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    GIS analysis of Connecting Cleveland 2020 Citywide Plan

    Kurt Neiswender
    Dec 21, '11 4:20 PM EST


    Because of the specific focus of this assignment that coincided with the classes collaboration and field trip to Cleveland I want to publicly acknowledge the following organizations and individuals, in no particular order. Kent State University’s Urban Design Collaborative, especially, Steve Rugare, Terry Schwartz, Dr. Maurizio Sabini and his students; The city of Cleveland Planning Department and the Office of Sustainability, especially Freddy Collier Jr., Anand Natarajan, James Danek and Kristofer Luckskay, for their generosity and sharing of GIS data files. 

    Summary of the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Action and Resource Guide

    The Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Action and Resource Guide’s (SC2019) history dates back to a grassroots initiative from a group of individuals known as EcoCity Cleveland#. EcoCity Cleveland began their research on the bio-region surrounding Cleveland in 1992. By 2007 EcoCity Cleveland merged with its collaborator, the Cleveland Natural History Museum and since then have moved their information to the Green City Blue Lake website, where the SC2019 plan can be found.

    The Action and Resource Guide to the SC2019 plan was recently published in 2010, this plan consolidates the ideas gathered from Cleveland’s annual Sustainability Summits which started in 2009 by Mayor Frank Jackson. Through the Summit meetings the SC2019 plan has fostered much support from the citizens of Cleveland through the creation of working groups. These working groups are volunteer based, community teams that develop projects to fulfill the SC2019 ideals of a sustainably developed City of Cleveland. The main goal of the SC2019 plan is to create an economic engine for the city through collaboration of diverse community owned businesses to spawn a new generation of prosperity.

    The general framework of the SC2019 plan is structured on “celebration points”# which are yearly milestones that intend to celebrate the particular sustainable activity determined by the SC2019 Action and Resource Guide. The celebration points are designed to begin with smaller scale efforts of sustainability and gradually increase in technicality and scope, culminating in the 2019, which purposely coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Cuyahoga River fire that inspired the drafting of the EPA’s Clean Water Act.

    Following our classes meeting at the city of Cleveland Planning offices, it appears that the SC2019 plan is a structured and ambitious plan, however it was not certain what the long term impacts of the plan would be. Being in its first celebration year, the year of Energy Efficiency, there still seems to be a lot of details to be worked out. It also seems that there is some competing goals with the Connecting Cleveland 2020 Citywide plan. My reaction to the meeting, is that it is not clear what purpose it serves Cleveland to have two large comprehensive sustainability plans progressing simultaneously.

    I have been able to email interview Freddy Collier Jr., Chief City Planner for Cleveland#. According to Mr. Collier, SC2019 is not a plan, but the Citywide 2020 plan is very much a plan that the city has adopted to redevelop specific needs. Mr. Collier goes on to say that SC2019 acts as a platform for citizens to interact, a “rallying document” that seeks to attract citizens to get involved in making Cleveland a sustainable city. Speaking for the planners in Cleveland City Hall, Mr. Collier interjects that:

    “sustainability is a state of mind, that permeates all aspects of civic duty. Sustainability is a way to do things, it is how we should exist... Again, people must understand that the efforts being done are all part of a continuum. First, there was Connecting Cleveland 2020, then Re-imagining a more Sustainable Cleveland, then SC2019, and now Healthy Cleveland”.

    Summary of the Connecting Cleveland 2020 Citywide Plan

    In addition to the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 initiative, the city of Cleveland has developed a comprehensive plan to guide the development of the city toward a sustainable future. The history of the Citywide 2020 plan is that it has grown to replace the 2000 Civic Vision Plan for Cleveland Neighborhoods. According to the city of Cleveland, the Citywide 2020# plan was developed to be a more comprehensive all-city plan that targets development opportunities in specific neighborhood assets instead of a ward-by-ward approach. 

    The 2020 Citywide plan focuses on 36 distinct neighborhoods, within six district areas. The boundary of these districts correlates to the city’s existing police districts. The 2020 plan is summarized by nine headings that emerged from a “grassroots” neighborhood door-to-door campaign. These nine headings are: Vision, Action, Connections, Assets, Opportunity, Sustainability, Diversity, Choice and Place; each capture the perception from the citizen’s point of view.

    What drives the Citywide plan, and thus is driving my investigation of the future sustainability proposal is the fourth category, Assets. Cleveland considers itself a unique city, in a unique location in the great lakes basin.# The other eight categories are supported by the landscape assets that Cleveland describes in the Citywide Plan, with particular focus on vacant land. The general attitude toward vacant land commonly considers it a detriment rather than an asset, but the planning department in the City of Cleveland chooses to reverse the negative thinking of a post-industrial shrinking city, and they are making vacant land the top priority and most valuable asset for a sustainable Cleveland.

    Because the 2020 Citywide plan was initiated by interviewing the local community, rather than a formal mandate from the city government, there are aspects in the plan that emerge which are in tune with “place-making” and connections between community assets. As another of the categories’ headings implies, the communities of Cleveland are definitely concerned with Sustainability. During our classes meeting at the city of Cleveland planning office, we heard Freddy Collier say, “sustainability is a permeable mindset”. Mr. Collier’s statement reinforces that the citizens of Cleveland are aware of the importance and role sustainability plays in the re-growth of their beloved city.

