by Bruce Checefsky
(Plain Press, April 2019) Food brings people together, so does handing out awards to community leaders for contributing to the well-being of the neighborhood. That’s exactly what Ohio City Incorporated did at their annual meeting held on March 19 at the Urban Community Center. With nearly 100 attendees crowded into the lecture hall, OCI Executive Director Thomas McNair took a look back on everything that had been accomplished in their organization and in the community over the past decade.
A reception prior to the meeting and awards ceremony brought together city officials, community leaders and residents of Ohio City in a celebration of renewal and growth for the oldest neighborhood in Cleveland.
Along with the many accomplishments credited by Ohio City, Inc. to building a stronger community, new housing options continue to boom and impact the neighborhood with construction planned along West 25thStreet, Lorain Avenue, and West 29thand Church Streets, that when combined will add more than 411 new apartments and 95,000 square-feet of retail space. Add another 277 new apartments and renovated condominiums and 40,000 square-feet of retail space with the recently completed The Quarter Luxury Apartments on West 25thStreet and Detroit Avenue, and The West 25thStreet Lofts, real estate developers are recasting the city neighborhood as a regeneration hot spot. New apartments equipped with all the bells and whistles hope to win over renters with exclusive amenities like temperature-controlled underground parking, a luxury hotel-style pool, a full-service gym and an indoor dog washing station.
Whether an influx of new residents will change the personality of the distinctive neighborhood is yet to be seen but conversations among city officials and real estate developers tends to be tight lipped when it comes to discussing new construction and its impact on the neighborhood. Real estate development is a private enterprise on a very public stage. Factors that determine the ultimate profits – costs, design, and marketability – are rarely made public. By the time local residents find out about a project, the basic decisions have already been made.
Block Clubs and community meetings get plenty of media attention but rarely change the outcome. Zoning offers opportunities for intervention, but Cleveland City Council tends to leave residents out of the most important part of the process. Affordable, workforce housing is almost never discussed with real estate developers, according to a source close to the city planning process. Changing zoning codes might offer community leaders a chance to impact the real estate development more effectively than organizing protests.
Regardless, plenty of people are doing great things to improve the quality of life in the Ohio City neighborhood.
Councilman Matt Zone expressed his appreciation to residents for making the neighborhood inclusive and expanding opportunities to live and work there. He introduced OCI Board President Christopher Schmitt, who in turn, thanked citizen leaders, block clubs, and other service organizations for their commitment and efforts. Following a short video meant to tell stories about how great Ohio City is for a place to live, Executive Director Thomas S. McNair took the stage a midst a round of applause from the audience. He proceeded to unveil the OCI 2018 Annual Report by providing a ten-year overview of the organization, rather than a single year snapshot, emphasizing the role of placemaking in their approach to business development. For example, leveraging the West Side Market for more business development strategies and purchasing real estate to preserve assets in the community. Placemaking was used to assist homeowners in more than 100 renovations of historic homes over a ten-year period; to create over 500 new units of housing mostly on vacant land; to re image the streets as a place to celebrate; and to work with artists to turn forgotten sites into places people care about.
Quality of life and green space in the neighborhoods was also cited as a placemaking strategy and development of a water park connected to public housing, the first of its kind in the nation, to “leverage equity to improve quality of life,” according to McNair.
“When it comes to telling our story as an organization, we talk about how we have grown by hiring a marketing specialists and other support staff, and what we’ve done for the neighborhood, and listening to others tell us their stories. That’s how we learn and grow as an organization,” said McNair. “Everyone in this room has been part of our success.”
“Placemaking” is a term used across urban development to describe a community-driven process for designing public spaces with a variety of activities for diverse audiences, first developed in the 1960’s by urbanist and author Jane Jacobs and urban planner William H. Whyte. It is often used, nowadays, by real estate developers and urban planners as a tool to gain a foothold on public support for projects. With a set of financial rewards of its own, placemaking rarely makes a real place more than it already is, some critics of the multi-faceted approach argue. Teasing out the particulars of a place by understanding and appreciating its history, uniqueness, topography, and underlying eloquence often creates conflicting results between clients and citizens.
Creative placemaking may offer an alternative to traditional placemaking strategies. According to a Kresge Foundation report released in 2018, creative placemaking “incorporates traditional arts-related efforts like murals, music, sculpture and dance, but it can also refer to place-based efforts that promote entrepreneurship, use space in novel ways, and creatively engage government and law enforcement, the private sector, community organizations and residents.”
Giving local people a voice and stake in decision-making is central to any placemaking efforts, the report confirmed, by turning cultural and economic boundaries of a neighborhood into shared borders.
In Cleveland’s Collingwood neighborhood, Northeast Shores together with a Community Partnership for Arts and Culture, or CPAC, deliberately integrated arts and culture into comprehensive community development to help “reverse local population decline, rebuild a central commercial corridor around arts businesses, and restore a positive identity to the neighborhood,” according to the Kresge Foundation. Key partnerships among arts and culture organizations have made Collingwood a showcase neighborhood for creative placemaking.
Whether a swath of new luxury apartments with temperature-controlled underground parking garages and luxury hotel-style pool qualifies as creative placemaking is debatable. What’s clear, however, is that placemaking can bring about the hyper-gentrification and the loss of longstanding communities like Ohio City. But McNair acknowledges there’s still work to do.
“Our work in not done,” McNair added. “This is not something that you finish. We have things that we’ll continue to work on and evolve, much as it has in the past. I don’t think there’s any doubt that we’re starting a new chapter.”
The program was followed by the Ohio City Inc. Annual Awards Ceremony, to honor individuals for demonstrating excellence in the community in the following categories: RESIDENT LEADER – Issac Robb; HOSPITALITY LEADER – St. John’s Episcopal Church; COMMUNITY SAFETY – Sgt. Timothy Maffo-Judd; COMMUNITY SERVICE – The Metanoia Project; OUTSTANDING SMALL BUSINESS – The Flying Fig; HISTORIC PRESERVATION – 4019 Bridge Avenue; NEW CONSTRUCTION – West 25th& Detroit; ARTS & CULTURE – Nikki Delamotte; PRESIDENTIAL – Tom Gill; and LEGACY – May Dugan Center
For more information on the Ohio City Incorporated 2018 Report and Community Awards link to http://www.ohiocity.org.