More than 1,000 Clevelanders convened at three different community workshops last week to debate what they want to see on the city's lakefront. The city-sponsored meetings were the second round of hearings that relied on public input. These sessions focused less on what to do with the Shoreway and more on what amenities people want to see on Lake Erie's shores. Giving Clevelanders the ability to chime in on lakefront redevelopment is a unique feature of the city's approach to the issue. As part of Making Change: Reinventing Our Economy, ideastream's Shula Neuman reports what that input means to the city, the region and its citizens.
Shula Neuman: The meetings started off with the usual welcome and upbeat message from City Planning Director Chris Ronayne.
Chris Ronayne: It's really our greatest God-given asset in the state of Ohio, not just the city of Cleveland. We're here to talk to you and talk with you and learn from you about what should be on our Lakefront.
SN: After a half-hour presentation by Ronayne and a team of consultants, the crowd divided into groups to discuss specific problems and hopes for the area's waterfronts, neighborhoods and parks as well as access to those amenities.
Man One: But everyone else from West 25th to West 65th, they are cut off from the lake...
Man Two: Wait a minute, what about 49th Street -er- 49th Street exit, that bridge there?
Man One: Well, it used to be open. Ever since 9/11 they've caught of access because the water treatment plant is.
SN: Mixed in with the high energy and lively debate was the ever-present skepticism that perhaps soliciting the public's advice is just a big show. West-sider Carol Ward says she came to the first round of community discussion last spring and she was impressed that people were given the opportunity to discuss their concerns.
Carol Ward: At least this way people feel like they have a say. I don't know how much they are really taking into consideration what the people are saying but it's nice to at least feel like you're being heard.
SN: Retired schoolteacher Rocco Oliverio understands why some people are suspicious. But Oliverio has faith that the powers-that-be in Cleveland are sincere in their desire to make lakefront redevelopment the people's issue.
Rocco Oliverio: In other words, they could just simply go ahead, get the money and go forward with it. But I think they want the people to feel like this is their project, and they are involved. These are their homes and their methods of transportation, their entertainment. In other words, it sounds quaint, but it's basically "We the People." So that's why I come.
SN: The discussion is not falling on deaf ears-not if the consultant team has anything to do with anyway. The team is made up of Chicago-based planning firm Smith Group JJR, Cleveland-based City Architects and Outside Inn landscape architects. They moderated the break-out sessions and took notes on flip charts. They had residents mark up maps to indicate preferences and aversions. The idea, says Gregg Calpino, a Smith group associate, is to find common themes and create a uniquely Clevelandesque lakefront. Calpino says from his point of view the benefits of public input are two-fold: the planners come up with something people want and the people have something to hold over the planners.
Gregg Calpino: If we come back and say, "Oh overwhelmingly, dog parks should be throughout the lake front." And they go, "What do you mean? Unanimously we didn't want that." It holds us to that as well and it makes us accountable and it builds that trust that is just so important to a process like this.
SN: Because ultimately, says Paul Volpe managing principal of City Architecture, if all this talk and input and debate really does result in a killer lakefront, then the entire region will see economic benefits.
Paul Volpe: But it provides the ability to make our city beautiful, to attract visitors and tourists that significantly help the economy of the entire region. It can help fill hotels. It can help fill convention centers. It can create jobs at all levels. So, if our city is a great place to live and we utilize our waterfront to help make it that way, we know that our whole region can be uplifted.
SN: Yes, that's right-lakefront development equals economic development. The consultants will be back in the spring with a few concrete options, and another round of public hearings. They will still want to hear what your vision of the lakefront is before their final version is submitted to city planners next summer. In Cleveland, Shula Neuman, 90.3.