Housing Revitalization : A combination of approaches

Submitted by Sudhir Kade on Fri, 06/30/2006 - 19:25.

Today's article in the PD distills the core revelations from the first in a series of City Club forum sessions on housing revitalization in Cleveland. Some of the important revelations included one by Thomas Bier of CSU's Levin school declaring that an influx of middle-class homeowners will be critical over the coming years to sustain the city tax base. Mitigating this has been an urban sprawl problem problem that has 1500 city housing units evacuated annually. "Cleveland's growth is crucial to Cuyahoga County", he said. Any regional approach, he added, should hinge on the city's development. Bier also stated that efforts to implement comprehensive housing strategy for the city would likely be undermined by the divisiveness characterized by the 21 city council members with ward-centric interests.

Thomas Brown of the Cleveland Planning Commission, which is working to develop and implement a housing strategy by 2020, had a more positive take on the situation, indicating that migration reversal was happening but required acceleration. The housing plan aims to incorporate affordability, sustainable land development, and energy-efficiency.

The noted gap between planning and implementation appears to be a universal one - we see similar challenges across the board from education, to health care, to quality of life enhancement.  Repeatedly critical success factors including effective cross-functional collaboration, effective leadership, and transparent information sharing come to the forefront across initiatives.

As top-down, comprehensive planning strategies are developed and people work to implement them, other concerned citizens and organizations are finding success with small scale grassroots efforts.  Another article in the Brooklyn Sun discusses a successful housing renovation effort being driven by area nonprofit Rebuilding Together, which revitalizes homes owned by low-income residents, particularly the elderly and disabled and brings together corporations, community development organizations and volunteers to rehabilitate homes free of charge. 

Habitat for Humanity is another nationwide nonprofit with area chapters playing its part one newly constructed or reconstructed home at a time. Corporate sponsors donate the necessary funding, appliances and supplies to help complete these affordable housing solutions for the underprivileged.   

Interesting opportunities come to light when one considers the role installation of high-performance, energy conserving appliances can have when coupled with other aspects of green building and design for all of these construction projects, whether low-income oriented or not. Given that an inordinate proportion of the emissions problem contributing to global warming is attributable to inefficient housing design, it only makes sense to apply high-performance design efforts to all constructions.  Consider the impact the volume of work these groups do in disaster-ravaged areas like those devastated by Hurricane Katrina and the environmental impact adds up quickly.

Certainly the reconstructed dwellings should be assessed for lead toxicity or asbestos issues, and these both rectified as part of the process if need be..  I assume this would be the case but one can't be sure.  Certainly worth investigation.


Very well expressed insight on housing strategy

Great posting, Sudhir... you write so well... thanks for looking out of the box and NEO on this and bringing higher level thinking together, along with CSU and the City Club... such core resources save this community. I believe we really are at a turning point on sprwal, health, transit, energy and housing issues in Cleveland and I don't see 2020 as an acceptable target, as cute as the whole "20/20" thing may be - we need day to day change and success today, tomorrow and the next day, with action in the streets and grass roots, as you point out. Decades of really poor-grade top down long term visioning is much of the problem with NEO today. I'll take a look at the Brown Plan in detail as it is extensive but I expect the worst... what price of gasoline and natural gas are they using for their trend analyses... $2, $3, $5, $10 per gallon... unaffordable heat... is it based on continued industrial pollution in the Cuyahoga Velley - poorly regulated Diesel emissions by all those nasty trucks serving the scrap heaps in the Port Authority and continuing corrupt processes that make Cleveland unlivable for all but the desparate, or are they proposing massive environmental transformation, ruthless industrial regulation, revoutionary public health innitiative, innovative affordable housing and a public and people powered transit based model that hasn't been part of any public or private visioning I've seen for 2006, 2010 or 2020 at the top or bottom around here today. Let's keep planning off the grid and out of the hands of anyone who put us in the mess we're in today, and keep moving forward with the 7 Generation revolution!

