Six big, bold ideas that could change Cleveland as we know it

While many Clevelanders are familiar with the big-name construction projects intended to transform the face of the city, a series of bold concepts from a dedicated group of Northeast Ohio visionaries are also aiming to put Cleveland on the forefront—from innovation to design to technology. Though some of these ventures are still in the hypothetical stage, all share an audacious vision of what Cleveland's future can hold. See our six picks for the big, bold ideas poised to change the Land as we know it.

1. Downtown lakefront land bridge: Can you picture a land bridge and walkway that extends from the north end of the downtown Mall to North Coast Harbor, creating free-flowing access between downtown and the lakefront? Nonprofit Green Ribbon Coalition can, and that’s exactly what they’re proposing.

As envisaged, the coalition's concept crosses railroad tracks and parking lots that currently separate the business district from the waterfront. 
The projected $70 to $80 million enterprise—designed by coalition community engagement chair Bob Gardin—includes an enclosed walkway beginning at the Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland's ballroom level, and would create five acres of new green space via a landscaped platform.

Downtown lakefront land bridge rendering

According to Green Ribbon Coalition officials, the proposal solves one of Cleveland's biggest land-use challenges, fostering a seamless joining of critical downtown assets. Were it to become reality, the land bridge would replace other designs floated over the years, among them a cable-stayed bridge pitched by Boston architect Miguel Rosales.

Dick Clough, executive board chair for the coalition, says a covered land bridge could catalyze development opportunities around the Mall and harbor, particularly the area near the Great Lakes Science Center and FirstEnergy Stadium.

"It's time to make those iconic investments on the lakefront," says Clough. "This project can help thousands of new residents downtown connect with the harbor."

2. Emerging EcoDistricts: An "EcoDistrict" is a large-scale blueprint for harnessing community assets, housing, and commercial space, and one or more of these potentially high-impact concepts may be coming to a neighborhood near you.

The MetroHealth System registered as an EcoDistrict as part of its $1 billion campus transformation plan, estimated to add $95 million in tax revenue to the region. Improving neighborhood wellness is key to the overall strategy, so embracing a sustainable community planning paradigm that factors in health and environmental impacts is a commitment the system was glad to make.

Irwin Lowenstein, an architect and urban designer who champions EcoDistricts citywide, calls the initiative a "design approach to community development, looking at everything as a system, rather than pieces and parts."

The MetroHealth System EcoDistricts

MetroHealth's EcoDistrict will span 585 acres, framed by Interstate 90/490 to the north, I-71 to the east and south, and Fulton Road to the west. Though it's set to receive input from multiple organizational stakeholders, residents of the surrounding neighborhood will have say in how the ambitious project can push the area toward greater equity and sustainability.

Launched in Portland, Oregon, EcoDistricts have spread to 15 neighborhoods and inner-ring suburbs in cities such as Pittsburgh and Detroit. On the local front, Lowenstein is in discussions with Slavic Village and City of Lakewood officials about installing EcoDistricts in their communities.

"Cleveland faces health, social, economic, and income disparities more than many cities," says Lowenstein. "This (EcoDistrict) is a huge thing we're getting off the ground."

3. Chicago-to-Cleveland Hyperloop: Imagine sitting in a supertrain traveling at airplane speeds through a network of low-pressure tubes—converting ground-level travel time from hours to mere minutes. Welcome to the Hyperloop, a technology that carries the trappings of science fiction, but has very real applications for Northeast Ohio's transportation outlook.

Although the cutting-edge transit system is still in the speculative stages, the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) has entered a partnership with California-based Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) to conduct a feasibility study on a proposed Chicago-to-Cleveland Hyperloop.

Chicago-to-Cleveland Hyperloop


The $1.2 million study, expected to take nine to 12 months, will assess the system's costs, benefits, demand, and potential ridership. While the study won't delve into technical details, early estimates show the Hyperloop ferrying passengers from Chicago to Cleveland in a tidy 28 minutes.

"We're in the business of long-range planning, and Hyperloop is getting hype about being the new fifth form of transportation," says NOACA executive director Grace Gallucci. "It's faster than high-speed rail, but much more cost-effective."

Cleveland could be a hub for a regional Hyperloop complex, eventually connecting to additional Midwestern cities as well as coastal metros. A blazing fast commercial transit system has transformative potential for the area, Gallucci says.

"We'd have a connection with other major cities like you do with a road system," she says. "[Along with transporting passengers], we would be moving freight between Cleveland and Chicago and other cities."

