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Bruce blog

Welcome to the Bruce blog—a weekly update on news, events and issues affecting life in Cleveland. Reporting as it happens on transit, development, planning, environment and arts & culture.

Basically, we write about creative ideas forming, talk to the people who have an inside track on the issues, and sometimes offer a commentary of our own. (For disclosure purposes, Bruce blog is a local, independent writer who also works part-time with nonprofit organization EcoCity Cleveland. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of EcoCity or any other organization).

2005 Year in Review

10. Yes, Cleveland needs a signature Innerbelt Bridge

We start out with a still-flickering hope for good design and better land-use planning around Jacobs Field. This is a David v Goliath struggle pitting the county planning commission’s creative, thoughtful approach to building an Innerbelt bridge (one that Clevelanders will be proud of for decades to come) and ODOT’s cookie-cutter approach which will nullify many $millions in potential development. Rep. Stefanie Tubbs Jones stepped in earlier this month and promised a federal study of the county’s plan, but last week ODOT took a step toward sealing the deal by awarding design contracts. Some signs that ODOT is listening may be read in their choice of the firm that includes the designer of the gorgeous Leonard Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge in Boston.

But, as PD critic Steve Litt points out, ODOT remains mum about the alignment, which probably means the Alsenas plan is not getting serious consideration. With ODOT’s history of ignoring the public it serves, it will be interesting to see if citizen participation leads to better design. Still, a poorly placed Innerbelt bridge — with its giant concrete footers butting up against Carnegie would be a sad compromise.

9. Mayor Campbell's legacy

The legacy of Mayor Campbell’s administration may be measured by the good work performed by her planning and, to some degree, community development departments. Although short on detail, the planning department offered a long-range vision for reclaiming the lakefront, and helped clear a couple of important hurdles for greenspace and sustainability projects.

The first, Bruce blog reported in April had the mayor securing a commitment from U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to designate Dike 14, the 88-acre wedge of land formed by river dredge which juts into Lake Erie at the end of MLK Dr, as a major nature preserve and bird sanctuary. Followed by city planners securing a planning grant to study how best to develop (or leave undeveloped) the mostly forested greenspace. Progress continues with the recent release of a plan for the design of and access to Dike 14.

8. City sustainability took a big leap

If she didn’t leave enough tangible evidence, Campbell was at least convinced that Cleveland must transform from Rust Belt to green city on a blue lake. One legacy of this is seen in her work with progressive groups in establishing a sustainability czar in the city’s department of public works where it would be insulated from politics. Andrew Watterson, the project manager of the Cleveland Environmental Center and a project manager with development firm the Chesler Group, was tapped to help the city save money and reduce its ecological footprint. Watterson went to work on low hanging fruit such as LEDs in traffic signals, and then showed what was really possible — working with Green Energy Ohio on a wind power monitor and talking with GE execs about commercializing wind on Lake Erie. And, now Watterson is securing the funds to outfit city trucks with anti-idling technology — reducing pollution and changing old-line thinking. Look for more, like replacing city fleets with car-share hybrids and fueling with biodiesel.

7. Looking for silver linings in Steelyard Commons

On the other hand, Campbell’s courting — at any cost — of big box retail was a PR nightmare for Cleveland and Steelyard Commons (SYC), the city’s first big box center. Irked that city council opposed a grocery-selling Walmart, Campbell argued to give Clevelanders what they want (let them spend $millions on cheap Chinese goods, et tu?). Nevermind that Walmart’s a non-union shop and is notorious for strangling local grocery, hardware, toy stores and other specialty operations. After local bloggers revealed that SYC will get a federal tax break (marring a pledge from Campbell and SYC developer Mitch Schneider that it would not take any hand-out), the situation was primed to hammer out a deal. The silver lining? About $10 million from the increase in value of the property from SYC will be used in the effort to build the Cleveland portion of the Towpath Trail, a great idea that has languished because it lacked money.

6. Peak oil (and gas) hits Northeast Ohio

The fight over dwindling fossil fuel resources arrived in Cleveland’s suburbs:

"A coalition of eastern suburban communities led by Mayfield Heights sued the state back in June to stop energy companies from drilling for natural gas in or nearby residential areas…This local skirmish is noteworthy in itself, but striking in the context of the global energy market.

The must-see documentary titled, “The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of The American Dream” cites a number of pundits and even an oil executive who argue that global peak oil will occur in our lifetime (domestic supply has already peaked), and that the prospect could be accelerated if and when the U.S. and China start competing for scarce energy resources.

