With cutting-edge architecture and creations by locals, art is rising in the Moreland district

The Moreland district of Shaker Heights has seen an immense resurgence in entrepreneurial and cultural innovation over the past few years. The "next must live neighborhood" continues to garner attention from locals and future residents alike. Kamla Lewis, the City's director of neighborhood revitalization, describes the neighborhood as “ ... a mix of modest single-family and two-family houses. Currently, there are a total of 507 houses: 368 single-family houses, 137 two-family houses and 2 three-family structures. The dominant architectural styles include Vernacular Doubles, Prairies and Bungalows.”

She praises the neighborhood’s resiliency in the aftermath of the nationwide housing and economic crises. “The Moreland district has remained an attractive, walkable, and desirable neighborhood with access to rail and bus services, and proximity to key assets like the library, community building, four parks and the City’s main neighborhood shopping center.”

The Moreland district is playing a prominent part in Shaker Heights’ recent evolution, which also includes the transformation of the Van Aken District. Add that to the enthusiasm of the residents and the area continues to flourish.

“A city can put in infrastructure, but what makes a neighborhood a great place to live and work is the people. Moreland residents have made neighbor-to-neighbor and resident-led projects their focus,” says Lewis.

Friendly Competition, Innovative Design

To further foster those connections and address the issue of vacancy, the City is holding the Shaker Design Competition. Per the site, the competition is seeking “architect-builder teams with innovative ideas for high quality, super energy-efficient, owner-occupied housing for middle income households that can serve as a catalyst to attract new residents to neighborhoods that were hard hit by the housing crisis.”

“Many inner ring suburbs like Shaker Heights have been impacted in the last decade by the housing crisis," notes Lewis, adding that it has resulted "in the demolition of properties and the consequent availability of vacant lots for redevelopment.” To that end, the competition will focus on three vacant lots on Chelton Road, including a single lot at 3539, a double lot at 3531 and a triple lot that spans the addresses 3561, 3567 and 3571. The application process began last month with a submission deadline of January 6, 2017.

Partners on the unique collaboration include Ingenuity Cleveland, the Kent State University Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative (CUDC), Cuyahoga County's Department of Sustainability and the Cleveland Design Competition.

<span class="content-image-text">Triple lot at 3561, 3567 & 3571 Chelton Rd to be transformed by the Shaker Design Competition</span>Triple lot at 3561, 3567 & 3571 Chelton Rd to be transformed by the Shaker Design Competition

Mike Foley, Cuyahoga County's director of sustainability, supports the spirit of the competition, of which energy efficiency is a key component. “We are thrilled from the county perspective that Shaker Heights is putting on the competition. They are putting forth a lot of creative ideas, both artistically and in an energy efficient manner," he says. "We hope to see more design competitions in the future throughout Northeast Ohio.”

Jurors for the competition include nationally recognized architects Marc Norman, founder, Ideas and Action, and Brian Phillips, founder, Interface Studio Architects LLC. Local expert jurors include CUDC director Terry Schwartz and Jennifer Coleman, senior program officer for the arts for The George Gund Foundation.

On Wednesday, Oct. 19, from 6 to 8 p.m., at The Dealership, 3558 Lee Road, the city will hold an Interactive Community Forum, giving the design groups and the neighborhood a chance to discuss the ideas for renovation and the building plans. Residents will also be able to interact with the potential design competition proposers and learn more about them.

Lewis will moderate the Oct. 19 event, which will feature Foley; Nick Fedor, executive director, Shaker Heights Development Corporation; Brad Fink, architect, Westlake Reed Leskosky; realtor Liz Schorgl of Howard Hanna and Anne E. Williams, who is a Shaker Heights councilwoman. While the event is free, attendees are encouraged to register.

“We are very pleased with the response,” says Lewis of competition participation and community reaction thus far.

<span class="content-image-text">(MOOS) kids at IngenuityFest</span>(MOOS) kids at IngenuityFestMaking Our Own Space … COOL!

