Saturday, June 24, 2006

Blogging as Civic Responsibilty

Brewed Fresh Daily posted a question/thread the other day: Why do people blog? Should civic responsibility drive the interest + passion?

We have been blogging here recently about the abomination, the Public Square design proposal, that Paul Volpe + Ann Zoller sprung in the Plain Dealer a few weeks ago. And we have been continuously blogging in tandem with Design Rag and Improvised Schema about avenues to pursue alternative strategies. And we have been ruminating about the plight of the Huletts.

Our constant criticism is Civic Resonsibility, albeit in a self-interested manner, since we are all architects + designers. These forums are the rebuttal to the conventional wisdom that seems to plague cities like Cleveland. Our blogs hopefully enlighten the passer-by or informed citizen + decision-maker.

I would suggest some reading that may further enhance the understanding of the power/potency/agility of bloggers + blogs:

Army of Davids by Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit
Blog by Hugh Hewitt

Although is seems most of the Cleveland bloggers tilt, um, left, the libertarian Reynolds and conservative Hewitt offer insight into how the further democritization of information and access is altering the balance between the slower print + broadcast media instituions and passionate and sage bloggers in their pajamas.

Last week's issue of The New Republic delves into blogosphere, also.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Plain Dealer + the Huletts

Like it or not, for us in Cleveland, the Plain Dealer sets the rhetorical agenda each day for the rest of the regional media and even for the bloggers. Today is no different.

The PD editors take a stand against the relocation and preservation of the Hulett ore loaders. I agree that wholly re-erecting these behemoths is probably untenable in the sites that decision-makers have suggested. But again, we need to think beyond the normative. Instead of describing where they cannot go, list locations where can they go--whether near or far. How can the pieces be disseminated? Can they be placed in areas away from the lake? What happens if the Huletts are re-erected in a foreign context, like the London Bridge which was re-built in Arizona? Maybe all these questions have been asked, but they have not been thoroughly answered in a public manner

We here at BOTC have our own idea, which is posted below.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Huletts on Public Square

Cleveland's favorite dormant industrial relics ,the Hulett ore loaders (picutred here) are going to be drawn, quartered, and spread around Cleveland. Read the PD article here.

This may be a crazy idea, but why don't we plop one, or at least parts of the rustbelt behemoths down on Public Square? Public Square needs to be re-constituted, as has been discussed in the PD, Blog on the City, and Improvised Schema. Yet the character of this re-constitution is by no means resolved.

A possible solution for Public Square would involve transforming the square into a monumental dumping ground, creating a indexical menagerie of regional history. Imagine Public Square, which already hosts the Soldiers' + Sailors' monument (which thoroughly documents Cuyahoga County's participation in the Civil War), also hosting an immense Hulett, a machine that fueled Cleveland's industrial economy for a healthy part of the 20th century, allowing for cross-era narrative. But also imagine in the future decades other remnants of important artifacts filling the space: pieces of NASA space vehicles that are currently being developed at Glenn Research, a toothbrush light tower from Jacobs Field, prototype wind-turbine technology developed in Cleveland, etc.

Many possibilities exist out there. We just have to be willing to explore them. Creativity can solve several problems with one answer.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

More on Public Square

Roldo Bartimole writes about the Public Square proposal here.

Roldo hates the plan--but it has to do with public financing and the evils of business self-interests and Dick Jacobs. Yawn. Different subject, same old playbook. No new ideas. Just regurgitating the same pseudo-populist diatribes.

While BOTC despises the proposed design, we do endorse the idea of rejuvenating Public Square. We do not like what Paul Volpe and Ann Zoller created, but we applaud their interest in reviving Public Square.

To paraphrase Daniel Burnham, we need plans to stir men's souls. The collective soul will be stirred by progressive design speculation concerned with how spaces like Public Square, the Mall, and the Lakefront will subsist through the 21st century.

These spaces are each proverbial canaries in the Greater Cleveland mineshaft. If they fail, or continue to fail and deteriorate as they are presently constituted, Roldo will really have something to write about. But he will be happy since Dick Jacobs will be losing money.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Thinking beyond the Square

Cleveland gets this: ugh.

Let's think about other ways:

But the Plain Dealer describes the propsed plan as "thoughtful."

The proposal is as thoughtful as a second-year architecture school student project.

But at least the PD is looking for an open flow of ideas--let's hope the proposed plan is merely a departure point, not the final destination.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Where is the design outrage?

It has been several days since the Plain Dealer published an asinine proposal for the re-design of Public Square. Accept for a few vociferous protests from Blog on the City and Improvised Schema, the Cleveland blogosphere has been disturbingly quiet and rather unconcerned.

The relative silence from Northeast Ohio’s digitally enlightened again supports my perception of Cleveland as a lower-tier design city, incapable deciphering what constitutes good design and awful design. The lack of indignation further reinforces Steve Litt’s assessment of Cleveland’s design culture (see posts below).

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

We can wait no longer . . .

Steve Litt reviews the interviews for the Cuyahoga County Adminstration Complex.