One pundit, James Howard Kunstler, author of Home from Nowhere, suggests that the only solution is local—such as neighbors pooling resources to purchasing community solar panels and microturbines, forming tool co-ops, community gardens, etc.—as well as urban design that emphasizes walkable communities."

5. Cleveland "encumbered by present realities..."

Hotel Bruce contributor Jim Harris wrote a pointed commentary on the realities facing urban redevelopment in Cleveland. In light of Frank Jackson becoming Cleveland’s next mayor, we revisit it:

This issue of Hotel Bruce presents a potential Glenville drawn by idealistic urban planners, green space visionaries and nonprofit civic activists. Futurists all, its authors write about Dike 14 as a birder’s paradise, about building a series of “counter-cultural” gardens, about reinvigorating E. 105th and St. Clair as an RTA hub, about recreating Charles H. Lake Elementary School as a green “Greenville Elementary”—all in all, an impressive exercise in optimism.

I wish the future of Glenville, Cleveland, Greater Cleveland, and Northeast Ohio was so unabashedly assured. I wish transforming urban neighborhoods like Glenville into anything approaching Hotel Bruce’s 21st-century new urban-main street vision was unencumbered by present economic reality.”

4. The bike racks are coming...

Cleveland streets will soon be flush with 500 bike racks, Bruce blog reported in May. While we’re waiting to see them appear (maybe by spring?), here’s a reminder of what to expect…

“News has reached Bruce blog’s ears that the Cleveland Planning Department has started to mark pavement locations for the new city bike racks program. The $388,000 program (80 percent of which is paid for by the feds) will place 500 bike racks primarily in downtown Cleveland, neighborhood retail centers, parks, rec centers and playgrounds. In the works for a couple of years, the bike racks program is finally going out to bid. The city will install the racks this fall through next summer, according to city officials. This is another big step in Cleveland’s remaking itself into a bike friendly city.”

3. Protect the suburbs

Bruce blog offered considerable coverage of efforts by inner-ring suburbs Shaker and Cleveland Heights to boost their quality of life and burnish their progressive image. For example, we reported in January that Shaker is looking to add bike lanes from Thorton Park to Chagrin-Lee. We wrote, “Observers note that the proposals are a decent beginning, perhaps a warm-up to planning for a bike lane on Lee Road — an idea that Shaker and Cleveland Heights are rumored to be pursuing in anticipation of the road being resurfaced.”

Those rumors, by the way, still persist and are being fueled by more than mere speculation...

Bruce blog also reported on the changing face of one its favorite commercial districts – Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights. We offered some tough love: “Retail is cyclical, yes, but has Coventry ever faced this level of vacancy (with at least 12 dark storefronts) during a period of economic malaise?” To which Big Fun’s Steve Presser responded: An anemic economy and competition from new ‘lifestyle centers’—not the comings or goings of shops—have put the hurt on commercial districts like Coventry, Shaker Square, and Tremont.

“More people are spending time and money going to big box stores,” Presser says. “They’re forgetting their roots. For independent merchants, it’s definitely a fight for the dollar. We need support from the community. We should be screaming: ‘Support your local retail.’”

2. Hotel Bruce—expanding your horizons

Hotel Bruce was more than a hard-hitting blog, it was a journal exploring creative living in Cleveland. In Winter ’04-’05, we explored Ohio City. We strolled, shopped, and dined on a perfectly romantic date. We journeyed from the OC to the Cuyahoga Valley by bike. We met a couple living and working in an art gallery/flat and creating something life altering. We explored the exploding real estate market with which this quickly gentrifying neighborhood continues to grapple. And, since Hotel Bruce wasn’t content with just exploring those questions, once again we presented a thoughtful and highly imaginative urban design for the neighborhood to consider.

1. Hotel Bruce—Glenville, and that's a wrap, folks

In spring ’05, we did it again — this time we captured a snapshot of Glenville. We featured Daryl and Miriam Rush, who understand the serious investment of restoring a beautiful East Boulevard home. We visited a staple in Glenville retail, the East side Market. We offered design ideas for the future reconstruction of Charles H. Lake Elementary and MLK Drive that propose greener and more human-scaled connections to the lake, transit, and the area in north Glenville. And we visited Lake Elementary to talk with (and film) a group of students thinking about their environment and what they see, and tackled the issue of parking and houses of worship.

Thanks to our readers, contributors, and most of all the Hotel Bruce staff (Corrie, Lindsey, Danielle and Amber) for making this an unforgettable two and a half year experience. See you at the reunion tour...

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2005 Blog:

1/14-1/28
1/28-2/11
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3/2-4/2
4/3-4/14
4/20-5/4
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10/6-10/20
10/20-11/3
11/3-12/1
12/1-12/14

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