Another creative effort in the Moreland district engages a different creative/maker set. The Making Our Own Space (MOOS) initiative, which is part of the Moreland Rising effort, aims to develop an array of skills among participating Shaker youths. While the initiative is ongoing, this year the Shaker MOOS group branched out with a live building and creating at the popular annual IngenuityFest.

In addition to creating towering art sculptures out of interlocking would-be flower discs with festival-goers, the students also spent the weekend hard at work on a trio of stoops. That's right, just stoops – where everyone loves to gather, but these stoops aren't attached to houses. And while they don't lead to porches, they have more to offer than just a place to sit. One has a slide, another has a collection of "ninja" balancing steps and the third is outfitted with a sliding pole.

"The students are building projects hands-on," said David Jurca, associate director at CUDC, which is a partner in the MOOS initiative, on site at last month's IngenuityFest. "They're making very useful interactive products," he added as power drills buzzed behind him. "The projects don't look like they're made by kids either."

Each of the 12 participating Shaker Heights students will receive a $500 stipend at the conclusion of the entire session, while also getting $125 after each quarter. While that sum does not necessarily cover the time the kids put in, said Jurca, "it is something to show them that what you're doing – your work – is valuable."

After IngenuityFest, the group transported the works back to The Dealership. The sculpture/building discs will be available for fun interaction and the stoops will get finished up and outfitted with cool paint jobs before being installed in Moreland district parks.

"With everything that we build," said Jurca, "the intention is for it to stay in the Moreland neighborhood to be used by the residents that gave us feedback on the project."

Community Art Reflecting Spirit and Aspirations

Creativity in the Moreland district also extends to community-based efforts such as The Chelton Park Mural project. The effort was led by accomplished and award winning artists Gary Williams and Robin Robinson of Sankofa Fine Art Plus. Sankofa, 540 E. 105th St., is a non-profit art organization founded in 1999 with the mission of advancing African American arts and artists in Northeast Ohio. The organization is committed to bringing art with positive messages to area streetscapes and public spaces for the purpose of instilling a sense of pride and empowerment in those communities. The project was funded by the City of Shaker Heights.

<span class="content-image-text">The Chelton Park Mural project</span>The Chelton Park Mural project

Williams and Robinson wanted to become involved after attending several neighborhood meetings. “We heard two main things - residents wanted a project that they could be an active part of creating and they wanted something that would enliven an existing park space. That's what led us to choose Chelton Park, a very active community space, and to create a mural where a number of residents could be involved.” says Williams. “We've been overwhelmed by the community response. We had way more volunteers than we expected, residents of all ages were out in the blazing hot sun helping to paint the puzzle pieces and install the final artwork.”

Robinson and Williams have been involved with the arts for decades. Robinson is an educator and certified art therapist. Williams, a retired attorney and educator, now works on his art full-time. Together with local artists in 2013, Williams and Robinson helped to create and install a 40-foot-tall mural of actor/activist Ruby Dee on the wall of the Karamu House. The duo's next effort, as part of the Cleveland Foundation' s Creative Fusion program, includes working alongside international muralist Ananda Nahu to create a mural near West 28th Street and Washington that will be more than 120 yards long and about 30 feet tall.

“Robin and I are committed to making Greater Cleveland an arts destination through the installation of beautiful, uplifting, monumental sized murals," says Williams. "We feel that art which represents the spirit and aspirations of communities positively affects those communities over the long and short term.”

Erin O'Brien contributed to this article.

The City of Shaker Heights is part of Fresh Water's underwriting support network.

Rebecca Groynom
Rebecca Groynom

About the Author: Rebecca Groynom

Rebecca Groynom is a freelance writer, photographer, and resident of Cleveland Heights. In addition to writing for Fresh Water Cleveland, she has been published in several scientific journals, and her photography has been showcased in exhibitions throughout the US.