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Cleveland and its suburbs are not smart growth, says Smart Growth president

Marc Lefkowitz  |  07/26/19 @ 9:00am  |  Posted in Vibrant cities, Transportation choices, NEO Sustainable Communities

Cleveland got more than a few finger wags from the nation's leading smart growth advocate. Cleveland has its “hot spots” of growth that attract new residents. The common bond is their walkability, said Smart Growth America President, Calvin Gladney, speaking at the Cleveland City Club.

<br />Smart Growth America President Calvin Gladney at Cleveland City Club<br />A cyclists on Euclid Avenue which is vibrant and attractive thanks to its 2008 transportation investment that leveraged billions in private investment<br />

Cities that are growing, that have an influx of college educated and immigrant populations are adding walkable, equitable development, Gladney said, adding that Cleveland’s performance in walkable urbanism is just "meh."

Cleveland has plenty to work with, but it isn't picking up on the signal that walkable urbanism is synonymous with growth and profitability, Gladney said. It could start with an examination of how it failed its residents, allowing urban highways to became barriers, such as the W. 25th Street / Shoreway ramp cutting off Lakeview Terrace public housing from the neighborhood.

What can make that historic wrong right is inviting residents of public housing to the table when deciding how to invest in infrastructure, he said, like the Detroit Avenue infrastructure and Flats revitalization, which includes a trail system at the doorstep of Lakeview.

As an aside, the new Cleveland Mobility Imperative study interviews Lakeview Terrace residents about whether they fear being displaced by the new developments at West 25th and Detroit, and the through line was hopefulness—that infrastructure investments will improve their walkability and access to the new amenities in the neighborhood.

Gladney was raised in public housing and relates to Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes, who grew up in public housing and made the connections between the Cuyahoga River fire and the inequities of a state and federal government in its refusal to seriously reinvest in cities. Gladney called Cleveland’s history—where 60% of people living in the city left for the suburbs since 1950 facilitated by road and highway building increasing by 60%—“not smart growth.”

“Make sure you build where people already are and make it walkable and multi modal,” he advised. “It’s not pro gentrification; it’s anti-displacement. It’s not just nice to live in a pedestrian oriented area. Metrics matter. These places do better. They take over market share.

“Cleveland is not moving in the right direction,” he said. “Are you building in a walkable way and bringing that to other (suburban) locations?"

Smart Growth America, which includes the Complete Streets Coalition and Transportation for America, has transportation equity at its core because, “we have to move away from measuring how fast we can move during rush hour to ‘does my community get those who have suffered from disinvestment where they need to go’. Are communities of color at the table when transportation decisions are being made?

“If you are not thinking about inequities, you are likely to have sub par returns (on investment)” he said, citing a billionaire real estate investor.

The other, often overlooked racial justice issue with highways built in cities — people of color are exposed to 66% more air pollution, he said.

Also, blaming pedestrians who are victims of car crashes points to a systemic failure. Autonomous vehicles are seriously flawed, Gladney added, because their programmers are drivers and didn’t put in algorithms for bikers. They also managed to not account for skin tone so AVs don’t see people of color.

“Racial equity is not a default option. We need to be intentional and include it in every page of a city plan.”

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