As technology continues to evolve, cities like Cleveland have found that traditional policies and regulations are woefully inadequate for dealing with the rapid pace of innovation.
“The administration’s goal is to focus on tangible policy and system change so that Cleveland is positioned to be competitive in the future. That is something that Mayor Jackson is really focused on,” said Fred Collier, director of the city’s planning department.
City departments have struggled with disruptive technology, such as when motorized scooters began to appear on public streets practically overnight in the summer of 2018, with no regulations in place to deal with an emergent mode of transportation. The planning department also had to react quickly to develop a comprehensive permitting policy around the installation of the thousands of small cells required to enable 5G as multiple companies entered that market.
“Digital signs and media are challenges we are facing right now,” Collier said. “We have had digital signage applications come through the building department with products that we never saw before. We have been told that now some signage is going to be integrated into the infrastructure of the buildings. How do you regulate that?”
To create a process to respond to these issues and others, city administrators this fall will host a symposium titled “Building the 21st Century City: The Future is Now!” in partnership with the Urban Land Institute (ULI). The event will take place Oct. 2.
The event, which is still in the planning stages, is intended to bring national leaders together with local stakeholders to identify best practices for contending with three specific issues the city is facing: emerging technology, inclusive land use as economic development and innovations in mobility.
ULI chair Steve Ross said the Cleveland chapter of the national nonprofit land-use organization helped design the event, which will be the first of a three-part process. The second phase will bring local stakeholders together to apply ideas from the symposium. Execution of those policy reforms is the third phase.
“We at ULI are focused on education and leadership, and our members are a diverse group of private sector and public sector. This is right in line with what we do,” said Ross, a senior associate at commercial real estate firm CBRE.
The execution phase, Ross said, will help the groups and the individuals who create the policy enable the city to deal with an impending cultural shift.
Mobility changes, e-scooters, protected bike lanes and dedicated bus lanes are having a ripple effect by changing how traditional modes of transportation work, Collier said, adding that road right-of-ways are changing as cities adapt to different modes of travel that often slow traffic flow and demand that cars share the streets.
Ross and Collier predict more streets could be walled off to automobile traffic, similar to how Ohio City shut down Market Street to traffic last summer. Electric cars and autonomous vehicles will mean re-envisioning city parking infrastructure, possibly eliminating the need for private car ownership within a matter of decades. Any significant drop in private vehicle ownership would mean that land now used for auto dealerships and surface parking lots could be shifted to other purposes.
Ian Meadows, city planner with City Architecture, said he thinks Cleveland is at a critical point when it comes to how mobility and technology change the trajectory of land development. These advances, he said, are capable of not only improving the quality of urban life but also of fixing at least some of the causes of income inequity.
“Traditional zoning, which dates back to a time when everyone loved cars and wanted to get from A to B as fast as possible, left us with a city that prioritized the expansion of street networks,” Meadows noted.
These zoning laws then created segregated land uses, with residential areas separate from industrial areas, which ostensibly separated people without transportation from jobs.
Meadows said moving to “form-based zoning,” one of the focuses of the October symposium, ensures development that counters outdated zoning by encouraging walkable streets that are accessible to work, retail, connected transit networks and safe public spaces.
Under the direction of the city’s planning department, Cleveland has implemented three pilot programs in the Hough, Detroit Shoreway and Opportunity Corridor neighborhoods where form-based planning is underway.
“Every little incremental change we get from these policies and discussions, every new crosswalk that is added and protective bike lane and every new safe, accessible community park sets the ball in motion,” Meadows said.