Cleveland city vision 2020 is blinding

Okay, I took a look at the inept 2020 plan for Cleveland site, on the worthless Planning Commission site, on the disappointing City of Cleveland site, and I am blind with rage - "Vision 2020" is a disgrace. Not only are only 20% of the sections they list on the plan even active (not including a "glossary" and "Introduction" that is just a poster), but the content that is there is largely gibberish promoting Stark, Carney, Wolstein and Rubin... the bigbox suburban-sprawl bullies... and their attempting vision-less takeover of Downtown Cleveland... their toxic-spew pollutes every page of the plan. Clearly, the City of Cleveland rushed this site to market in response to pressure they are feeling from people demanding leadership, choices, good design, and new developers rather than the corrupt empowerment of the developers who brought us SUBURBAN SPRAWL. So, the rats are on the run, as fast as they can. This plan will give us clear visibility on who is the problem... anyone praising and promoting this. What is there is no-brainer common knowledge made to look smart, I suppose - complete embarassment to everyone "acknowledged" as part of the process... some blah-blah-blah and file-photos about "smart growth" zoning  and an RTA  interactive map that recognizes that every rapid stop should be maintained and offers development opportunity (duh) and the Euclid Corridor will have lots of bus stops (duh)... oh yeah, and that they are stealing the E.120th Rapid Stop from the disadvantaged people of East Cleveland to give the richest community in the city a pretty new stop (elitist). The planning ends at the Cleveland border, so they clearly don't care about their neighbors in East Cleveland. This is all disgraceful....

I agree..

I completely agree that the 2020 plan is flawed.  In terms of policy and politics, it is so often we see developers capitalizing on exclusive connections and contribution channels with politicians or agencies to help materialize plans that support their business interests.  The developers we need for this region need to be those who understand and embrace the value of Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND) and eco-efficient building.   I liked hearing about the best practices like those of John Norquist as Mayor of Milwaukee - helping to expedite permitting processes for developers.  Couple that with city ordinances ('smart codes') that ensure TND development that is inherently anti-sprawl, encourages population density that translates to tax benefit, and encourages green, mixed-use construction that supports thriving, interdependent, entrepreneurial, and sustainable communities - and we'll be getting somewhere.   Given that the plan is incomplete, perhaps there still time get these critical components into 'mega-plans' like this?  Do we create alternate plans and make them a reality via smaller-scale successes that attract followers - like those advocated by KSU architecture dean Steven Fong?   There are so many possibilities -who can deny the TND gems that are Shaker Square, Little Italy, and Tremont? 

A few things to add to the list ...

Great posting! Just a few things that I think planners should add to attract home owners to Cleveland -- middle class or any other class.

1.) Add green: Cleveland, especially around Euclid Ave. and Carnegie has some of the worst landscaping of any major city I have seen. We need lot of trees, plants, flowers and grass everywhere.

2.) Get rid of the steel mill -- stinking, polluting industry like that has no business being near where anyone lives. Maybe if our city smelled better more people would find living downtown more appealing.

3.) More public art -- even if some Clevelanders hate it, art ultimately makes a city look more interesting and gives people something to think about.

Excellent add-ons


I like all of your suggestions.  Thanks!  thoughts you're points have raised...

City Planners need to connect and integrate their planning with landscape specialists who understand how to combine aesthetic appeal with positive environmental impact - positioning the appropriate greenery where it makes sense (i.e. green roofs, appropriate tree-lined streets).

Steel Mills and chemical plants should be either located in more isolated venues (which can pose energy costs for transportation but perhaps justifiable ones) or comprehensively change their processes toward minimal emission and pollution.  Consider chemical companies like the Oatey Company, which deserves kudos for embracing sustainability in its mission and making great strides in terms of LEED certified building, minimizing bagging, and other sustainable efforts.  However the company is still emitting an steadily increasing volume of MEK/PVC toxins annually.  Could the very processes of production be changed and combined with chemical reformulation so companies that are growing like this can minimize or eliminate their toxic impacts?

Public art is very interesting, and unique, and creates opportunities for others to develop and advertise their talent to the world.  As i recall (and not to condone illegal graffiti)- wasn't Basquiat discovered this way?  


Thanks again for the comments






it's all getting simpler

As new housing units sit vacant and middle-class people fail to move back in to the City of Cleveland, the entire housing strategy is getting suddenly simpler, and it carries over to the commercial and industrial as well:

--Build no more new, except as infill, and then only after much thought;

--Use what you have & expand upon it and improve it, because it's far better quality and has more cachet than what you can afford to build new today, and we've got tons of it in NEO;

--Strip the local tax abatements, credits, and grants and let market forces take over; stop giving incentives to those who promote wasting assets; realize that it's financially unhealthy behavior to incentivize only the most expensive forms of development.

--Get the government and the nonprofits out of the real-estate and construction business

--Use the money we now give to nonprofits to continue to talk about development to fund actual grassroots restoration and adaptive reuse projects, where something actually happens. We talk too much in this town and do too little.

Develop collective wisdom before NEO goes boom

While not exactly simple, everything you suggest is right on, although for most of Cleveland downtown and around it is too late to plan for just that... we need to really be smart as boom times are a coming and NEO stands to either propser or completley blow apart.

