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On Public Square - For the Love of Cleveland: The Power of Place

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On Tuesday, June 5, we went to Public Square for the second program (actually the first to take place on Public Square) of the City Club lunchtime series, "For the Love of Cleveland: The Power of Place" sponsored by the Cleveland Foundation, PNC, and Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District.

As Ms. Stephanie Hicks Thompson, Marketing and Communications Officer for the Cleveland Foundation, said in her introduction, the issue of "place" is very important because not only do people make places and places make us, but places have the potential to bring people together and to create a more equitable society. On this day, the topic would be "streets" because they either can serve as a point of connection or a means of division.

The format was that of a panel discussion, in which Mr. Rick Jackson, Senior Host/Producer of Ideastream, was the moderator and the participants were Mr. Randy Lane, Director of Planning for NOACA; Ms. Calley Mersmann, Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator of the Cleveland City Planning Commission and Organizer for Open Streets Cleveland; Ms. Emily Muttillo, Applied Research Fellow for The Center for Community Solutions; and Ms. Krista Nightengale, Managing Director of The Better Block.

In the course of the discussion, efforts to accommodate motorists, buses, pedestrians, and those pursuing alternative modes of transportation such as bicycles were discussed, along with the impact of such projects as the Opportunity Corridor, Open Streets Cleveland, and Safe Routes to School.

What we got from the discussion is that a few concepts could apply in all instances like making streets more accessible for elderly via repaired sidewalks, and countdown signals (when the lights tell us how much time is left to cross a street) also make them more accessible for young family usage. However, each community is different, and so what might work for some places might not work for others, but creativity is always an important factor. For instance, we learned that Dallas recently made a promising move by creating Klyde Warren Park over a busy freeway to provide the local residents with more green space.

To be sure, the advantages/disadvantages to closing often unused highways/former thoroughfares for similar projects as Klyde Warren Park were explored, and it was reiterated how wise it was not to build a highway through Shaker Heights because it would have divided the area to the disadvantage of the community.

During the Q and A, we could certainly identify with a man who said he was a courier and wanted to know what is being done to enable people of his profession to travel through Cleveland more quickly by bicycle. Thankfully, the panelists told him that any suggestions he might have would indeed be welcomed. This instance highlighted another key point of the conversation which was that, in order to make sustainable steps forward in the way of the creation of safe, equitable accessible streets, the input of "all" is necessary, and "all" includes the pedestrian who has to walk them and the sometimes harried motorist/bicyclist who has to drive/maneuver them as well as the transportation experts.

Afterwards, we had a few minutes of conversation with Ms. Nightengale from The Better Block which, as its website indicates, "educates, equips, empowers communities and their leaders to reshape and reactivate built environments to promote the growth of healthy and vibrant neighborhoods." Ms. Nightengale told us of her organization's work in Akron in terms of aiding the Bhutanese refugee community. One such effort is The Exchange House which, as its website indicated, converted "a vacant house in the North Hill neighborhood into a cultural hostel and gathering space. It works to exemplify the benefits of shared housing while reducing the negative side effects experienced in rapidly transforming areas."

 

Michael Patterson

Community Liaison

Margaret W. Wong & Associates LLC