It has been argued the cities in the Midwest are on the “decline.” Populations in urban centers like Detroit, Buffalo, and Cleveland are shrinking as old infrastructure decays. However, the newly relocated Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative takes an unorthodox approach to these “shrinking cities” and addresses the so-called problems as opportunities to engage in research and outreach in Cleveland, Ohio.
With its beginnings in 1983, as the Urban Design Center of Northeast Ohio, The CUDC has given students and architects a unique design opportunity with real world applications. The Collaborative is linked with Kent State University's College of Architecture, which offers graduate degrees in architecture and urban design. Using Cleveland as a backdrop and laboratory, the program integrates the school's curriculum and developing architectural theories/practices with public projects in Northeast Ohio's largest city.
CUDC approaches urban design around two central themes:
- Addressing historic preservation and infrastructure issues affecting the city;
- Applying research, related to large urban areas, to Cleveland and surrounding areas.
Considering its close relationship with the city of Cleveland, it comes as no surprise that in 2009 the department, under new director Ruth Durack, completely relocated from its Kent, Ohio campus to downtown Cleveland. The move brings the program into the historic Cleveland Playhouse District and brings students into close personal contact with the challenges and opportunities in the city.
CUDC has produced several publications directly resulting from the research gathered in the city. They have also developed urban plans for many of Cleveland's neighborhood addressing issues with infill and unused spaces. One of CUDC's most endearing projects is the ongoing “Pop Up City.” This program regularly transforms unused spaces into temporary exhibitions/parties open to all. Past incarnations have included turning a vacant lot into an outdoor ice rink and snowboard park, transforming a freeway bridge into an art gallery resembling an elongated living room, and re-appropriating a parking garage into a roller discotech.
Much of the research conducted by CUDC falls into two seemingly opposing categories that raise an interesting question. Is the phenomenon of “shrinking cities” a trend that we should work to reverse or do declining populations in Midwestern cities present a unique opportunity for sustainable growth?
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