By Nicole Hennessy
Downtown commuters may have noticed some new additions to Rockwell Avenue last week.
The one-way street, temporarily transformed into a “complete green street” by Kent State University’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, included two-way designated bike paths, greenery and areas that encouraged sitting and public discussion.
The latest of several pop-up city experiments, others being the transformation of a Tremont pedestrian bridge into a space to stargaze and a downtown parking deck into an entertainment venue similar to a street fair, the collaborative called it “Pop Up Rockwell.”
Six graduate students participated in the project, one of whom was Antonia Marinucci, a lifelong Westlake resident.
“The focus of the course is called tactical urbanism,” she said. It’s about “installing temporary interventions in the urban landscape to test theories and figure out what works and what might not work as well before implementing a project.”
The reason the group chose Rockwell is because it’s going to become an important street in the city of Cleveland’s “Group Plan Commission,” which outlines areas of the city intended for redesign.
What is a complete street? What is green infrastructure?
These are some of the questions the students asked in finding a direction for their research.
Because they wanted to engage the community, the class worked with artist Jimmy Kuehnle, who made an “input gathering device” — a large, inflatable geometric object intended to attract people’s attention and encourage them to ask questions.
On Saturday, April 21, the day of the project’s launch, Kuehnle struggled against the wind with another inflatable piece, a physical crosswalk acting as a barrier so pedestrians such as the elderly or handicapped could cross the street more safely.
Aggressive wind is identified as one of Rockwell’s problems, so what Marinucci did to visualize it in a positive light was attach red pinwheels to light posts.
David Jurca, a senior urban designer at Kent State, said this art installation turns the wind into an asset and gives it a positive identity.
“The activity and motion that they take on starts to activate the street, and then that’s something that can reinforce the human activity on the street,” he explained. “It ultimately creates an emotional connection with people to that place.”
Another aspect of the project, important due to the street’s proximity to Lake Erie, was the management of wastewater. So the students worked with the sewer district to figure out plausible solutions to untreated water going back into the lake. Homeland Security also became involved, since the Federal Reserve Bank is located at the end of the street.
Like many young professionals, Marinucci says she has no intention of leaving Cleveland.
“Every level of the city, every department, seems to be moving in an exciting direction,” she pointed out. She wants to be a part of that.
Having grown up in the suburbs, Marinucci, like many of her peers, says she rejects the idea of suburban living; so a lot of this project’s sustainable factors, such as green spaces, are things she would like to be a permanent part of the environment in which she spends her time.
“Now, for people that commute into downtown, they commute by car, by bus, by bike, and we have significantly growing numbers of bike commuters in Cleveland, so this is going to be a great asset,” Jurca said.
While the group was still setting up an hour past the intended launch time Saturday, more and more people began utilizing the bike path, smiling as they did laps, despite temperatures in the low 40s.
The Pop Up Rockwell project was on display through April 27.
This is not the last experiment to be conducted by the Urban Design Collaborative. In fact, Jurca said that after great success with the parking deck event, nicknamed “The Hip Deck,” a few local parking garage owners have expressed interest in participating in similar events this summer.
For now, though, those wishing to cycle on Rockwell will once again have to share a lane with cars and buses.
Summing up Pop Up Rockwell, Jurca said, “We try to make good, urban places, and that means environments that make people feel comfortable, that are fun, that are inspiring, that are creative, that accommodate the needs of people, of cyclists, of people that drive their car, people that take the bus.”