Creating a 21st Century
sense of place

To succeed and prosper in the coming century, Cleveland needs to create a sense of place by refining its habits of design and stewardship. The following suggestions for the future come from Steven Litt, the Plain Dealers art and architecture critic. They are excerpted from the address Litt made at the Cleveland Restoration Societys Annual Community Luncheon on November 21, 2000.

I think that as more and more of us live and work in the virtual reality of the computer screen, the real places around us will become more and more important. Cities will survive because they are the richest environments human beings have created. But the cities that thrive will be the ones that offer the most beautiful streets, the most vibrant educational climate, the best restaurants, the most attractive parks and waterfronts, the most sophisticated cultural institutions, and the best recreational opportunities. In short, they will be the best places.

So how does Cleveland position itself to take advantage of the new digital age? I think by being as smart as possible about community design. We've done a good job over the past decade with civic design. Perhaps not as good as we might have done, but good. So where do we go from here? A smart agenda for the future would be one in which we repair and rediscover landscapes damaged by the industrial revolution. This includes, of course, the Cuyahoga Valley. But it also includes dozens of smaller watercourses and ravines throughout the region.

We have to stop filling in our valleys and altering terrain. We have to impose generous setbacks around rivers and streams so natural ecosystems in these vital areas will be healthy and strong. We have to set aside additional park space, through projects such as the new Cuyahoga County Green Space Initiative. We have to improve the quality of our air and water, not just because these are smart things to do in and of themselves, but because they make economic sense. If we don't take care of our environment, talented people who might be interested in living and working here will simply choose another more desirable place to live.

The same sense of stewardship must be applied to historical heritage. That's why the work of the Cleveland Restoration Society is so important. If the every historic building in the city begins to resemble the shattered hulk of the Walker and Weeks office building on Carnegie Avenue, we are in deep, deep trouble. Conversely, if we treat whole neighborhoods the way we have treated the Terminal Tower and the Federal Reserve building, people will flock here to see the beauty we have preserved and celebrated.

As we build anew, we have to strive for the very best design we can get. If that means occasionally hiring distinguished architects from other cities or other countries, so be it. A truly global city is open to ideas from everywhere. How vigorous is our debate on designing the future? Are we doing a good enough job envisioning the future? No. We can do better.

On the lakefront, we need a broad, regional discussion, across municipal boundaries, about reshaping the shoreline. We really ought to examine thoroughly whether Burke Lakefront Airport should remain, and whether the Port of Cleveland truly needs as much lakefront land as it claims.

And if we're going to expand the museum district around the Rock Hall with more attractions, we ought to do it in a way that's totally original and unique to Cleveland, not with a design that imitates another city. Why don't we have an international competition among the greatest architects in the world to redesign our lakefront?

Excerpted from Monograph II (Summer 2001) published by the Cleveland Restoration Society, one of the countrys largest and most effective private historic preservation organizations.



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Lakefront as highway: Why dont we have an international design competition to redesign our lakefront?


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