Water is a crucial and essential element in any good design for a multitude of reasons. Aside from the very basic fact that is sustains life, people are drawn to it for many more reasons. With its beautiful reflections, calming waves, and relaxing sounds, water provides the perfect backdrop or focal feature for almost any event, program, or space.  From fountains in shopping malls to duck ponds in the metro parks, people can always be found congregating near water. This phenomenon holds true at the scale of the city. Cleveland is fortunate enough to be situated along one of the country’s greatest resources, Lake Erie. However, it is one of the most underutilized features of the city. With the exception of a few parks and attractions, the Cleveland lakefront is vastly underused and disconnected from the rest of the city.

But when did this problem begin, and why did Cleveland turn its back on the lake while other cities where embracing their waterfront properties? In the past 25 years, more than half a dozen plans have been proposed for the lakefront, yet few of them have come to fruition. Many of these plans have been grandiose and unrealistic, “from building a floating hotel shaped like the titanic to reconfiguring miles of shoreline with new islands made of landfill.” But not all of them were totally improbably, and elements of some have come to be.

In 1990’s, the city completed a variety of waterfront attractions along the Lake Erie shoreline, such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, the Great Lakes Science Center and the Browns Stadium. These attractions are successfully linked together by pedestrian paths and other features of the North Coast Harbor, but the main problem is that they lack a connection to the city itself. The same can be said for many of the waterfront attractions such as Edgewater Park, Whiskey Island, a multitude of yacht clubs, marinas and docks, as well as Gordon Park and Dike 14.

Mainly causing this disconnection was the creation of the Cleveland Memorial Shoreway and other infrastructural elements. Built in the 30’s and 40’s as the largest Works Progress Administration project in the country, the Shoreway closely follows the lakefront and extends from Edgewater park on the west side all the way to E. 152 near Bratenahl on Cleveland’s east side. As pointed out in Mayor Jane Campbell’s 2004 plan for the lakefront, this has caused an enormous disconnection between the city’s neighborhoods and its lakefront. In addition, it has disconnected the city’s lakefront from its downtown center. The 2004 Campbell plan called for connectivity between the neighborhoods and the lakefront and also for the lakefront network to be linked within by public, open space.

Other, non physical forces that have impeded the development of Cleveland’s waterfront are a lack of funding, investment, need, and collaboration. The Campbell plan recognized the need for the collaboration of public, private, institution, and non-profit entities working together toward the united and common goal of waterfront redevelopment. However, a common theme in many of the redevelopment plans is one of unrealistic aspirations. Mayor Jane Campbell’s plan called for the redevelopment of 9 linear miles of shorefront and the constructions of more waterfront property constructed from landfill.

Mayor Jackson’s newest plan, which was recently released, recognizes the fact that the city does not have of millions of dollars to contribute to the project. It also recognizes the improbability of new office development in a city with millions of square feet of vacant office space. Because of this, the plan calls for key framework and infrastructural elements to be completed by the city with federal grants, which will spur on a forward momentum to attract private investors. Other key features of Jackson’s plan include connectivity to Cleveland’s urban fabric by connecting pedestrian loops and by bridging the Cleveland Memorial Shoreway.

This more realistic approach seems to have far more potential for implementation than many of the plans that have come before it. By solving physical problems of connectivity and access with realistic funding and need based solutions, a plan for developing our lakefront may not be too far off. 


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