Blurban Living: Urban Parks and the 21st Century

Issue 5

Parks: A Natural Capital

Urbanization around the world continues to transform our landscapes, with urban areas expanding at twice the rate of their populations.1 A 2012 study estimated developed urban land will increase by 1.2 million square kilometers by 2030, tripling the amount of developed urban land from a 2000 baseline.1 With urbanization increasing, residents are becoming increasingly disconnected from nature. As this trend continues, it is important to not lose sight of the economic, social, and environmental values added by parks and green spaces. Services provided by parks include recreation, education, human health benefits, increase in property values, and environmental services.  The presence of green spaces has also been shown to directly reduce mental fatigue, relieve feelings of stress, and have positive effects on mood.2

Building Blocks

 A new urban landscape confronts urban planners and urban residents in the 21st century. This landscape—the legacy of decades of suburban sprawl linked to racial tensions, poor planning policies, and a cultural desire for home ownership— has left our cities with barren pockmarks of parking lots, vacant buildings, and aging infrastructure. As Baby Boomers reach retirement and Millenials enter the workforce, history’s two largest generations are returning to long-forgotten city centers. As people move back into the city center, planners and developers are racing to reinvent these downtown neighborhoods. In many cities, planners and courageous citizens are integrating park space into redevelopment plans—creating thriving recreational centers for downtown residents. In one of the largest and most audacious projects in the history of the United States, Boston replaced the elevated John F. Fitzgerald Expressway with an intricate series of tunnels. On the vacant area formerly occupied by the highway, a 1.5 mile linear park—the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway—opened in 2008. With the help of Design Trust for Public Space and the Friends of the High Line, New York City opened the High Line Park—the quintessential rails to trails success story—in 2009.

The High Line has quickly become one of New York City's most popular attractions. (Image credit: Friends of the High Line)

The High Line has quickly become one of New York City’s most popular attractions. (Image credit: Friends of the High Line)

Across the country in Los Angeles, a bold plan to create a continuous 51-mile greenway corridor along the LA River is underway. Just last week, a 2-mile stretch of bikeway opened in the San Fernando Valley. The new bikeway—equipped with concrete paving, bioswales, art, restrooms, lighting, and exercise equipment—joins sections in Long Beach, Downtown, Burbank, and Glendale. The LA River Corp hopes to complete the greenway and return the largely concrete river to parkland by 2020.

The Emerald Necklace

Here in Cleveland, our Cleveland Metroparks have provided an escape from the bustling city for almost a century. First opening in 1917, Alfred Stinchcomb’s dream of creating a chain of parks and connecting boulevards encircling Cleveland and its suburbs has largely come to fruition in 18 reservations spanning over 22,800 acres. A recent study by the Trust for Public Land values the annual benefits of this system at $855 million. As part of its Centennial Plan, the Metroparks is working to link our urban centers and extend park benefits to urban residents through “an accessible, regional greenway and trail network [as well as] transforming the Cleveland Lakefront to an icon of urban vitality, healthy urban ecology, and active outdoor lifestyles.”3 On September 19, 2014, the Cleveland Foundation announced a $5 million grant to the Trust for Public Land for a 1.3-mile trail connecting the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath to Lake Erie. Named the Cleveland Foundation Centennial Trail, the trail connects the Metropark’s Lakefront Reservation to the 85-mile Towpath—providing a pedestrian linkage to the Reservation, which is currently obstructed by live railroads and the heavily industrialized old branch of the Cuyahoga River.

The prominence of Alfred Stinchcomb's greenway plan is seen in this 1920 Cuyahoga County Road Map. (Image credit: Teaching Cleveland)

The prominence of Alfred Stinchcomb’s greenway plan is seen in this 1920 Cuyahoga County Road Map. (Image credit: Teaching Cleveland)

A few stories above the new Centennial Foundation Trail, the Rotary Club of Cleveland  is hard at work creating the Red Line Greenway—a 3-mile linear park adjoining the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority’s Red Line. The trail—Cleveland’s answer to the High Line—would connect the Detroit-Shoreway, Stockyards, Clark-Fulton, Tremont, and Ohio City neighborhoods to Downtown. The trail can serve as a spine for alternative transportation in Cleveland, allowing residents complete and unobstructed pedestrian access from Downtown to the flourishing near-Westside. Together with Bike Cleveland’s Midway Project, these trails help realize Alfred Stinchcomb’s dream of connecting urban residents to green spaces , making Cleveland a model of healthy lifestyle urban living in the 21st century. 4

