10-19-17

Habitat for Hard Places and the Ecologically Inclusive City

City residents live in the midst of many other creatures, even if we sometimes don’t notice them. Birds, bugs, bats, and squirrels are all around us. We share our communities with bigger animals too, like deer, coyote, foxes, and groundhogs.

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(Source: BBC.com)

Life can be difficult for creatures in the city. Near my office in Playhouse Square, I often see birds on the sidewalk, killed in collisions with downtown buildings.

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If we took the needs of birds in mind when designing tall buildings, our cities might be less fatal to our feathered friends. Likewise, city parks could include plants that support bee populations and landscapes that help small mammals survive. It’s not about handing over the city to wild creatures, but finding ways for peaceful coexistence.

My dog was recently sprayed by a skunk in our (relatively urban) Cleveland Heights neighborhood. So I do understand that sharing space with wildlife can have some unpleasant consequences. But consider the fact that a bat can eat its body weight in insects in a given night. Our bat neighbors play a big role in keeping mosquitoes and bug-borne illnesses at bay.

An ecologically healthy city creates a sense of symbiosis between people and wildlife. You don’t have to invite a raccoon to breakfast. Although you might find one in the self-service buffet known as your garbage can on trash day. But we should look for ways to help other species feel at home in the city, for their benefit and our own.

In Cleveland, a key habitat area is the Cuyahoga River. The Cuyahoga has suffered a lot of abuse over the years, most notoriously catching fire several times due to industrial pollution. The last river fire was in 1969. The spectacle of a burning river helped lead to the enactment of the Federal Clean Water Act in 1972.

Today, the river no longer burns and a diverse range of fish live there. To support these growing populations of fish, Cuyahoga River Restoration launched Habitat for Hard Places, an initiative to provide habitat opportunities within the ship channel. It’s important to note that fish habitat will  not displace existing businesses or disrupt land uses in the Flats. Places for fish can be tucked in around existing and proposed human development.

Cuyahoga River Restoration and the CUDC recently invited 65 people for an afternoon trip through the ship channel aboard the Holiday Cleveland. Participants included developers, property owners, ecologists, fish and water scientists, landscape architects and students, and staff from the Ohio and US EPA.

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(Source: Katie Slusher)

Jane Goodman, Executive DIrector of Cuyahoga River Restoration, narrated the tour. Where most people see vacant sites and development potential, Jane sees habitat. In fact, opportunities for restoring habitat are prevalent in the ship channel.

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Elaine Price at the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission and Doug Paige at the Cleveland Institute of Art have been conducting fish habitat experiments in the Cuyahoga for several years, including small habitat islands designed to float in the river and vegetation baskets installed within the metal bulkheads. These installations offer food and places to rest, both of which are essential to the survival of young fish.

At the CUDC’s invitation, a group of Landscape Architecture students from Ohio State are looking at behind-the-bulkhead design ideas to integrate fish habitat into Cuyahoga ship channel. Under the guidance of OSU faculty members Halina Steiner and Karla Trott, students in a Spring 2017 design studio looked at the specific needs of a diverse group of fish stakeholders.

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(From: The GAR-OUP PLAN, Christian Moore and Alexandra Lemke, The Ohio State University Knowlton School of Architecture, 2017)

The students developed a range of innovative design proposals for riverfront public spaces that would benefit both fish and people. A new group of Ohio State students will be working on habitat designs for the ship channel this spring, beginning in January.

fishfollies

(From: fish follies, Ross Rogers and Marty Koelsch, The Ohio State University Knowlton School of Architecture, 2017)

The CUDC was fortunate to receive a grant from the Ohio EPA’s Environmental Education Fund, which we’ll use to share the students work through a folio of postcards from the river’s edge. We hope this project will inspire fish- and people-friendly development along the river.

For more information, please contact Terry Schwarz, Director of the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative at tschwarz@kent.edu or 216.357.3426

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