by Bruce Grossman
(Plain Press, March 2017) In the end, it was just about a building. I am talking about the December 12 meeting at Franklin Circle Church where I heard about Project 29 and the future of “Hingetown”, the area around Detroit and 28th and 29th Streets. But it was also about dreams and desires, which is to say, it was a real estate developer’s sales presentation.
It was also a true neighborhood meeting of about sixty well-to-do people. Introductions were unnecessary as everybody seemed to know everybody else and everybody was on a first name basis. It was definitely– the In Crowd of North of Lorain.
The consortium of real estate developers was there, as was a cadre from Ohio City Incorporated. But there was only one speaker, and that was Graham Veysey, now prominent Clevelander by way of Shaker Heights and Bates College and recent Congressional candidate and Man Can wine entrepreneur.
I like Graham– maybe because I view him as an underdog in this city, where only 16% are college educated and the people I know declare proudly that they haven’t read a book in twenty years. Being featured in Vanity Fair magazine certainly doesn’t help his case among the envious strivers. Plus, I feel he is sincere about doing well by himself by doing good for others.
Graham took the stage dressed in a red plaid shirt and blue jeans, and, if you got a close look you might have noticed, he was also wearing a fashionable liberal “awareness safety pin”, indicating that marginalized people “can feel safe with him” in what some expect to be a Trump inspired backlash of intolerance.
The meeting was important to achieve buy-in and validation for a proposed eleven floor, market-rate (middle class “from granite top to butcher block”) apartment building to be built in the heart of Hingetown. Although plans are not “finalized”, groundbreaking is scheduled to begin in October. No objection is anticipated from “the usual block-club process”.
Concerns were raised about whether existing infrastructure could support such a high population density structure but the meeting was assured that Detroit Road has already accommodated a much larger population before deindustrialization, and that toilets will still flush and electricity will still flow. Further, the building will not be a monolith, and will be interesting aesthetically. An artist’s rendition of the building showed a facade somewhat like a checkerboard of black and white building blocks. (Mr. Veysey declined to provide that visual for this publication because the process is still ongoing.) And it was asserted that such a tall building will add interest to the skyline as well as providing the population density necessary to support shops and a walkable neighborhood. Issues like shadows and wind were not raised. There will be 223 underground parking spaces for 171 units. The artist’s rendition showed a lawn on the roof.
But it was also about buy-in and validation for the Developers’ Vision for A Walkable Neighborhood. “Not ‘Everywhere U.S.A.’”– “Not Cookie Cutter”– “Toronto, Montreal, Minneapolis”– “Not Uptown’s Back Alley”– “Activity”– again, “Toronto, Montreal, Minneapolis”— and an unintended laugh with “I hate Crocker Park (pause). I say that respectfully.”
I don’t know what “Toronto, Montreal and Minneapolis” means, but I never really knew what Ohio City as the “New Brooklyn” meant either. But the territory has been marked by a new graffiti, if you will– pop art murals in anticipation of a new gang, a gang of achievement oriented young professionals.
Actually, I like that idea. Especially considering that what is now branded “Hingetown” was formerly, by all accounts, just a vice district.
So, I don’t believe the developers are trying to sell us “Florida Real Estate”, nor do I believe it’s all just hype. But there is hype, and it’s good to know what the hype is. The theoretical underpinnings are extolled in Jeff Speck’s book, “Walkable City”, Farrar, Struass and Giroux (paperback 2013). It is interesting that Mr. Speck begins his book with somewhat of an apology: “The planners were so wrong for so many years that now that they are mostly right, they are mostly ignored” (p. 3), citing the example of ” . . . the famous ‘Five B’s’ of the eighties– bricks, banners, bandstands, bollards, and berms– that now grace many an abandoned downtown.” (p. 10)
But Mr. Speck and the developers are trying to sell us a new small great narrative of utopia, of establishing a true community, if not a worker’s paradise, where neighbors will know neighbors, walking and good health will abound, and mostly Mother Earth, Gaia, will be saved from the ravages of the automobile. But I for one am holding onto my wallet, at least until Market Square here in Ohio City more resembles James Rouse’s “Festival Marketplace”, and see the Collinwood economic renaissance achieved by Richard Florida’s tipping point of a concentration of artists, immigrants, and gays.
So, I am all for Hingetown as a Jeff Speck “walkable city” of density, pedestrians, shops, parks, bikes, activity and involvement. But I also remember that the dark empire of suburbia was in its time a developers’ heaven on earth saving us from the overcrowding, noise, dirt, disease, air pollution and crime of the inner city, where neighbors will know neighbors and children will be safe and nurtured in a “green zone”.
So, read Mr. Speck’s book, and learn what the new game plan is. Especially interesting is his chapter on Donald Shoup, and the “high cost of free parking and parking lots”, since parking seems to be such a hot topic here, from the closing of the Loren Naji Studio, to the future of the West Side Market. Perhaps Ohio City’s plans are more the Shoupist ideological fashion of today than practical good business. But as Mr. Speck points out, if parking requirements are waived for new businesses, at least they should pay a proper fee for these requirements being waived, fees that can go to support reasonable public lots.