A Story of Renewal: Flats East Bank Cleveland
Hardscaping case study
By Walt Steele
Cleveland has been called the City of Comebacks, and for good reason. Consider Lebron James and the 2016 NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers. These days, the city is becoming known for such things as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Cleveland Clinic and a progressive government that sees economic development of the inner city and improvement of local education as priorities.
But when it comes to the environment, Cleveland isn’t so much in the middle of a comeback as it is a continuation.
The latest example comes in the bricks and mortar and streets of a long-shuttered industrial complex. Once a tumble-down district of closed warehouses on the riverfront, the Flats East Bank development on the banks of the Cuyahoga River is a big part of Cleveland’s re-emergence.
It’s now the site of $750 million in waterfront development, including an 18-story office tower, a hotel, a fitness club and local restaurants. In the fall of 2015, Phase II opened with a 241-unit, high-end apartment building, restaurants, entertainment venues and an extensive riverfront boardwalk.
An Environmental Movement That Caught FireAlmost 50 years ago, in 1969, a fire began on an oil slick in the middle of the shipping channel in the Cuyahoga River. It became famous when Time magazine used the story to lead into its first column on the environment. The fire and the coverage are both credited with setting off a chain of events that led to new federal regulations to protect the environment.
But Cleveland was already on the case. Historians at Cleveland State University point out that city leaders were already involved in cleaning up the Cuyahoga, because a $100-million bond issue for the river’s cleanup was overwhelmingly passed before the fire took place.
As the environmental movement took hold in the 1960s, the problem began to resolve itself on two fronts. Industries began to close, which cut down on new sources of pollution, according to the historians. Civic activism also came to the fore. Cleveland mayor Carl Stokes pressed the issue locally, holding a press conference a day after the 1969 fire. Stokes and his brother, Louis, who represented Cleveland in Congress, played a part in the passage of the federal Clean Water Act in 1972, which subsequently led the Nixon administration to create the Environmental Protection Agency.
Today’s DevelopmentJeremy Hinte, RLA, is a landscape architect in the Cleveland-based landscape architecture firm Behnke Associates, which designed the hardscape additions in the latest phase of Flats East Bank. He says that, over the past few decades, industrial land use has slowly transformed into mixed-use development of historic warehouse buildings.
The improvements are a continuation of the work begun by commercial real estate developer and philanthropist Bert L. Wolstein, who, with his wife, Iris, and son, Scott, worked for more than 25 years to transform the Flats East Bank area.
Wolstein, who died in May 2004, had donated more than $40 million to local hospitals, colleges and other institutions. His family says that the Flats East Bank project had a special place in his heart. It was, his family says, a labor of love and a source of great joy for his hometown.
“I know Bert is smiling on us now,” Mrs. Wolstein said. “Maybe now, Cleveland will be known as the Legend on the Lake.”
According to Hinte, the new additions have maintained the authenticity of the overall Flats District by emulating the historic warehouse architecture style and materials. Tumbled clay pavers were specified in the streets and pedestrian plazas to match the character of decades-old brick roadways.
Permeable clay pavers play center stage in a large, pedestrian plaza that connects the riverfront to the main mixed-use building where festivals, street fairs and concerts are held. Paver accent bands bisect the plaza with a radial form that is centered on the Riverwalk overlook. Truncated dome pavers and changes in color and pattern define a vehicular zone through the plaza for daytime driving and deliveries, but the flush installation prioritizes pedestrians as the primary users of the plaza.
StormPave permeable clay pavers from Pine Hall Brick Co. were chosen to address stormwater management requirements on the riverwalk.
It’s part of a national trend prompted by regulatory changes. Many cities (large and small) are requiring new commercial developments to treat their stormwater on-site, rather than tying into overtaxed storm drains or allowing stormwater to discharge surface pollutants into a nearby river. Underground storage tanks to slow the flow are one solution, and permeable pavers are another.
StormPave pavers have voids (spaces) between the pavers. In a best-practices installation, rainwater enters the voids and is collected in layers of aggregate underneath. From there, it is absorbed into the ground, where it is naturally filtered, or is collected into an outflow pipe or other disposal means.
StormPave came with an additional benefit: it was a good fit for the neighborhood aesthetically.
“As the proposed development is intending to emulate the historic character of this District, the design team and owner determined that the best aesthetic solution to achieving this is through the use of clay pavers,” says Hinte.
That choice was also environmentally sound. In addition to permeability, genuine clay pavers are made from shale and water, two of the most abundant building materials on the planet. They are engineered to be durable enough for vehicular traffic, which means they last virtually forever, the very definition of sustainability.
Cuyahoga Comes Back to LifeToday, more than four decades after the fire, the Cuyahoga River is showing signs of life again. At about the same time that the latest phase of Flats East Bank was opened, researchers on the Cuyahoga found a walleye 10 miles south of Lake Erie, according to the The Plain Dealer.
The walleye, which was found among smallmouth bass, yellow and white perch, bluegill and catfish, is a good sign that the lake is coming back to life. Environmentalists are building fish habitats to help the process along, as the presence of healthy fish and other aquatic life is seen as a good sign that the river is well on its way to recovery.
But what’s needed is a way for more water to get into the soil, which will mean more trees, better shade and cleaner water throughout the watershed that leads into the Cuyahoga, according to Jane Goodman, executive director of Cuyahoga River Restoration, the group charged with overseeing the river’s cleanup.
Goodman says that permeable pavers do a good job of addressing impervious surface area. A mix of stormwater and septic sewer overflows during rainstorms have historically prompted frequent beach closures. The solution would be to slow the flow of stormwater, which would effectively ease the burden from sewage treatment plants. Putting in rain gardens on lawns and bioswales on commercial parking lots do help somewhat, but what’s needed is to find a way to treat larger volumes of stormwater by removing solid surfaces entirely.
“In order to really recover the water quality, we will need to replace impervious surfaces with permeable surfaces, which is why we love permeable paving,” says Goodman. “The fact that permeable pavers sit on top of temporary storage vaults means that more stays there to filter down through the soil. And the fact that these are put in adjacent to impervious surfaces is a really important factor in making permeable paving so attractive, so useful and so effective.”
Originally published in Masonry magazine.
About the Author
Walt Steele is a paver business manager for Pine Hall Brick Co. Steele can be reached at 800-334-8689 or firstname.lastname@example.org.