LaunchHouse founder Todd Goldstein's 4. Shaker Heights re-do: There are bold ideas, and then there's LaunchHouse founder Todd Goldstein's grand vision to build an easily accessible, job-generating research hub in Cleveland's inner-ring suburbs.

For starters, the plan would remove foreclosed properties in Shaker Heights and the City of Cleveland, using that acreage for affordable new housing as well as manufacturing and R&D space (similar to North Carolina's Research Triangle).

As Goldstein envisions it, a rerouted freeway system would connect to all that tech—linking hub communities such as Warrensville Heights to downtown and Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, improving access for visitors currently unable to reach the inner-ring suburbs with ease.

"One of the biggest issues with these areas is high taxes and no access to the freeway," says Goldstein. "People would move to Shaker Heights, Cleveland, or Warrensville Heights versus the outer-ring suburbs because they'd have a lower tax base with a higher commercial base."

Goldstein says his theoretical development would result in ample job opportunities and population growth, bringing in 50,000 lucratively employed residents. The plan also points to Cleveland's long-range future, as another key element is relocating FirstEnergy Stadium to a location between Shaker Heights and the lakefront.

His belief is that fostering such a drastic change would essentially create a new city benefitting all of Northeast Ohio. 
"I'm talking about a 50-year plan to change the economics of the region," Goldstein says. "How do we make a difference, get more business here, lower the tax base, and make a better region for everyone? To me, the time is right now."

Smart Lake Sensor5. Making a 'smart lake': The Great Lakes are one of the world's largest freshwater ecosystems, providing 21 percent of the world's supply of fresh H20. Cleveland Water Alliance, a nonprofit that drives economic development through water innovation, aspires to protect this precious resource by making Lake Erie the region's first "smart lake."

The project integrates sensors into the lake for nutrient monitoring, fighting against the type of harmful algal blooms (HABs) that deprived 500,000 Toledo residents of public water for 56 straight hours in 2014.

Through a partnership with DigitalC and US Ignite, the effort builds on solutions developed during last year's Internet of H20 competition, which challenged participants to bring next-gen detection and analytics technology to Lake Erie's nutrient pollution problem.


"Cleveland lags behind in being a smart and connected city, but what if we led the first smart and connected Great Lake?" said CWA executive director and president Bryan Stubbs.

Three "sensor buoys" are currently floating off of Avon Lake, with additional buoys placed in the water near Sandusky and Toledo. Stubbs expects another 10-15 buoys to comprise Lake Erie's HAB "warning system" before the project concludes. Drone and satellite technology are possible future means of keeping the community safe from harmful algae in service of an overarching digital infrastructure.

"We're ensuring the Great Lakes will remain not just a natural asset, but also an economic asset for the next 100 years," Stubbs says.

6. BlockLand: Blockchain technology is new enough where the world's players have yet to be fully determined, says Cleveland car mogul Bernie Moreno—and he sees that as a shining opportunity. As such, Moreno is leading a local effort to establish the region as an epicenter for what analysts call a potential $10 trillion industry.

As part of Moreno's BlockLand venture, seven committees have been formed to examine the role blockchain could play in revitalizing the city's economy. In June, Moreno flew a group of Cleveland organizational leaders to Toronto, home of the Blockchain Research Institute, to learn more about the rapidly emerging technology. 


Bernie MorenoThe presentation showed the possibilities for blockchain, an online ledger system making headlines for hosting Bitcoin and other currencies. According to proponents, further use for the technology could include voting and medical reports, donation tracking, and any other list of records accessed by multiple users.

For Cleveland's purposes, blockchain would attract startups and motivate regional universities and tech boot camps to offer education in blockchain coding. Moreno believes this would produce a perpetual pool of talent, feeding directly into lucrative jobs for Clevelanders.

"Blockchain is the next wave of technology, because it solves the internet's two biggest challenges: trust and security," he says. "We can become relevant in this space by embracing blockchain in a hyper-focused way."

A December conference will mark what Moreno deems BlockLand's "coming out party," championing blockchain as an industry disruptor and regional economic backbone. With Greater Cleveland Partnership, JumpStart, and other organizations on board, Moreno sees Cleveland taking a huge bite out of the game-changing innovation.

"If you can bring in 200 startups here that become major companies, then you do that," Moreno says. "It's got to be a full community effort."

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Read more articles by Douglas J. Guth.

Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to Fresh Water, his work has been published by Midwest Energy News, Kaleidoscope Magazine and Think, the alumni publication of Case Western Reserve University. A die-hard Cleveland sports fan, he also writes for the cynically named (yet humorously written) blog Cleveland Sports Torture.   
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