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livability for residents, businesses job one for neighborhood non-profits

Battery Park in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood
Battery Park in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood - Bob Perkoski

It’s no secret that development is happening all across Cleveland: Downtown. The Flats. Detroit Shoreway. Tremont. Ohio City. You’ve probably heard about projects in one or more of these neighborhoods -- collaborative, large-scale projects designed to create “destinations.”
 
But creating destinations isn’t the only development activity taking place across the city. Thanks to the diligent work of community development corporations (CDCs), there also is a renewed focus on improving livability for the residents who call their neighborhoods home.
 
“We have a very high functioning CDC industry here in Cleveland,” explains Jeff Kipp of Cleveland Neighborhood Progress (CNP). Kipp joined CNP in 2012 when then Neighborhood Progress Inc. merged with LIVE Cleveland and Cleveland Neighborhood Development Corporation.
 
In Cleveland, highly functioning translates into getting things done that put residents first.
 
St. Clair Superior Open to Experimental
 
Just ask Michael Fleming, Executive Director of St. Clair Superior Development Corp. “I think we are really lucky that we have been a bit under the radar screen because it’s allowed us to do some really interesting, experimental projects," he says.
 
Take the Urban Shepherd Program, a unique concept of using farm animals to maintain untended urban lots. “We were looking at vacant property not being maintained,” says Fleming. “The question was whether sheep could maintain properties cheaper than manpower and better than weed, seed and fertilize. The answer was yes, and now, 30 sheep and a llama are producing clean, green lawns.” 
 
Fleming also noted the importance of working collaboratively. For Fleming, that means working with other CDCs like the Campus District. Most recently, St. Clair Superior and the Campus District began working on a transportation study looking at the Marginal roads and how the main travel corridors can be made more pedestrian- and bike-friendly.
 
Fleming also spoke to the collaborative nature of how they work with CNP. “They continue to be an invaluable partner in the work," he notes. "And now that they’ve merged, they are a one-stop shop for support.”
 
That collaborative spirit is also essential in terms of resident engagement. Fleming referenced focus groups conducted in 2012 to look at the assets in the St. Clair Superior neighborhood. “The focus groups helped us look at where we should focus.”
 
Burton Bell Carr Engaging Residents
 
Tim Tramble, Executive Director of Burton Bell Carr Development Corp., which covers lower Kinsman and parts of the Central neighborhood abutting the Campus District to the north, also spoke about the value of collaboration and resident engagement.
 
“In our neighborhoods, we’re looking to engage residents in the next iteration of a community planning process that began in 2006," he explains. "All of what we do is born out of the neighborhoods -- planning, thinking and engaging the community; making sure individuals have an opportunity to be heard, showing that they can have an influence on what happens in 'their' neighborhood."
 
Tramble admits that the community planning process initially was met with some apathy and cynicism. “The only way to counter skeptics is through action. We have to show we’ve taken people’s thoughts and ideas and are moving forward with them.”  
 
One example would be Bridgeport Café, which started with the idea that the neighborhood needed a restaurant that offered more healthy options. That not only led to the café, but it was also the spark for a more comprehensive food access initiative that is now generating interest from all over the country. It includes community gardens, farmers markets, a mobile market and cooking and nutrition education.
 
Campus District is More than Campuses
 
Bobbi Reichtell, Executive Director of the Campus District Development Corp., also knows the value of meeting residents’ needs when it comes to neighborhood development.
 
Major Campus District projects include the redevelopment of the former Juvenile Court building, which Reichtell says features “beautiful European architecture with a courtyard in the center.” She added this is an important community project that will hopefully, in her words, “turn the building into a great place for kids.”
 
That project is part of the Campus District’s strategic goal of redeveloping, whenever possible, historic buildings and properties. Other examples include the old 3rd District Cleveland Police Department Building, which the Campus District also hopes to redevelop in the not-so-distant future, as well as the widening of the E. 22nd bridge, which, when completed, will be wider and hopefully feature green space.
 
The Campus District also is working with St. Clair Superior to explore ways for "homeless people to co-exist with artists, residents and businesses” on the Arts District along and around Superior Avenue. “Our goal is to create a community focused infrastructure that mitigates the homeless situation,” Reichtell adds. “We are looking at a variety of solutions; finding spaces that can be used as gathering places. We’ve involved a number of community stakeholders and I believe we are really making progress.
 
Getting the Work Done, Together
 
Fleming, Tramble and Reichtell concur on two key points. First, community development cannot and will not be successful without the active participation and engagement of residents and businesses in the neighborhoods. And second, none of the major projects referenced would be possible without collaboration. “We could not do it alone,” Fleming says.   
 
The Cleveland Neighborhood Progress team agrees.
 
“We have a number of neighborhoods with huge potential,” says Joel Ratner, CNP president and CEO. “Since our merger, we are in a stronger position to convene on behalf of the community development industry."
 
“We are beginning to look at ‘regional’ clusters when promoting the assets of our neighborhoods,” Ratner adds.
 
Colleen Gilson, a former CDC director and now Executive Vice President with CNP, speaks from experience when she says that “Previously, this was your boundary and this was mine. Now, CDCs are not isolated islands. "
 
Ratner and Gilson concur that the success behind some of Cleveland’s off-the-radar or “emerging” neighborhoods is leadership. “When you get a good director,” Ratner says, "any neighborhood can emerge.” Gilson went on to add that engagement of residents and elected officials can also be key factors in how an emerging neighborhood advances.
 
But what can neighborhoods get from their CNP advocates if not funding? Best practices, capacity building and opportunities for shared services, explains Gilson.
 
There is a great amount of investment going on in Cleveland’s prime destination neighborhoods as well as the neighborhoods being developed for and with existing residents. These neighborhoods might not get the most fanfare in local, regional or national media, but they are becoming vibrant, livable places residents can be proud of.
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