A consideration on Top of the Hill
I have been “sort of” aware of the Top of the Hill project, reading a few Web posting and local articles. Conversations with friends reveals a certain “ambiguity’ about the project. My initial consideration on the design and plan: “Is this the best the city could do?”
As rendered in photographs, the design does not say, at least to me, “Welcome to Cleveland Heights!” I would expect a driver arriving at the top of Cedar Hill would have the same impression. If I were a resident of the Buckingham condos, I would not appreciate having to look at the back end of this building. I think/hope something more creative and less automobile-centric is possible.
My other concern is more systemic—the use of tax incentives and abatement for project justification. Every local project that receives these incentives is financed by the tax-paying residents of Cleveland Heights, who have lived for years with stagnant property values and rising tax millage. If a project cannot stand on its own given the prevailing tax structure, then maybe it should not be undertaken. Abatements and TIFFs are a slippery slope and once a community sets on that path it is nearly impossible to get off.
In the last analysis, it is all about design. Good design pays for itself in a multitude of ways and renders timeless value. The costs of bad design are continuing and never ending. The CH-UH school system’s open-plan elementary schools are the sine qua non example of how a bad design inflicted cost and damage to Cleveland Heights. The total cost of this design is incalculable to the community and we pay a cost each day. I cannot imagine how many families either moved away or put their children in alternate schools in the decades since these schools were built. It is difficult to teach and learn in these buildings, and it is equally difficult to look at them. Both users and viewers are paying the price. Those in city government need to be mindful that there is a plaque in the lobby of each building “recognizing” the architect and listing the names of school board members at the time of construction who approved the design. Each deserves the ignominy of this recognition.
More work is needed on the Top of the Hill design to resolve issues of visual impact, land use, architecture, automobile centricity, and the effect on the existing community. Consider the remodeled high school building; every time I drive by it, I feel a sense of belonging to a community that cares about integrity, design, space and people. As rendered, the Top of the Hill is, at best, middling. Better is possible.
To the city and its designers and architects: Design is an expression of understanding and respect of your constituencies. As a citizen of Cleveland Heights, and a tax-paying, financing stakeholder in this project, please make this a "great project”—something each of us in Cleveland Heights can admire and “own”—today, tomorrow and for years. That is your job.
Michael Knoblauch is a 40-plus-year resident of Cleveland Heights, and a former FutureHeights board member. His three adult children are graduates of Cleveland Heights High School.