Don Harvey on the natural history of Irishtown Bend

Submitted by Susan Miller on Wed, 02/14/2007 - 16:13.
02/16/2007 - 16:30
02/16/2007 - 18:00

Local artist and urban design guru Don Harvey will discuss the natural history of the Irishtown Bend area of the Flats in Cleveland. Irishtown Bend site will be the focus of the first annual Cleveland Design Competition.

Free and open to the public. For more information, call 216-357-3434.


    Irishtown Bend, the hillside flanking the Cuyahoga River’s west bank in Cleveland’s Industrial Valley, lies unused, overgrown, and largely inaccessible after storied histories as an Irish shanty settlement, river’s edge distribution site, immigrant neighborhood, and post-war housing complex. From the site’s vantage along the edge of Cleveland’s Industrial Flats, photographer Margaret Bourke-White captured the dominance of industry over a rapidly rising American city. Today, the same perspective reveals a complex urban history of unparalleled industrial growth, rapid abandonment, evolving patterns of immigration, wealth, poverty, and the rise of a rich rust-belt city follow by decades of decline and urban decay.

    The Irishtown Bend hillside and riverbank remain largely inaccessible and mostly forgotten under a blanket of riparian vegetation and unstable soils. Recent efforts to repopulate the hillside have been unsuccessful. The Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) planned a new mixed-income housing development to rise on much of the empty hillside between West 25th Street and Riverbed Road. In 2004, however, soil-boring tests revealed that the soils were too unstable to support significant building foundations without expensive soil enhancements; thus forcing CMHA to reconsider 17.3-acres of hillside as a viable site for an economically responsible housing project.
The Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority has publicly expressed interest for some portion of the proposed housing site to become a public park. The reclamation of the housing site and remaining riverfront property provides visionaries an unprecedented opportunity to consider the potential programming and design for the aforementioned park and surrounding natural hillside. The site poses several challenges for participants to address: connecting the historic neighborhood along West 25th street to the Cuyahoga River, mining the memory of a storied site and unparalleled vantage point, stabilizing a shifting hillside and eroding river bank, celebrating nature’s re-emergence in the Flats, and embodying a vision for nature, industry, commerce, residence, and recreation to successfully co-exist.

History to Present

    Beginning in the 1830’s, Irish immigrants settled the Irishtown Bend site to take jobs as dockworkers and diggers of the Ohio and Erie Canal. Through the next two decades, the Irish community grew with refugees of the Irish Potato Famine. At Irishtown Bend, tiny hovels and shanties housed poverty-stricken Irish families on several roads on the hillside along the river. In time, the “Shanty” Irish grew prosperous and moved out of the industrial valley and west into the Ohio City neighborhood. Immigrant groups continued to inhabit the deteriorating neighborhood until the early 1900’s when most of the housing had either been abandoned or demolished. As residents migrated away from the unhealthy river valley, industry claimed much of the Cuyahoga River banks. The site became home to several warehouses, railroads, and shipping docks; the remains of a few are still visible today.

    In 1963, atop the Riverbed bluff, the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority built a fifteen-story, 660 foot-long high-rise tower designated for seniors as a part of the Riverview housing project. The completed Riverview Terrace project included an additional 135 two-story units that were torn down in 1996, upon the receival of a Hope VI Grant, to clear the site for a new mixed-income development. In 2004, civil engineers determined that existing soils could not support traditional building foundations without expensive soil enhancements. The fifteen-story apartment tower at West 25th Street and Bridge Avenue remains occupied, while the demolished Riverview Terrace site sits covered in grass and surrounded by chain link fence. In the time since CMHA’s decision to relocate the mixed-income housing development to secondary sites on the Near West side, frequent discussion of a neighborhood overlook park at the Riverview Terrace site suggests consensus for a significant portion of the entire Irishtown Bend hillside to be planned for public use.


Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative
820 Prospect Avenue
Cleveland, OH
United States
( categories: )