Words: Birgit Wolter
Photos: Detlef Hecht
Cleveland is an odd town to a foreigner. The appearance
of the core of Cleveland is that of a normal city: High density,
sky scrapers, traffic and business. Like many large cities, there
are a lot of vacant shops, beggars on the street and other signs
that Cleveland has obviously had better times. In spite of this,
the urban fabric is still working.
Industry reused as active recreational
space in Germany (click images to enlarge)
In its good urban patterns one sees that Cleveland
has a lot of potential. One problem is that these patterns are not
connected. Tower City and Playhouse Square are areas in downtown
that work pretty well. University Circle and neighborhoods like
Little Italy or Bratenahl are other examples of, more or less, healthy
parts of the city.
But what is happening in between these parts? Not
that much, as you realize when you are walking through East Cleveland
or Glenville. The structure is run down, buildings are vacant and
a lot of shops are closed. How could this happen? Why did people
leave these neighborhoods?
“Shrinking City” is a term everybody talks
about today. It seems to be a super-modern phenomenon. But, throughout
the history of human settlement, cities grew up and died. Isn’t
it just a normal development that people leave a city to live somewhere
else, where they can find better living conditions?
What is new with this current case is the dimension
in which cities are dying. I don’t want to suppose that Cleveland
will actually die, but to be honest, if you walk through some areas,
it looks very much like that. There are two possible reactions to
this situation. The first possibility is to do nothing and let the
areas die. The second is to try to stop this trend.
To do nothing seems to be the easiest and cheapest
way to handle the problem. Let everything become run down, give
the area back to nature and wait until a new ecosystem will be established.
That sounds good; it’s a vision of healthy ecological spaces
that surround what are now considered suburbs. These areas would
become small villages and Cleveland would cease to exist.
Green landbridge in Germany's Rhein-Ruhr
But does it work? Who will pay for the infrastructure
that allows every citizen the access to all needed services; including
the poor or elderly people who can’t drive a car? Will every
small village have its own hospital? Who will pay for that? The
benefit of a city is that the whole infrastructure can be concentrated
and serve many people. In the end, the solution to invest only in
the small villages might not be the cheapest way.
Maybe it would be cheaper to stop the city escape
that is happening in Cleveland and to turn the trend around. Giving
up so much existing urban fabric can never be a satisfying solution.
Cleveland, like a Sleeping Beauty, has so much potential –
gorgeous buildings and green spaces – that it would be a pity
to lose it.
Situated on a lakefront, Cleveland has a beautiful
and very special location. The only regrettable thing is that the
lake is not perceivable. Cleveland could have a fantastic lake promenade
where families take a walk on Sunday, people in-line skate, bike
and run. But the city turns its back to the lake.
Further, Cleveland has beautiful building stock in
the neighborhoods. For example, East Cleveland and Glenville with
their large, wooden single-family dwellings, gardens, old churches
and quaint avenues. Rockefeller Park, with its lovely monuments
dedicated to the different nations that live in Cleveland, could
connect the lakefront with University Circle and its cultural amenities
just around the corner. All of those elements seem to be qualities
that would make them successful neighborhoods, but everything is
in terrible condition.
This region around Rockefeller Park could be a site
to redevelop a greater inner city area by using the potential of
the existing environment. Why not try to develop a new vision for
Cleveland´s future on this site with a building exhibition?
Bring together architects and urban planners, landscape artists
and teachers, inhabitants and politicians and let them create a
model for Cleveland´s urban pattern of tomorrow.
Smelting works converted to high tech
An example for the creation of a new vision for a
former high industry region is the redevelopment of the Rhein-Ruhr
region in West Germany. The region had a negative reputation as
an air-polluted, ground-contaminated area as a result of the ecological
devastation caused by coal mining and steel production during the
last century. In the 1980s, the exploitation of resources came to
an end, and a new vision was needed. It was decided to organize
an "IBA" in this region.
IBA is the abbreviation for the German term Internationale
Bau-Ausstellung or International Building Exhibition. In
1901, the first German building exhibition took place in Darmstadt
followed by a series of building exhibitions including the Weissenhofsiedlung
in Stuttgart in 1927 and the IBA in West Berlin between 1979 and
As an instrument to develop a regional planning strategy
and to demonstrate it by initiating exemplary projects, an IBA is
a ten-year program funded by the local and national governments,
the European Union and public-private partnerships.
IBA Emscher Park
Starting in 1989, the IBA
Emscher Park focused on an 802 km2 area surrounding the
small river Emscher including 17 cities and a population of two
million inhabitants. The vision was for an ecological and economic
renewal of an old industrial region and the strengthening of the
regional identity strongly impacted by the filth, danger and difficulty
of working in the mines. For 10 years, approximately 120 projects
were implemented with the goal of sustainable redevelopment of industrial
sites, the preservation of industrial monuments, the creation of
a huge, coherent green area for the whole region and several residential
The Emscher Landscape Park
was a redesign of former industrial sites with the objective to
create a park that was characterised as an “urban wilderness”.
Industrial monuments such as chimneys or unused railways were preserved
as landmarks in the natural landscape and supplemented by pieces
of art-like sculptures by Richard Serra or Ulrich Rückriem.
Steel ovens were converted to performance spaces or climbing trails.
The former smelting works are now used as high tech centres, founder
centres – places that offer cheap work space for young entrepreneurs
– or cultural institutions. The redevelopment was accompanied
by an improvement of the ecological system in strengthening the
natural water circulation and filtering the sewage. The result of
this work is a return of plants and animals to their natural environment.
However, this was only the beginning of a long-lasting
process. An IBA is an instrument to create ideas and to push a new
development in a region. Now, after the first steps are done, the
process will continue its way (currently a new IBA, the IBA
Fuerst Pueckler Park, tries to transfer this concept
to a similar situation in East Germany).
Looking at IBA, could we see a vision for Glenville
that could then be translated to all of Cleveland? Some of Cleveland´s
problems seem to be the location of industry, the pollution of the
natural environment and the declining state of public schools. Let’s
use the vacant land of Dike 14 and imagine that maybe this sort
of paradise for birds is the anchor for a new start. Maybe Dike
14 will be an ecological zone, a place that nature restores. People
can walk through this area over boardwalks, and enjoy the birds,
the plants and the lake. Dike 14 could be the showpiece of a green
Glenville, or “Greenville” if you like. A (proposed)
new RTA line could bring people from Tower City to Glenville in
only 15 minutes. Wide, green bridges over the Shoreway could connect
park and dike.
At the north corner of Glenville, like a node between
the green space and the neighborhood, would lay the new green school
(now Charles H. Lake Elementary, which is slated for rebuild). This
school, built in a sustainable way, would not only be a green school
from outside but would also have a green education program. The
understanding for the complex processes of ecology and the experience
of nature by field trips would be part of the program as well as
learning about new sustainable technologies.
The neighborhood that belongs to the school would
be a mixture of reconstructed old and new building stock. The new
buildings would be low- or zero-energy houses, some of them offering
studios or workshops in addition to the residential use for owners
who want to work at home. Some of the residents might work in the
former industrial stock that would now be reused for cheap, big,
natural-lit work lofts, office space or ateliers. Halls would become
performance stages or galleries. The old industrial structure would
look beautiful and rough, as a reminder of the history of Cleveland.
Cleveland had a great past, but let´s face the