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About Public Spaces and Community

Friday November 9, 2007

Diana Aviv, president of Independent Sector, a respected organization that often speaks for the not-for-profit sector, spoke at the City Club Forum today. A small part of her address touched on building community and praised the work of real estate developer Ron Sher. A quick search found very similar comments in a talk recently posted on the Independent Sector website.

" ... I was recently reminded of the power of such partnerships when I met a remarkable entrepreneur by the name of Ron Sher. After years of profitably developing shopping centers, Ron decided that it was possible to both make money and improve community life through what urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg has called “third places” – gathering spaces outside the home and the workplace that foster broader, deeper, and more creative interaction.

At one shopping center, near his hometown of Seattle, Ron got to work. He brought in trees, created small gardens, and added sculptures. He mixed in an independent half-price bookstore, a public library, and a branch of the local City Hall. He invited an arts center run by the Children's Museum to set up shop, arranged a series of events open to the public, and built a large chessboard for people to match wits, all while successfully renting out commercial space to national chains and local businesses. He even managed to get a police precinct to move in. And he made a profit.

Ron described his views this way: “I am not talking of the ‘state-centered’ democracy that we most often think of, but rather the society-centered democracy. Placemaking creates livable cities with safe, civil Third Places where democracy happens, can be learned, and modeled. The question is how we are going to have a sustainable world where the quality of people's lives is improved and where people have greater joy, greater meaning, and are more considerate of one another.” ...

Above: a public space in a Sher shopping center
Below: the corridor in the Square's northeast quadrant

In September 2004 when the Coral Company bought Shaker Square from Key Bank there was talk of improved public outdoor spaces. Six months later the team to redesign the public spaces was selected more ... Today, two and a half years later, other than the corridor shown above and an improved patio for Sarava customers, we see no new public spaces.

For more than 30 Saturday mornings each year the North Union Farmers Market transforms Shaker Boulevard at the Square into precious public space. Our patios around the Square are wonderful May through September. But given our Cleveland climate and the noise of traffic on the Square, outdoor public spaces have only limited daytime fair-weather use in the spring and summer. For year-round and day-evening use, indoor public spaces are needed.

Thanks to the Coral Company, the Farmers Market has used indoor space on Saturday mornings in recent winters. (See our page.) For months the Square's southwest quadrant hosted a school facility for the Cleveland Museum of Art.

I can visualize — and I'm sure you have ideas to add to this list — a place where groups can meet, classes and public lectures can be given, seniors can tutor school kids, and more. A place where visitor and rental information might be available, where half-price tickets to cultural events (and even Indians games), Shaker Square gift certificates (you heard it here first), and SHAD memberships can be bought.

All this can bring more traffic, more business and more vitality to the Square, while enriching the daily lives of its neighbors.

With about 15 percent of the Square still vacant, we should give more thought to Placemaking — to creating indoor public spaces where our neighborhood's sense of community can grow year-round.

Arnie Berger, webkeeper

For more on Placemaking, click here.


In July 2008 UCI (University Circle Incorporated) opened a visitor and living center on Euclid Avenue and Mayfield Road.  liink 

Only a few visitors can be accomodated at a time, so it's not the sort of place this page envisions. But what it does - give out information and brochures - could easily be done in what we hope to see.

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