The Red Line Greenway would run alongside GCRTA's Red Line for 3 miles. (Image credit: Steve Litt, The Plain Dealer)

The Red Line Greenway would run alongside GCRTA’s Red Line for 3 miles. (Image credit: Steve Litt, The Plain Dealer)

1 Seto, K. C., Güneralp, B., & Hutyra, L. R. (2012). Global forecasts of urban expansion to 2030 and direct impacts on biodiversity and carbon pools. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1211658109

2 Kuo, F. E., Sullivan, W. C., Coley, R. L., & Brunson, L. (1998). Fertile ground for community: Inner-city neighborhood common spaces. American Journal of Community Psychology, 26(6), 823-851.

3 Cleveland Metroparks. Cleveland Metroparks 2020: The Emerald Necklace Centennial Plan.

4 For more on the Midway Project, visit Blurban Living, Issue 4.

 

-Blurban Living is a series by Jared Robbins, Analyst

Blurban Living, Issue 4

The Fall of the Streetcar

Prior to the Second Urban Revolution, which saw the proliferation of the automobile and rise of the suburbs, the city was a compact and dense place. Movement was at first restricted by how far one could travel on foot or by horse. In large cities like Cleveland, these methods of transportation were replaced by streetcar networks. Streetcars allowed for quicker (and less smelly) transit, and led commuters from the busy city to the tranquility of William Stinchcomb’s new metropark system. The arrival of World War II stopped upgrades to Cleveland’s streetcar system in its tracks, and the Great American Streetcar Scandal led to the dissolution of streetcar networks across the country.1 The Second Urban Revolution brought with it the creation of the Federal Highway System and rise of the suburbs. Streetcar systems had come to an end as quickly as they had begun. The last of Cleveland’s 38 streetcar lines was converted to a bus line in 1954.

streetcarCleveland’s streetcar system.

Infrastructure Reawakened

Many argue that America is currently undergoing a third urban revolution. The two largest generations in American history—the Millennials and Baby Boomers—are transitioning into more urban settings. These demographics are sparking debates on what is to be done with a plethora of aging infrastructure. Cities across the country have adapted new uses for these underutilized assets, such as New York City’s High Line. But in a city of less than 400,000 with built roads for over one million, there is plenty of empty asphalt around the City. Miles of redundant roads contribute to reckless driving, greenhouse gas pollution, and storm water runoff. 21st century urban planners preach a road reimagination technique called a “road diet,” which reduces the number of width of lanes in order to increase road efficiency. While the idea seems counterintuitive, research indicates that road diets relieve congestion by decreasing the likelihood of speeding and reckless driving associated with wider roads. They also allow for the addition of street parking, protected bike lanes, and green infrastructure.

Relinking Cleveland

Jacob VanSickle and Bike Cleveland recently proposed an audacious plan for Cleveland’s gigantic thoroughfares. The group—along with St. Clair Superior Development Corporation and Bialosky + Partners Architects—envisions a bicycle expressway along hundreds of miles of former streetcar line. The system would place protected bike lanes down the center of many of Cleveland’s roads. The lanes would be buffered on either side by greenways, which will filter out pollution, relieve storm water runoff, and protect bikers. In many Cleveland neighborhoods, where residents may not have a car, the system could provide a safe and low-cost alternative to public transit. Furthermore, recent studies have found that protected bike lanes increase business along transit corridors. While now just an unfunded “dream,” the Cleveland Midway plan could set Cleveland as a leader in 21st century urban planning, and spur economic growth throughout the region.

midway
Map of the proposed Midway System. The portion of the blue line between MLK Blvd. and E. 55 St. in the St. Clair Superior neighborhood would serve as a model for the system.

Between the 1930s and 1950s, a front company known as National City Lines and its subsidiary, Pacific City Lines, purchased and dismantled streetcar networks across the continental United States. The Company was successful in converting streetcar networks in 45 cities—including St. Louis, Baltimore, Los Angeles, and San Diego—into bus systems. National City Lines was funded by General Motors, Firestone Tire, Standard Oil of California (now Chevron), Philips Petroleum (now ConocoPhilips), Mack Trucks, and the Federal Engineering Corporation.1 Many say this move by the auto industry to dismantle the streetcars played a key role in the decline of public transit across the U.S. Attorney Bradford Snell testified before congress in 1974, saying “General Motors is in effect a sovereign economic state whose interlocking control of auto, truck, bus, and locomotive production is a major factor in the decline of this Nation’s rail and bus systems.”2