  • Your vision is absolutely perfect for the rings of inner historic majesty found in the Heights, East Cleveland, the near west and south sides, and Lakewood, where the good infrastructure and structures remain from days of good leaders and planners. East Cleveland is especially interesting and reminds me of the New Orleans I found and helped restore in the early 1980s... they didn't have the money in the ecomony to justify demolishing their inner-core so it remained intact until economics chnaged and historic, urban property regained traction - I was part of the same movement in Miami Beach before it went Vice... East Cleveland will be the envy of all NEO within a few years, done right.
  • But for most of downtown, the Flats, the "lakefront" and the near east side of Cleveland, there must be revolutionary new major large developments, because we've already failed to protect so much of the great buildings we once had and so are a city of dirty industry, foolish transportation right of ways and sprawl-oriented parking lots/garages, low class strip malls, nasty 50s-90s anti-architected people-prisons, and worthless little cinder block-boxes - explore Euclid, Prospect, and other streets coming east and south out of and criss-crossing Cleveland, where mansions once stood, are long abandoned and demolished-by-ignorance in the first inner-burbilly flight starting early last century.
  • So much of the inner-core can and should be cleared of lowest and worst use structures of the last few incompetent generations, and the anti-developers and thier constructs should all be forgotten as the worst of our past... just names for a wall of shame
  • If smart, the next 7 generations may redevelop smart - smart code - transit oriented design (TOD) - in the coming decades.
  • New developments and entire neighborhoods can and will be built... like all around ugly, poorly planned CSU - in fact, most of CSU will be bulldozed and replaced, as they go to an urban-core residential campus model... no sign they are doing any of this right, but we can hope, and CSU grads and interested stakeholders can take a lead on planning for that.
  • The highest and best use potential in Cleveland is a future of historic restoration infill around a new, better designed city of the future, if any good planners and developers may be attracted here.
  • Unfortunately, we have such a void of historic preservation instinct, professionalism and activism here that what remains will be lost unless we completely restructure that enforcement and advocacy side of our community... replace all but Ari Maron on the Cleveland Landmarks Commission and completely revive the Preservation Resource Center. Any real "preservationists" in town to take leads on this? Start that revolution amongst yourselves knowing the rest of NEO is now watching you very closesly and will reward smart leaders and take out the bad.
  • We must stop in their tracks the politburo-PD and Orgburo-Port Authority and inept Central Committee leaders who want us to accept bad developers, bad architecture and worse a hardcore big-box walled and gated sprawl model rewarding the big-boxing environmental terrorists who destroyed our outer-limits and seek to now destroy our inner core, in our twilight zone.
  • Unless we seek freedom and liberation within and find serious help from afar - like developers, planners and designers from other countries - and we grow-smart and great within, we will see a new wave of worse development (see Stark Public Square), without intelligence (ODOT bridge fiasco), against historic preservation (see the Flats planning at every level today), without true TOD (voidoid Rapid Transit and Euclid Corridor plans thus far) ahead - all devoid of good design, as is now on all planning drawing boards pitched at our community today.
  • None of this is about local tax incentives, bonds and corporate charity, which are just über-corrupt gifts from dictatorial government cronies to big-box Carney developers...
  • There are very rightful tax benefits for smart urban development from the Federal Government, for preservation, toxic hazard cleanup, and enterprise and development zone renewal, to name a few.
  • The real story in all of this, however, is the void in the community of highest and best use 7-generation alternatives proposed to contrast the lowest and worst use plans of self-interested, inept developers and low-quality leaders who give away and get their way because citizens are too divided, sprawled and unimaginative to lead the leaders, or even regulate who they elect and hire and accept.
  • Good visions and models for the future are found in the recent past and are all around our core, anchored at E.4th Street, rooted in all the arts and cuture based developments I mentioned in my posting about the PD, Stark and Schorgl - we need to help folks like Marin, Levin, Perkowski and now even Rubin-Squared to gain more traction themselves and as role models and ambassadors for quality planning, against the Vegas-tripping big-box-'burbillies, politPD and The OrgPort Authority
  • Thus, we may develop and import higher quality leadership at every level, which will build a newly real NEO into one of the most attractive communities in the world.
  • Those who care, get organized, get together, really think regionally, weave together your networks and good alternative islands of renewal, and start making this personal and public - bring attention to the good leaders and shine spotlights on all the bad... don't protest WalMart, but protest their landlords, and boycott their sprawl.

Disrupt IT