By Sarah Valek
Sandwiched between the hustle-and-bustle of Ohio City and Tremont sits a relatively unknown neighborhood — Duck Island. Not at all an island (and surely not a duck), Duck Island, apart from Abbey Road, is relatively secluded, isolated and in many ways forgotten — an “island” in its own sense.
But that’s about to change.
“Due to its fantastic near-west location, Duck Island has gotten a lot of development interest in the past few years,” says Kristen Zeiber, an urban designer with the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative (CUDC). “Existing residents, though, are nervous about what that might mean for them — they want to ensure that what they like about the neighborhood, primarily its small scale and tucked-away character, is preserved.”
Duck Island’s location is prime, offering great access to public transportation and “million dollar views” of downtown. Proposed development ranges from single-family infill housing, to multi-lot townhouses and large scale mixed-use development — all leading to a higher density neighborhood and, ultimately, big changes for the community.
In order to mediate new development opportunities with the needs of current residents, Tremont West and the CUDC — with funding from Cleveland Neighborhood Progress — organized a series of community planning meetings. Out of these meetings came a plan piecing together ideas and recommendations from a diverse group of people.
At one of the initial meetings, residents were treated to a brainstorming session where they had to identify problems they’d like to see fixed (“industrial eyesores,” “vacant houses,” neglected landscapes,” “graffiti”) and name one neighborhood amenity they’d like to have (“park that feels safe,” “community garden,” “tie into Towpath extension, Lake Link and Rotary trails”). Their hopes, frustrations and fears gave a framework to the Duck Island Neighborhood Plan (aka “the plan”).
Says Zeiber, “The CUDC acted less as ‘visionaries’ for Duck Island and more as facilitators for a community conversation – that is to say, the plan isn’t necessarily ‘our’ vision for the neighborhood, but a synthesis of our own designers’ observations with residents’ and stakeholders’ input.”
The plan, which is still in draft form, underscores the need to preserve the neighborhood’s identity and retain its small scale character (which were among the things residents said they like about Duck Island). According to the plan, places like the “Velvet Tango Room exemplif[y] the neighborhood’s low-key appeal as a hidden treasure for those in-the-know.” Even that “million dollar view” is just kind of there — another diamond-in-the-rough.
However, the neighborhood can capitalize on its assets while still staying somewhat low-key, or at least unique. Instead of keeping those stunning views to themselves, the plan calls for the creation of a public overlook near W. 17th St. that could include a pier-like structure to enhance the view.
Abbey Park, which has problems with loitering and drugs, can at least have security cameras and be cleaned up. Brush can be cleared for community gardens. Duck Island’s underused and overgrown alleys can be transformed into a “green alley” that manages stormwater.
Abbey Road — the access point to Ohio City and Tremont — can be developed for small scale mixed use. Currently the street lacks a real identity, with not many homes or storefronts actually fronting the street.
And then there’s the sloping landscape. Duck Island is topographically defined by its sloping hillside, which is currently covered by unsightly undergrowth (buried beneath snow, of course). The plan is to make this hillside cohesive, to link the slope with a series of landscape strategies that would become a network of greenspace offering plenty of ecological and social benefits to the community. Seasonal plantings, remediation landscapes and wetland plantings are among the options.
The plan is a solid attempt to balance private interests with community concerns. It’s an outlet for residents, a way for them to have a stake in their community, as they should. But planning is only part of the process; implementation is key.
The last community meeting was held Tue 1/28 @ St. Wendelin’s. According to Zeiber, the agenda was to present the final plan, gauge audience reaction, and “gather priorities for what aspects of the plan are most important to residents and stakeholders.” The plan will then be modified accordingly.
With careful planning, Duck Island can be cleaned up, add new development and still retain its low-key appeal. It’s all about balance — and, of course, zoning.
Cool Cleveland editor Sarah Valek studied art and writing at Ithaca College. After graduation, she came back to Cle and served two years as an AmeriCorps*VISTA with the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless. She can be found on all sides of the city in pursuit of homeschooling activities for her son and the perfect soy latte. Contact her at CoolEditorATCoolCleveland.com or via Twitter.