1 Between the 1930s and 1950s, a front company known as National City Lines and its subsidiary, Pacific City Lines, purchased and dismantled streetcar networks across the continental United States. The Company was successful in converting streetcar networks in 45 cities—including St. Louis, Baltimore, Los Angeles, and San Diego—into bus systems. National City Lines was funded by General Motors, Firestone Tire, Standard Oil of California (now Chevron), Philips Petroleum (now ConocoPhilips), Mack Trucks, and the Federal Engineering Corporation.1 Many say this move by the auto industry to dismantle the streetcars played a key role in the decline of public transit across the U.S. Attorney Bradford Snell testified before congress in 1974, saying “General Motors is in effect a sovereign economic state whose interlocking control of auto, truck, bus, and locomotive production is a major factor in the decline of this Nation’s rail and bus systems.”2

For more on Cleveland’s Streetcar System: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streetcars_in_Cleveland

2 For U.S. Attorney, Bradford Snell’s testimony: http://libraryarchives.metro.net/DPGTL/testimony/1974_statement_bradford_c_snell_s1167.pdf

For more on the Midway project: http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2014/08/cleveland_bicycle_expressway_c.html

Blurban Living, Issue 3

An American Tale: The Rise of Sprawl

Post Second World War America was a place of prosperity and rapid economic growth. Government investment, in the form federal incentives—including the G.I. Bill and the Federal Aid Highway Act—allowed Americans to spread out from the city-center farther than ever before. With the environmental and social strife of the 1960s, threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, massive upgrades in suburban infrastructure, low mortgage rates, and affordable automobiles, these new suburbs offered a viable alternative to living in the central city—offering privacy, larger lot size, and the opportunity to own an individual housing unit.

Now termed suburban sprawl, this land-use pattern continues to encroach upon once rural areas at an alarming rate. About three quarters of America’s population now lives in metropolitan areas. Over half of metropolitan inhabitants live in the suburbs. Developers continue to use federal, state, and local money to expand infrastructure into rural areas. Oftentimes having a disastrous effect on the environments, such development replaces greenfields that may have been farmland, parks, or natural habitats with sprawling communities. A study by Edward Glaeser shows that suburban CO2 emissions in New York City are 14,127 pounds greater per average household than their central city counterpart.

As suburbs and exurbs flourish and tax dollars are funneled into these communities, most central cities continue to collapse. Cities such as Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, and Philadelphia are littered with the effects of urban decay. According to the nonprofit Take Back Vacant Land (TBVL), Philadelphia, for instance, has more than 40,000 parcels of vacant land. These properties cost the city of Philadelphia $70 million in lost taxes, and $20 million is spent by the city, annually, for safety and upkeep.

The Sustainability of Space: A NEO Approach

With federal and state funds drying up rapidly, many communities are now on the verge of collapse. The bankrupt city of Detroit recently turned off water to 3,000 customers and at many times, only a few policemen are patrolling the city of 150 square miles. Detroit joins the likes of Stockton, California and Jefferson County, Alabama in filing for Chapter 9. Closer to home, Chagrin Falls recently reported a shortage of funds and an inability to maintain its roads. The City of East Cleveland has been in and out of ‘fiscal emergency’ since 1988.

These concerns have sparked the debate on regionalism—an approach in which neighboring communities share resources to lessen economic and environmental burdens. In November 2010, Northeast Ohio was awarded a $4.25 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to find the development of a regional sustainability plan. The Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium (NEOSCC) was established to create an integrated approach to planning efforts for land use, transportation, economic development, and infrastructure investment for a 12-county region. After years of planning and interaction with local stakeholders, NEOSCC launched Vibrant NEO, a vision, framework, and action plan for Northeast Ohio. Vibrant NEO’s Vision includes nine recommendations, including:

  • “Recommendation 9: increase collaboration among the region’s government agencies to expand information sharing and find more cost-effective means of providing essential services.”1

Putting Words to Action

Recently, civic leaders including former Cleveland City Council President George Forbes have called for Cleveland and its east-side neighbor, East Cleveland to merge. A merger will bring Cleveland’s population back over 400,000 people, allowing it to qualify for a larger pot of federal and state funds. To East Cleveland, it will bring financial stability to a city State Auditor David Yost has said is “‘in a league all its own’ with respect to fiscal management.”2 On July 24, the Civic Commons ideastream, Cleveland Scene, East Cleveland Narrator, and the Cleveland Young Professional Senate (Cleveland YPS) hosted a salon-style discussion on the possible merger. Called “One Cleveland – Pros and Cons,” the salon included through leaders including Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley, Cleveland Councilmen Zack Reed, East Cleveland City Council-members Mansell Baker and Nathaniel Martin, and Cuyahoga County Next Generation Council members Michael Hudecek and Tara Vanta. The Salon was a first step in putting NEOSCC’s recommendations to action.

