Five blocks of a downtown Cleveland boulevard were temporarily transformed this spring.

What do Cleveland bike advocates, Homeland Security officials, and the administrators of the Northern Ohio Regional Sewer District have in common?

They all agree on the promise of a project called Pop-Up Rockwell, in which five blocks of a downtown Cleveland boulevard were temporarily transformed by the addition of a protected two-way cycle track, benches surrounded by flowers and grasses, and transit waiting stations complete with Wi-Fi.

The bike advocates liked the cycle track, of course. The sewer officials liked the way the plantings could trap and filter stormwater. And the Homeland Security guy? In this video, he talks about how he was thrilled by the atmosphere of safety the pop-up street created, by slowing traffic and attracting pedestrians to stop, sit, and provide what he calls “natural surveillance.” (Jane Jacobs used a more civilian-friendly term, “eyes on the street.”)

The project was designed by grad students from Kent State University’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, with the aim of giving the public a concrete demonstration of what the streets of Cleveland could look like with just a little help.

Like many American cities with shrinking populations, Cleveland’s streets have what engineers call “excess capacity.” In other words, there aren’t as many cars on them as there used to be, and there’s a lot of free asphalt to play with.

“It’s time to look at how we use the streets,” says Jennifer Coleman, Cleveland Landmarks Commission chair. “It’s not just for cars anymore.”

The Pop-Up Rockwell project, which ran for one week in April, demonstrated what you could do with that space if you devoted it to something other than cars. And instead of looking at a piece of paper at a community meeting to guess at what the changes might mean, residents and downtown workers could see and feel for themselves.

“We wanted the project to feel like an experience in the future, during a typical work week,” says David Jurca, a Kent State instructor. Students and city officials got immediate feedback from people who were getting a taste of that future in real time and space.

It’s just a small beginning for a city that needs a lot of help. Organizers say that a longer pilot project is needed to truly assess the impact the changes might have. But you’ve got to love the way that bureaucrats and law enforcement officials are embracing the improvisational, spontaneous dynamic that pop-ups represent -- all in the name of making a better city.

H/T to the great blog Rustwire for the video.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. photo: a Tower Records Japan Inc. store in Tokyo, Japan.
    Life

    The Bankrupt American Brands Still Thriving in Japan

    Cultural cachet, licensing deals, and density explain why Toys ‘R’ Us, Tower Records, Barneys, and other faded U.S. retailers remain big across the Pacific.

  2. photo: a commuter looks at a small map of the London Tube in 2009
    Maps

    Help! The London Tube Map Is Out of Control.

    It’s never been easy to design a map of the city’s underground transit network. But soon, critics say, legibility concerns will demand a new look.

  3. Life

    Why Are America’s Three Biggest Metros Shrinking?

    After a post-recession boomlet, the New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago areas are all seeing their population decline.

  4. Perspective

    Why the Car-Free Streets Movement Will Continue to Grow

    In cities like New York, Paris, Rotterdam, and soon San Francisco, car-free streets are emerging amid a growing movement.

  5. A photo of a police officer in El Paso, Texas.
    Equity

    What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

    Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

×