This past semester I have participated in an independent study class, working with the City of Lakewood (just to the west of Cleveland proper). Three classmates and I have created a neighborhood plan for Birdtown, a neighborhood in the southeastern corner of Lakewood. Named Birdtown for its many streets featuring names of indigenous birds, it is a low to moderate income area. It is a well-defined neighborhood, and features a recently renovated park, brand new elementary school and community gardens.
The neighborhood planning process is long; ours was abbreviated to be a semester long. We started off by researching the neighborhood. Site visits, data crunching and reading about the history helped us ascertain the current conditions in the neighborhood, its development over time and lastly, opportunities for improvement. We also held a community meeting with the dual purpose of introducing them to the planning process as well as for us to gather information from the most important people of all: the current residents.
With this information in hand, we set about dreaming up suggestions to address some of the concerns that had arisen from the research stage. Some were invented by us; others were best practices from elsewhere. We organized our proposals into three key areas: commercial, housing and transportation. Each of the proposals was assigned at least one of the following categories in a fashion similar to the "tags" found on blogs such as this one: neighborhood identity, safety, connectivity and urban design. Once our ideas were developed, we moved into the production phase.
In addition to assembling the text for a plan, we created many images to help express our proposals. We used ArcGIS to create maps, Google Sketch-up to create some three-dimensional models and Adobe Photoshop to create photographic renderings. In a neighborhood plan, the visuals are every bit as important as the text.
To create the actual plan document, we sketched some possible layouts on paper. From there, we chose the best one and created a layout in Adobe InDesign. All the text and images were assembled into a thirty page document on legal size paper, in landscape mode. We titled it: "Birdtown Flightplan: A Neighborhood Taking Off." To ease navigation through the document, it features multi-colored bars on the outer edges of the pages. It also includes a resource guide for the residents, with information on municipal resources.
The last step is to submit our plan to the residents of the Birdtown neighborhood. We are presenting it to them this coming Tuesday at another community meeting. As this is a project completed by students, we will also be presenting it to selected faculty members of the Levin College of Urban Affairs this coming Thursday.
This semester has been an incredible opportunity for a not-yet-certified planner. To actively participate in this process, to create 1/4 of the final product, to actually create a real plan that will be implemented- this is huge to me. My educational career has been full of "make-believe" projects, with my only chances at working on real projects through internships. This is the real deal, though. It has been a great window into my future career, and I'm looking forward to including the plan document into my portfolio.