 

1 From Vibrant NEO; for more information on Vibrant NEO: http://vibrantneo.org/vibrantneo-2040/vneo-2040-full-report/
2 Councilman Jeff Johnson Publicly Supports Merger with East Cleveland. Cleveland Scene. March 19, 2014.

Blurban Living is a blog series by Jared Robbins, Analyst

Super Heroes to Kids in Ohio Spreads Good Will, Makes Positive Difference in Community

By: Emily Bryant, Analyst

I joined Super Heroes to Kids in Ohio (SHTKIO) in February 2013. I learned about the group through Brian Chulik, my eighth grade science teacher at Rocky River High School, and one of SHTKIO’s founding members. Members of our organization suit up as Marvel, DC, and Disney characters to bring cheer to children who are facing adversity, most often in the form of illness, disabilities, and bullying.

Our group’s mission is as follows:
As “SUPER HEROES TO KIDS IN OHIO”, it is our goal to spread good will by (1) simple acts of kindness, (2) the recognition of individuals who have battled through adversity (3) and to encourage the involvement of ‘community’ to make a positive difference in the lives of others; especially children. We continue to make costumed visits to children’s hospitals, special needs centers, and various charitable events whenever we are needed, all in an attempt to bring a few smiles to kids and people.

Spiderman and Super Girl to the Rescue

Spiderman and Supergirl run the circuit with children at the Murray Ridge Center 500

I had been searching for a non-profit organization that I could be excited about contributing to—one where I could really make a positive difference through active involvement. I feel lucky that BrownFlynn has supported me and my colleagues in our desire to give back to the community by providing us with 40 hours of volunteer paid time off (PTO) each year. This time has enabled me to participate in many special events at schools and hospitals during work hours that I would not have been able to otherwise. While I can’t turn invisible, fly, or breathe underwater, I’ve learned that I can make a difference in the lives of others simply by wearing a costume and being present at an event or in a hospital room.

Through personal experience, I know that it can be very easy to feel alone when you are suffering. Because of this, it can be natural to want to hide pain from others, but one of the greatest things we can do as human beings is to share our experiences and how we’ve persevered over our suffering to bring comfort to others. It can give purpose to the adversity we personally have faced in that we may have felt alone in our experience, but we can help ensure that others never have to. In this way, our suffering can become a source of strength. Through helping to heal others, we ourselves heal. Every day, we influence the lives of those around us. We have the opportunity to tip the scales one way or another and be part of something bigger than ourselves. Because of this, anyone can be a hero.

The Wonder Twins biked 75 miles to raise money for individuals living in Northeast Ohio with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) during its 2014 Pedal to the Point ride.

The Wonder Twins biked 75 miles to raise money for individuals living in Northeast Ohio with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) during the 2014 Pedal to the Point ride.

The relationships our members have formed with one another and the families we visit have been life changing. We celebrate together and we grieve together. It’s an incredible privilege to be part of the lives and journeys of the families we work with, and while the ending isn’t always happy, the impacts the children have on everyone they touch are profound, lasting, and inspirational. Super Heroes to Kids in Ohio is honored to recognize these outstanding children as true heroes. Seeing the children’s faces light up when they see us in costume is one of the best feelings in the world. When we walk into a hospital room, we don’t always know the circumstances, but we can help make kids smile, hold their hand, and give them some encouragement and well-deserved recognition.

Since joining Super Heroes to Kids in Ohio, I’ve participated in over 30 events as Valkyrie, Wonder Twin Jayna, Super Girl, Mrs. Fantastic, Aquawoman, and Tinkerbell with the goal of bringing joy and temporary reprieve to children struggling with adversity. My brother has since joined the group as Wonder Twin Zan, my boyfriend as Mr. Fantastic, and my mom as the Fairy Godmother. Participation in Super Heroes to Kids in Ohio has been very transformative in my life. I used to think of myself as just a person in costume, but the insignia we wear and the characters we become have strength that has permeated my life out of costume. I find myself judging behavior on whether or not it is something a hero would do. I know that it is important to be accountable for my actions because to many children I visit, there is no costume. I am an actual super hero. And while it’s a big responsibility, it’s also the coolest thing in the world.

