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Designed for Human Activity

When it comes down to it, one of the easiest ways to define new urbanism is the creation of places designed for human activity.

Take Cleveland for example and its attempts to revitalize an economically and socially depressed corner of the city.

One of it’s main corridors, Euclid Ave., empties out on the east side into a neighborhood that had little going on besides drug deals and vandalism.

Over the last decade herculean efforts have been made to bring life back to this area. These efforts were buoyed by the fact that this troubled area actually borders onto one of the greatest assets in our major cities – a university.

In this case the university is one of the country’s finest – Case Western Reserve. Four years ago when we first took my daughter to visit the 4 yr. art college housed on the Case Western campus (the Cleveland Institute of Art), we were warned about the nether regions of Euclid Ave. which bordered onto the area.

We appreciated the information but were a little confused about the warnings given that the school had made a decision not too many years earlier to develop the newest part of it’s campus smack dab in the bosom of this sketchy neighborhood.

Well now it’s four years later, my daughter has her Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree and we are pleased to have witnessed over the past four years the most inspiring development that has brought life back to this area of Euclid Ave. This morning it occurred to me that what we witnessed was not simply flashy new development in a blighted urban area. Instead what we’ve had the privilege of watching was a successful effort to re-build a neighborhood intentionally designed for human activity.

As you drive around the Cleveland Institute of Art’s McCullough campus on Euclid Ave. you get the strongest urge to jump out of your car and explore. The buildings (street level stores, intriguing building designs including the re-built Cleveland Museum of Contemporary Art) and overall street-scapes are inviting and approachable.

That urge to engage the local environment in a personal way has great spin-off effects. First and foremost it encourages more people to consider local transit, biking and exploration of the area. More pedestrian traffic increases revenues for local businesses and makes the area safer as a whole. Win-win-win!

How exciting that we are finally seeing the development of new urban centers that pull upon all we know not just about aesthetic design but about human nature. I don’t need to be wowed by a city. I need to feel invited, welcomed…and intrigued.

Kudos to the Cleveland Institute of Art, Case Western Reserve University and Peter B. Lewis (Chairman of Progressive Corporation) whose recent gift of $5 million to CIA allows the school to break ground on newer campus development in the area. To learn more about the Cleveland Cinematheque and Reinhold Galleries that will be part of the school’s new campus development and anchor for the neighborhood, view the video highlighted in this local ABC news feature.

As far as boosting human activity goes, my husband and I are seriously considering changing our 25th wedding anniversary fall travel plans from New York City to a city rarely associated with romantic destinations…dreamy Cleveland 🙂


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