Several years ago, I had an idea take shape in my mind that recognized a great possible use for struggling historic downtown retail centers in larger metro-areas. In particular, I was thinking of the Cleveland/Akron/Youngstown/Warren metro-region. The idea, was to revert these original urban ‘cores of the core’ to fully functional neighborhoods-- -as what was their original purpose at the time of their infancy.
In a world of so much oil and automobile-dependency ---AND communities designed around the needs of the four wheels rather than our own two legs as pedestrians----and a retail scene that has become homogenized with the big box chains coast to coast, I thought it would be refreshing to return to some of the roots and purposes of the old downtowns.
Creating a walkable urban landscape that offered a community scene of real local and independent retail establishments and real human connections to those who bring us life’s daily needs not offered in the auto dependent suburbs was my vision. I felt that in order to re-connect those who have become disconnected from such scenes due to many factors---but one in particular; the 50 plus years of the advent of the automobile which helped contribute to outward migration from the urban core---the old town centers must offer a unique blend of local and independent retail and food establishments that have all but vanished.
These offerings could even include a unique blend of higher end retailers, some national names---but higher quality ones. In order to mix the independent character of the local venues which would offer what the national venues could not, or did not want to offer…it could be a successful balance to offer from some high end national venues what the locals did not offer--or cared to. I though this would result in a unique balance that would not result in the usual scenario of the big box stores undermining all the local/independently owned businesses in the economy.
By a downtown trying to attract, for example, the high end national factory outlet stores that could co-exist with all the other independent appeal of a downtown, we could achieve the perfect balance. Such an effort to lure the urban activity back to the urban hub, would be much more sustainable than clearing 60 acres of woods or wetlands for yet another clone zone retail center or typical outlet mall that sucks life away from the urban core. What this scene would offer if implemented in Cleveland is something for everyone.
A few selling points to draw people in from everywhere would be: 1. Easy and direct highway access from far away visitors in the metro area looking for a real historic downtown larger city retail experience with cheap parking in close by parking decks. 2. Easy walking access for those living in or near downtown who do not wish to drive a car everywhere. 3.Essy public transit access. 4. A blend of businesses and entertainment venues all in an historic setting offered nowhere else. These and many other factors help with the appeal of why such a place would be attractive to patrons . I want to add that a feeling of cleanliness and safety are key factors.
It appears as though all of the ideas I have mentioned above are share as well by many others. In this Plain Dealer On-line article, you can read more about this concept in detail Here is the link:
I like this idea. I have actually suggested this years ago in a letter to the Warren, Ohio mayor on a downscaled version--to have a higher end factory outlet mix. Interesting to see this just might happen in downtown Cleveland, specifically. BUT, I will also say again…balance is the key. The right mixture needs to be sought. This kind plan SHOULD NOT undermine the unique local/independent business scene already downtown, that will give it a distinction and character all its own.
If each type of businesses can offer something the other does not have as I mentioned early in this article, there should not be the problem of making downtown into just another retail clone zone. So in conclusion , I am in support of the plan in the article if carefully planned and consideration is given to unique individual character that is our own. There is really little construction needed other than renovations inside some areas.
All that really needs to be done is negotiation with the retailers. Looks as though the though to making Warren’s core a functional diverse non-auto dependent neighborhood with a select higher end unique factory outlet appeal ---at least was embraced by someone somewhere! It would be better than sprawl, and better than seeing the core struggle. The historic core, afterall, is a draw in itself. Tell me? When was the last time you planned a trip somewhere and had your activities centered around the experience of the Wal-Mart parking lot?
Let me know what you think!
Photo: Old Lower Euclid Avenue retail corridor