“A hero can be anyone. Even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a little boy’s shoulder to let him know that the world hadn’t ended.” – Bruce Wayne (The Dark Knight Rises)

The Fairy Godmother and Tinkerbell celebrate children who have graduated from the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at MetroHealth in Cleveland.

The Fairy Godmother and Tinkerbell celebrate children who have graduated from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at MetroHealth in Cleveland.

Blurban Living, Issue 2

Vitality in Diversity

A new study released by the Preservation Green Lab, a divison of the National Trust for Historic Preservation finds that neighborhoods with a mix of older, smaller buildings give rise to more diverse populations and more new businesses than those made up of newer, larger structures. The study, titled Older, Smaller, Better: Measuring how the character of buildings and blocks influences urban vitality, focused on three cities with strong real estate markets and rich urban fabrics: San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D. C. The report empirically weighed the age, diversity of age, and size of buildings against 40 economic, social, cultural, and environmental performance metrics.

The results provide the most complete validation of 1960s urban activist, Jane Jacobs’ hypothesis that “cities need old buildings so badly it is probably impossible for vigorous streets and districts to grow without them.”

The Preservation Green Lab gives seven examples “that demonstrate how the character of buildings and blocks influence urban vitality in some of the nation’s strongest urban real estate markets.”

  1. Older, mixed-use neighborhoods are more walkable.
  2. Young people love old buildings.
    1. These areas are also home to a more diverse assemblage of residents.
  3. Nightlife is most alive on streets with a diverse range of building ages.
  4. Older business districts provide affordable, flexible space for entrepreneurs from all backgrounds.
    1. A mixed-structure neighborhood is significantly more likely to house a higher proportion of new businesses and women- and minority-owned businesses.
  5. The creative economy thrives in older, mixed-use neighborhoods.
    1. Including media production businesses, software publishers, and Jennifer Griffiths.
  6. Older, smaller buildings provide space for a strong local economy.
  7. Older commercial and mixed-use districts contain hidden density.

Sadly, many cities, regions, and states suffer from outdated zoning regulations, overly prescriptive building codes, misdirected development incentives, and limited financing tools that disincentivize the reuse of older structures in urban areas, while incentivizing new development in “greenfields.”

Cleveland Responds

Here in Cleveland, the Downtown Cleveland Alliance (DCA) released yesterday its strategic vision for “linking and enhancing development, public spaces, and destinations in Downtown Cleveland.” The plan has the double-purpose of knitting together Downtown’s various neighborhoods (i.e. Warehouse District, Waterfront, Theatre District) to guide future public and private investment decisions and aid the renewal of the Downtown Cleveland Special Improvement District (i.e. all the nice yellow-shirted DCA folks who clean the streets and guide visitors around town).

The Step Up Downtown plan demonstrates our City’s commitment to shaping the 21st century city as they “aim to achieve core values that include a vibrant, inclusive, green, connected, and innocative community.”

I am proud and happy to see our civic leaders’ forward-thinking in creating a vision built on the tenets of a mixed-use, diverse, and resilient community! It is more important than ever for us to appreciate their work and aid in its translation to Cleveland’s neighborhoods, surburbs, and our region at large. 

To read more about the Preservation Green Lab’s study: visit http://www.preservationnation.org/information-center/sustainable-communities/green-lab/oldersmallerbetter/report/NTHP_PGL_OlderSmallerBetter_ReportOnly.pdf

To read DCA’s strategic vision, Step Up Downtown, visit http://issuu.com/ksucudc/docs/stepupdowntown_07-09-2014_issuu/1

Blurban Living, Issue 1

“Walkable” Neighborhoods Lower Risk of Diabetes

According to a pair of studies presented as the American Diabetes Association’s 74th Scientific Sessions earlier this month, living in a neighborhood that is conducive to walking substantially lowers the rate overweight, obesity, and diabetes. Gillian Booth, MD, Endocrinologist and Research Scientist as St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto stated “how we build our cities matters in terms of our overall health. As a society, we have engineered physical activity out of our lives. Every opportunity to walk, to get outside, to go to the corner store or walk our children to school can have a big impact on our risk for diabetes and becoming overweight.”

The studies found people living in neighborhoods with greater walkability saw on average a 13 percent lower development of diabetes over those that were less walkable during a 10-year span. Read more at the ADA Site.

By Jared Robbins, Analyst