$62k planning grant from NOACA helps birdtown take flight

Skinny houses wedged onto small lots. Church steeples dotting the skyline. Factories and blue-collar taverns. Eastern-European accents heard on the street.

These phrases might call to mind multi-ethnic Cleveland neighborhoods like Tremont, St. Clair-Superior, Collinwood and Slavic Village, but Lakewood?

Ah, but you don’t know Birdtown. Lakewood’s only “company town” was carved out in the 1890s for employees of the National Carbon Company (now GrafTech). Located off Madison Avenue — just west of Lakewood’s border — it was named for streets like Robin, Lark and Plover.

Yet in recent years, Lakewood’s only historic district has begun looking ragged — plagued by foreclosed homes, shabby retail, worn-out streets, and a lingering perception the area is unsafe. Two years ago, city planners and residents launched an effort to improve the area, citing its natural assets as a dense, walkable neighborhood just a stone’s throw from parks, shopping and highways.

Now the planning effort is bearing fruit. Lakewood will complete the Madison East Birdtown Strategic Plan this month, and is applying for funding to implement improvements, including neighborhood identity signs, street lighting, pedestrian and bicycle safety enhancements, public art and park improvements.

The plan — which builds upon investments like the new Harrison Elementary School and artist lofts in the Lake Erie Screw Factory building — coalesced in 2010 when Lakewood was awarded a $62,500 planning grant from the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA). The city hired Dimit Architects of Lakewood to complete the plan.

“We’d like to resurface Madison Avenue in 2012 or 2013, and that project will include other streetscape enhancements such as decorative signal poles similar to those installed on Detroit Avenue,” says Dru Siley, Assistant Planning Director for the city of Lakewood.

With Dimit applying the final touches to the plan, there’s no word yet on whether one creative idea that emerged from the planning will be carried out — putting birdhouses on streetcorners to function as public art, signage, and yes, feeding stations for actual birds.

1/27/11

www.freshwatercleveland.com/devnews

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