One commissioner reveals that the project will not move quickly because they have not figured out how to fund the project. Huh?

Indecision is killing this city and county.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Public Square is Dead! Long Live Public Sqaure!

Cleveland’s Public Square is an empty vessel. It no longer functions as the community space that Moses Cleaveland and the boys designed back in the early 19th Century. Sure, the square has hosted some important events, like Lincoln’s funeral procession, the filming of A Christmas Story, and some very Cleveland-like events, like the celebration that followed the Indians losing the 1997 World Series. And the Soldiers’ + Sailors’ monument is a very uniquely American structure, monument, and interpretive piece, unlike any other non-battlefield monument in the country. Yet in most part, Public Square has seen its better days.

Public Square and the Mall, the spatial progeny of the Burnham’s Group Plan, are flaccid relics of past urban design models. At one time each space constituted the democratic and green lungs of a thriving, dirty, and pulsing industrial city. No longer, though. Each space is devoid of relative meaning, use, function, or future. These organizing voids are merely vestiges of past planning strategies that no longer unite. We must either re-use these spaces intelligently, provocatively, or hand them over to private interests to be ruthlessly in-filled.

Let’s say we are forward thinking citizens, tired of the defeatism of the baby-boomer politicians of this one-party town who do not have to compete for votes with ideas. How should we approach the re-design or re-constitution of such deteriorating, yet historically important, and potentially instigating spaces?

Forget nostalgia. The 1950’s are gone, as well as Higbee’s, May Company, and the entire socio-economic climate that seeps from Dick Feagler’s black and white photographs.

Forget history. We do not need interpretive panels explaining what occurred in 1814 at this spot to alter Ohio history. We should keep the Soldiers’ + Sailors’ Monument, though--it is uniquely Cleveland and can anchor the whirlwind of urban change that can potentially occur. Everything else in the other quadrants can go. Small crowds gather for Downtown Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day ceremonies—many attend ceremonies in the suburbs.

Forget ceremony and tradition. The most tangible taste of ceremony that still inflects the square would be the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade. The Columbus Day parade has even left Downtown, scadaddling for the friendly confines of Little Italy.

Maintain the perimeter. Like many European public spaces which have been re-born again and again, the bounding periphery of the spaces have maintained their integrity while churning within over the centuries.

Re-think the circulation. Close down Superior, Ontario, or both, or recalibrate the flow of circulation through and around the square. How could parking be achieved in an alternative manner. How can RTA service or not service the area?

Engage technology. Wi-fi clouds, Ipods, nanotechnologies, smart advertising technologies, infinite accessibility and connectivity are evolving the constitution of our shared public spaces. Could a public space be automatically personalized by your presence?

Provide Protest Space. Where could a good protest occur? The closest event that resembled a protest was John Kerry’s election concert on the Mall. Pro-Choice and Pro-Life counter demonstrations would surely charge-up and enliven the commons.

Embed Flexibility. As society evolves at an ever-quickening pace with technological innovation, Public Square needs to be able to change as quickly. Accepting temporality and an ephemeral character may compose the proper concoction to assure lasting reliance and relevance.

Encourage Ad-hocism.

And we could continue on.

But first and foremost, we cannot let the saccharin, one-off, life-style center skin-deep post-modernism + weak contextualism of the Plain Dealer scheme define and lead-off our collective regional future. We are better than the vision of the presented Plain Dealer scheme--if we do not recognize and reject this utter shallowness, we are not worthy to call ourselves competent architects + urban designers.

Bad Public Square! Bad Public Square!


Just because some local architects say they are urban designers, does not mean they actually are urban designers. Rendering yourself as a contextualist does not offer a liscense to cogently design seminal Cleveland urban spaces.

A perfect example is the proposed scheme for a new Public Sqaure presented in the Plain Dealer on Sunday. It is awful, suburban, tacky, and tinged with sugary nostalgia. It is everything that Millenium Park in Chicago is not. The proposed scheme actually makes Cleveland dumber. It pushes Cleveland architectural thinking backwards a decade.

God, deliver us from such flaccid design philosohpies that cripple this region!

Similar sentiments at Improvised Schema.

More later.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Cleveland design being discussed . . .

Two letters to the editor appeared in today's Plain Dealer in response to Steve Litt's commentary of last week. Read them here.

It is good to see design debate get a little testy.

I encourage the Plain Dealer to become an advocate for better urban and architectural design. As the only newspaper of consequence in the region, the Plain Dealer and its editors should pressure local decision-makers to make the correct design decisions that will benefit the city and region for generations to come.

Many major projects are going to tranform downtown Cleveland in the next half-decade. An enlightened voice should guide public opinion.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Discourse Re-freshers . . .

Because of Steve Litt's recent call for design excellence in Cleveland and some indirect blog traffic from Brewed Fresh Daily via Improvised Schema concerning the same subject, here are links to past Blog on the City missives.

Architecture at the Margins

Call for Intellectual Discourse

Call for Discourse