By Macy Kittleberger

When cities need help imagining new possibilities for their urban places and communities, they call Kent State University’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative. Most recently, Kent State architecture students had the opportunity to put the skills they learn in the classroom to make an impact on local communities in Erie, Pennsylvania.

“The charrette was sponsored by the Jefferson Educational Society, the Erie Community Foundation, the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority, NAIOP and the Mastriana Endowment,” said Kristen Zeiber, urban designer and project manager for the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative.

The Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative took a group of students to spend three days in Erie to work with community leaders on finding new and creative ways to connect neighborhoods throughout Erie to its bayfront.

In partnership with Project Gateway, an effort to connect neighborhoods in Erie with the waterfront, Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative students were assigned background research including existing master plans to assist them in creating design options for the area.

The Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative is the combined home of the urban design graduate program at Kent State and the public service activities of Kent State’s College of Architecture and Environmental Design. Graduate students in this program study at a Cleveland facility.

“We do work throughout the Northeast Ohio region and beyond,” Zeiber said. “We work with a lot of neighborhood groups and cities to come up with innovative urban design and planning ideas.”

This year, the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative had six dual-degree graduate students participate in the program, and Zeiber said that even with a small group, they were able to hit the ground running once they got to Erie.

Zeiber explained that the whole point of them being there in person is so, as they are working, they are able to get feedback from the community and make adjustments as they go.

A neighborhood group on the east side of downtown Erie has been advocating for a long time that their neighborhood has been cut off from the bayfront by the highway, making it difficult to get to and from the neighborhood.

“The first night we had an open forum where we presented what we will be doing across the course of the weekend,” Zeiber said.

The project goals included to create a public-centered bayfront, deploy a range of connection types, tie in the east and west side neighborhoods, and highlight Erie’s unique heritage.

“Students produced a lot of architectural renderings, which is taking a photo of an existing condition on the site and then rendering on top of it what it could look like,” Zeiber said.

Three community meetings were held, one for each day they were there. After each meeting, the team went back to the Jefferson Educational Society where they worked late into the night putting together sketches and printing out design ideas they had come up with from previous research and response from the community.

A lot of the feedback from those who showed up at the meetings was incorporated into the final report, such as more opportunities for greenspace, walkability and even textural wayfindings for the visually impaired.

According to Zeiber, the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative process is unique because it allows people from groups that are not necessarily represented in traditional planning processes to feel like there is a role for them in the process.

In terms of the final product, the six Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative students came up with a plan that includes opportunities for art, more of a central gathering place and new unique walk routes, all at the request of community members. 

Potential design rendering of Erie Bayfront done by Julian Colicchio, CAED M.Arch./M.U.D., next to the current view.

“We’re going to share the final presentation with our community partners so they can share it with people who weren’t able to come,” Zeiber said.

Over the next month, the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative team will pull together a final deliverable with additional drawings based on feedback that can be presented to the community by the end of the semester.

The Jefferson Educational Society that served as the local Erie host will also host the follow-up presentation in December 2019 or January 2020. If a city official is interested in hosting the charrette, the official should reach out to the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative at cudc@kent.edu.

Learn more about Kent State’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative

Rendering done by Julian Colicchio, College of Architecture and Environmental Design M.Arch./M.U.D. student, of what the bayfront currently looks like in comparison to a potential design option.

POSTED: Friday, November 15, 2019 12:00 AM
Updated: Friday, December 9, 2022 09:33 AM