing an important part of the national movement toward partnerships between community development and health organizations to holistically revitalize communities in need.”
It might find that a balance of walkable urbanism and functional green space that manages stormwater, provides habitat for wildlife, respite for healing patients and spurs a local food economy is just what the doctor ordered.