I grew up in Ellen Connally’s Shaker Square neighborhood and while I now live downtown in the St Clair/Superior neighborhood, I have some experience with the Square’s needs. I don’t like disagreeing with my neighbor Ellen. Shaker Square is broke and needs fixing or the downward spiral will worsen. The heart of Ellen’s opposition is the consequence of closing Shaker Boulevard for the two blocks of the Square to create green space. The result is suburban motorists will require two minutes added to their commute to navigate around the Square to Shaker Boulevard/Woodland Avenue or Cedar Hill route to University Circle and downtown.
While I absolutely agree that black and white Cleveland residents need to come together, they don’t need to come together to protect suburban motorists. I absolutely agree with Ellen that black-white agreement is critical issue for this area that has done a better job navigating racial issues than elsewhere in Cleveland. The Shaker Square re-design to create a north-south orientation and spacially more attractive space with greenery to bring people together is the best way to do it. Far from the California kumbaya Ellen faults, this is genuine effort to create more opportunities for racial cooperation, social activity and sharing, things Cleveland desperately needs now.
The fate of Shaker Square depends less on Shaker Heights and more on Cleveland residents, those in the neighborhoods north and south of the square. The Shaker Square plan is designed to strengthen a north-south orientation to take advantage of a long awaited and much needed re-development plan for the largely abandoned Buckeye neighborhood south of the of the Square. A strong Buckeye neighborhood leads to a strong Shaker Square. That north-south relationship is to create a tighter link in neighborhoods north and south, actually connecting Shaker Square to the Doan Brook water shed and Fairhill.
There are significant safety concerns to address. Does this re-route lead to a safety risk for the smaller Cleveland side streets with motorists seeking to avoid the Square entirely, a short-cut that could put kids walking or riding bikes to school or awaiting school buses at risk. I think that’s a significant concern, as some motorists already treat these roads like a race track, yet regrettably, Ellen doesn’t raise this point of concern. Cleveland and Shaker Heights need to agree to create some sort of physical barrier, not just signs that have proved to be ineffective in limiting entry to small side streets in the morning when kids are walking and biking to school or waiting for a bus.
I wish we didn’t waste time with manufactured problems. Ellen raised concern for fire trucks being forced to navigate around the Square. Fire stations, whether Shaker Heights or Cleveland, aren’t nearby and don’t have to navigate the square to get anyone who needs it. The Shaker Boulevard cut through the Square is designed to help suburban motorist on their way to work, nothing else.
I am mystified by the desire to protect the two minute commuting motorist burden by arguing against closing the central block of Shaker Square. Those traveling through Shaker Square on their commute don’t see the need for real change at Shaker Square. While I have known and admired Ellen for my entire professional life (and even worked to help her win election as County Council President), Shaker Square reformation shouldn’t start off catering to suburban motorists. It’s about residents and strong neighborhoods, both north and south of the historic Square. I share Ellen’s affection for a romantic day of Shaker Square’s past, but rather than recalling one store replaced with another, I also recall stores like Wade Music Store, which now lies empty. New plans are needed to energize the Square. Motorists don’t need support. Shoppers and residents do.
Kevin Cronin is a local attorney and activist, especially known for his advocacy for bicyclists, and a League of American Bicyclists certified bicycling instructor. kevincronin.us