    Development of Design Proposal

    In order for Cleveland to grow into a sustainable urban city it has to rethink the pattern of city development and consider a future that moves away from its industrial past and evolves toward a holistic sustainable future. I have decided to focus the concept of a proposed future city of Cleveland around the growing stock of vacant land within the city. Currently the city has more than 20,000 vacant parcels of land on record (Figure 1), many of which are residential lots that are in varying degrees of decay. Cleveland has developed a city-wide land bank to take stock of the inventory and manage and stabilize the process of reclamation and redevelopment.# Cleveland is taking the reigns on the “elephant in the room” and facing the issue of vacant land head on.

    Figure 1: Vacant Land by Parcel

    Taking the position that vacant land is an asset and not a detrimental aspect of the city inspires me to take it one step further and use GIS analysis to develop a conceptual city plan that identifies the vacant land and re-purpose it to catalyze a “closed loop” sustainable design#. The generosity of the Cleveland City Planning Department, I have been given over 40 Geographic Information Systems (GIS) shapefiles, that map many of the infrastructural and cultural land uses of the city. Among them, some of the most inspiring are parcel level data for existing land use, proposed land use and vacant land. It is very impressive to have such fine grain data for an entire city.

    The GIS layers help to understand the city from a cartographic viewpoint which aids to develop my understanding of the city. Our classes site visit to the city, was also extremely educational and further enhanced my knowledge of the “image of the city”#. I will use this information to present emergent patterns of potential sustainable opportunities for Cleveland.


    My hypothesis for this mapping study is to pursue Cleveland’s optimistic attitude toward vacant land. Through the use of Quantum GIS, an open source geospatial analysis tool, I will show that vacant land in Cleveland is the catalyst to systemic#, closed loop design, that reshapes a more sustainable land use strategy. The design process including the geoprocessing of GIS files will draw new land use boundaries for the city of Cleveland.

    Figure 2: Closed Loop diagram for Cleveland Vacant Land, Kurt Neiswender 2011.
    Design Process

    Using Quantum GIS (QGIS) as the primary analysis software, I have been able to study the patterns that emerge from the various data sets. What emerge are inherit features of Cleveland's landscape of natural and built forms. These nascent qualities will be used to inform the design where to strategically place components of the closed loop design.

    Throughout the semester we have been discussing infrastructure of many types for cities in the great lakes basin. Infrastructure, even in shrinking cities, should be maintained for future use, rather than decommissioned and dismantled. However, disruptive to dense urban development the automobile# is, the multi-lane roadways and interstates already exist, and the costs to remove them outweigh the potential benefits of increased land area.

    Terry Schwartz from the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative succinctly states in her report Sustainable Infrastructure in Shrinking Cities: Options for the Future. “We found that decommissioning infrastructure is not a high priority in Cleveland for a variety of reasons. First, engineers and public works professionals are trained to maintain and expand infrastructure networks-the idea of removing infrastructure is totally contrary to business as usual”.# Hoornbeek and Schwartz also state that “when dealing with old infrastructure redundancy is benefit”.

    Mapping Strategy

    After an initial review of the data, either downloaded or shared by the city of Cleveland, I began a sequence of geoprocessing functions to explore the patterns and interactions between different mapped layers of data. Some typical GIS functions were performed, such as, buffers, dissolves, symbology manipulations, clips and intersections, which examined neighborhood adjacency and connectivity. I also experimented with more conceptual and mathematical processes, for example, centroid location, voronoi diagram, convex hulls and symmetric differences.

    My mapping strategy is built upon the framework that Peter Calthorpe describes as a “place based approach” to zoning.# The following five categories overlaid in QGIS reveal the nascent patterns of Cleveland’s Landscape.


    Neighborhoods are the most basic building block of community. They are by definition, walkable areas that integrate a range of housing with parks, schools and local services.


    Centers are the mixed-use destinations of a group of neighborhoods; they include jobs and housing as well as services and significant retail.


    Districts are special-use areas typically dominated by a primary land use, such as a university, a cultural center, or an airport.


    Preserves are the open space elements of the region, be they productive agriculture, parklands, or natural habitat.


    Corridors are the edges and connectors of the region’s centers, neighborhood and districts. They come in many forms, from roads to highways to rail lines to bikeways, from power easements to streams and rivers.

    The Citywide 2020 plan bears considerable resemblance to the smart growth described in Peter Calthope’s new book, Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change. Cleveland’s city-wide adoption of smart growth strategies shows promise for an awakened culture of holistic sustainability. Cleveland is maturing as a city, and is learning from its resource depleting past. What the QGIS results show is an ideal situation that has the potential to dramatically reinvent the landscape into an integrated sustainable ecosystem that  drastically can reduce its ecological footprint.

