After a century of lakefront plans that have sunk like a rusty, discarded barge, just about everyone has an opinion about what what our waterfront should look like and whether or not it’ll get done. Any city planner would find it difficult to get a consensus from a divided population.
Who are we building for? Locals or tourists? Urbanists or suburbanites? Wealthy or poor? Parents or singles? Foodies or hikers?
The inability for our diverse and often distrustful city to find consensus is a big reason for the century’s worth of discarded plans. Downtown Cleveland’s 22-acre lakefront project site is large and could be far larger if the 450-acre Burke Lakefront Airport is partially or totally redeveloped, and the city’s waterfront gets even bigger when the banks of the Cuyahoga River are included.
The work there is farther ahead, with construction underway on the 23-acre Irishtown Bend Park. The challenge is to keep our waterfronts from becoming a confusing mishmash of seemingly disconnected uses. Everyone must consider the waterfront to be “ours.”
The spaces need to feel secure and encourage unity. Cleveland is fortunate to have waterfronts, but that comes with a burden of care. In Cleveland’s case, that means transitioning from a dirty, deeply entrenched industrial past to post-industrial glory.
If local leaders can finally implement a coherent lakefront vision, it may do more than just reacquaint Greater Clevelanders with their waterfronts: It may reacquaint Greater Clevelanders with each other and unify the population to achieve more great things.
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