    Potential Land Use Strategy

    Cleveland is currently logging vacant land into a land bank that will strategically redevelop the land with new uses that support the vision of the 2020 Citywide plan. Through QGIS analysis the vacant land in Cleveland is concentrated in distinct portions of the city, on the west side in Detroit-Shoreway, Ohio City and Tremont, and with higher concentration on the east side in the Kinsman, Fairfax, Hough, Shaker and Glenville neighborhoods. According to the Citywide 2020 plan these neighborhoods have been targeted for development that includes: urban agriculture, community gardens, outdoor recreation space and park oriented development. Coincidentally the availability of vacant land in these areas can easily be reclaimed for these uses. (Figure 3)

    Figure 3: Vacant Land Analysis

    Developing the analysis of the potential for vacant land further, I explored the figure/ground of the open space and used the geoprocesses of symmetrical difference superimposed with a voronoi diagram to expose the logical areas for built density. (Figure 4) Not surprisingly the outcome shows high potential for a poly-centric set of urban centers that are supported by adjacent open space land uses. (Figure 5) Bossel’s Model for sustainable cities prefers this poly-centric land use strategy over the dendritic, mononucleus cities of the last century.

    Figure 4: Symmetrical Difference and Voronoi Results

    Figure 5: Poly-centric Urban Centers with ½ Mile Buffers

    Peter Calthorpe reinforces the concept of a poly-centric urban environment; emphasizing the interdependant and interconnected regional network of places, which are contrary to the old city/suburb schism which dominates current development and land use strategies.# In Figure 6, I reintroduce the most recent data layer of population as any underlay to the proposed urban centers, green buffered corridors that connect the nodes of density, and a one mile buffer around the urban centers that shows that each node is within one mile of each other. The area of the city with the lowest population density falls within the proposed open space, making it feasible to move citizens toward the new urban centers.

    Figure 6: Urban Centers with Population Underlay.

    Being in such close proximity to adjacent urban centers promotes walkability to open spaces, and minimizes the wasteful extension of superfluous infrastructure to outer suburbs that become costly to build and maintain. The proposed future landscape begins to prove that vacant land can be used as a catalyst for closed loop sustainable design at the scale of the city. My hypothesis described in Figure 2, is supported by the QGIS analysis.


    Vacant land is not a just a concern for Cleveland, but for many of the post-industrial cities in the Great Lakes Basin, and across the United States. By taking the problem head on, Cleveland is proactively seeking creative solutions that should and could be models to other Shrinking Cities. redefining cites as sustainable ecosystems is a positive movement that responds to the resource depleting, wasteful land use patterns from the post-war era to the present. The mutual benefits that are so elegantly performed within the biological environment (Biomimcry, Systemic Design ©, closed loop or whichever title it takes on), is going to be the prime example for sustainable human co-existence with our one planet.

    Works Cited

    Benyus, Janine M. Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. New York: Perennial, 2002. Print.
    Berger, Alan, Dirk Sijmons, and Henk Hoeks. Systemic Design Can Change the World. Amsterdam: SUN, 2009. Print.
    Calthorpe, Peter. Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change. Washington, DC: Island, 2011. Print.
    City of Cleveland. Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Action and Resource Guide. Publication. Cleveland: Cleveland City Hall, 2010. Print.
    "Freddy Collier Jr. Chief City Planner, Cleveland." Interview by Kurt V. Neiswender. 13 Dec. 2011. Print.
    Hoornbeek, Ph.D., John, and Terry Schwarz. Sustainable Infrastructure in Shrinking Cities: Options for the Future. Kent State University, July-Aug. 2009. Web.
    "Infrastructural Ecologies: Principles for Post-Industrial Public Works." Places: Design Observer. Web. 19 Dec. 2011. <>.
    Kent State University's Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, and Neighborhood Progress, Inc. Re-imagining Cleveland: Ideas to Action Resource Book. The City of Cleveland. Web. 2011.
    "Michael Pawlyn: Using Nature's Genius in Architecture | Video on" TED: Ideas worth Spreading. Web. 19 Dec. 2011. <>.
    Mostafavi, Mohsen, and Gareth Doherty. Ecological Urbanism. Baden, Switzerland: Lars Müller Pub., 2010. Print.
    Newman, Peter, and Isabella Jennings. Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems: Principles and Practices. Washington, DC: Island, 2008. Print.
    United States. City of Cleveland. Cleveland City Planning Commision. 8 Ideas for Vacant Land Re-use in Cleveland. Print.
    United States. City of Cleveland. Department of Economic Development. Connecting Cleveland 2020 Citywide Plan. Print.
    Welcome to UNU-IAS - Institute of Advanced Studies. Web. 19 Dec. 2011. <>.


    • 1 Comment

    • Richard.Rozewski


      I just wanted to thank you for posting your research on what is going on in Cleveland and suggesting that it has implications that would positively effect other cities that suffer the same issues.  I currently live in Cleveland and am hopeful.  I would love to hear about more of your work if you have time.


      Dec 23, 11 12:16 am  · 

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This is my personal blog to express my thoughts and research on architecture and urban design bridging academic and practice. My interests are in exploring the sustainability of urban environments.

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